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Thursday, June 15, 2017

Does the Strategy Work? A Look at Exam Wrappers | Teaching Professor Blog

"For many faculty, adding a new teaching strategy to our repertoire goes something like this. We hear about an approach or technique that sounds like a good idea " notes  

Photo: The Teaching Professor Blog
It addresses a specific instructional challenge or issue we’re having. It’s a unique fix, something new, a bit different, and best of all, it sounds workable. We can imagine ourselves doing it.

Let’s consider how this works with an example. Have you heard of exam wrappers? When exams are returned they come with a “wrapper” on which students are asked to reflect, usually on three areas related to exam performance:
  • what study skills they used to prepare;
  • what types of mistakes they made on the exam; and
  • what modifications might improve their performance on the next test.
At a strategic moment, this technique confronts students with how they prepared and performed with an eye on the exams still to come. It’s an approach with the potential to develop metacognition—that reflective analysis and resultant insight needed to understand, in this case, what actions it takes to learn content and perform well on exams. 

The Teaching Professor Blog

But is there any evidence that exam wrappers improve performance and promote metacognitive insights? For a lot of instructional strategies, we still rely on the instructor’s opinion. However, in the case of exam wrappers, we do have evidence—just not a lot and the results are mixed. In this most recent study (with a robust design), they didn’t work. Researchers Soicher and Gurung found that the wrappers didn’t change exam scores, final course grades, or scores on the Metacognitive Awareness Inventory, an empirically developed instrument that measures metacognition. Examples where exam wrappers did have positive outcomes are referenced in the study. 

What instructors most want to know about any strategy is whether it works. Does it do what it’s supposed to do? We’d like the answer to be clear cut. But in the case of exam wrappers, the evidence doesn’t indicate if they’re a good idea or not. That’s frustrating, but it’s also a great example of how conflicting results lead to better questions—the ones likely to move us from a superficial to a deeper understanding of how different instructional strategies “work”. 

What could explain the mixed results for exam wrappers? Does the desired outcome depend on whether students understand what they’re being asked to do? Students are used to doing what teachers tell them, pretty much without asking themselves or the teacher questions. As these researchers note, maybe students don’t “recognize the value or benefit of metacognitive skills” as they are intended to be developed by exam wrappers (p. 69). 
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Source: The Teaching Professor Blog