In a typical classroom, test day is met with silence, except for a shuffling of papers and the tapping of pencils. students groan when they hear that it's test day. Some students take it a step further and try to find the easy way out without being caught.
In my classroom, test days have become a favorite, a chance to test students' skills and achieve victory. Students both collaborate and work individually to prove themselves. They ask about tests in advance and if students miss one of my test days, they sulk over it.
My tests are all multiple choice PARCC-style with roughly 30 questions to answer and 3 extended responses. They aren't easier than the normal tests I used to make. If anything, they're tougher. But my students are still more engaged and perform better on my tests now than they ever did with the classic tests.
What is the difference then between my tests and the standard ones?
We play boss battles.
For those of you who are not familiar with the term, a boss in gaming is a villain that the hero must face and defeat to save the day. Throughout a game, a player faces obstacles and smaller monsters, but the boss is the final challenge the player faces and the player often has to use all of their newly-acquired skills to defeat the boss. It's essentially a final test for a player. So why not take this concept and apply it to assessment in education? It has plenty of similarities: a final assessment of acquired skills, an opportunity to showcase their skills, and a high pressure environment.
It also has some stark differences. In a normal test, students work solely on their own, there is dread and anxiety about the assessment. In the boss battles, students feel excitement and anticipation instead. They have the support of their teammates (at least for part of the test) and have the confidence to try again even if their first answer or thought was wrong. In role playing as heroes facing a monster, they take the confidence of that hero and they are determined to defeat that enemy. (See my previous post about Classcraft for more on using heroes in the classroom.) My boss battles still have rigor in them and the latest one was a mostly individual test, but the approach allows students a space to think things through and have more fun with it.
I'm not the only teacher using boss battles either. I posted these battles for the Classcraft community, and they were an instant hit. Other teachers used this system or variations in their own classroom and had instant success with student engagement and performance. Some teachers commented that the battle was the most engagement they had seen in their class for a review. Others that used the battle for assessment said they were impressed with students' attitudes toward the assessment and reported that students did better with the battle than a normal test. Some teachers even took it further and adapted the battles for mini-boss battles (which I'm stealing back to help students prepare for PARCC).
Check out one of our boss battles below to learn more!