Bring It On!: Assessments in the Co-Lab

By Ilana Zadok, 8th Grade History Teacher

My childhood experience walking into a class on test or quiz day meant desks were in rows, I was silenced by the teacher’s seriousness, and my nerves were doing summersaults. The air in the classroom was still. If I looked left or right, I heard the familiar sharp words, “Keep your eyes on your own paper,” and I would quickly straighten up like a soldier under an officer’s command. Feeling tense, my mind would often close up, not allowing my creative juices to flow onto my paper.  Information that I studied so hard, that I thought was stored so securely in my mind, would be trapped under lock and key.

>>Fast forward to assessments in the Co-Lab.

My students walk into class and there aren’t even desks set up, let alone rows.  I greet them at the door with a smile. The students can consider the space in which they need in order to perform to their best potential.  Imagine the mindset they are in to share what they know.

Quiz Day.

I was struck by the choices my students made in the space they created during their last quiz.  Here’s what I saw…

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Students sitting at tables facing walls.

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Students using bean bag chairs and space dividers. One girl was so convinced she still needed a desk connected to a chair that she brought it into the room.

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One student sitting in a chair leaning on an ottoman while one student uses no desk at all.

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Students are at ease and ideas are flowing.

I walk around, offering guidance to them about how to best show what they know and understand. The teacher is no longer the cheating police. Rather, teacher, student and space are partners on the path towards success.

I can’t help but think that maybe if I had Science class as a child in a Co-Lab and was given the opportunity to take my assessments in the fashion in which I studied for them – in my case, while sitting on the floor listening to music – I might actually like Science as an adult. I’ll never know the answer to that question. My students, on the other hand, are experiencing choice and self-awareness in an environment which is promoting self-exploration. As a result, they are also engaging in more effective collaboration and gaining a deeper understanding of what they need for their learning.

They enter with a feeling of ease, self-awareness, and an immediate level of engagement, as well as a drive to participate and learn. Rather than fear, their mindset before an assessment is, Bring it on!

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