Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Meaningful Multiple Choice

Answering multiple choice questions doesn't have to be drudgery! In fact, multiple choice questions can have a place in an engaging ELA classroom. Getting kids to talk more about multiple choice questions helps them to move beyond "right/wrong" thinking and into looking more deeply at the text.

Reflect on the process of answering. Which questions were hardest? Easiest?
This is a great place to begin. I like to have students put a star beside the one that they think would be hardest, and a circle by the one that they think is easiest. Now here's the interesting part: Why? Listening to students talk about their choices reveals so much about their thinking.

Working in groups to answer questions
This works best with the really tough multiple choice questions, and when students feel comfortable with each other. As my students did this last week, I enjoyed circulating to listen in on conversations. In one group I heard a student timidly offer a (correct) answer, only to be overruled by the group. I called the student aside about a seemingly unrelated issue--and then I said, "You were right for #1! Why didn't you stand up for your answer?" It was neat to watch how the student returned to the group and re-started the conversation!

Some kids hated the questions in the item sampler, and it was easy to see why. Listening to them grumble good-naturedly about the wording of the questions was kind of fun for me.

Have students write their own multiple choice questions to reflect deep thinking about the text
The second part of this is the most important, because it is what provokes discussion. What is "deep thinking"? And how can we craft questions to reflect it?

In last week's groups, this led to some conversations about "tricky" versus "deep". The students were reading a version of Stone Soup from the PSSA Sixth Grade ELA Sampler. The man in the story asked the woman for several different food items. A question that presents lists of these items and asks students to choose the correct list would be tricky...but would it be deep? For kids, this was a satisfying and purposeful conversation as they grappled with where such an answer would be found. (Interestingly, the argument centered on how a reader would have to scan the text to find the information in question.)

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