Brain – Book – Buddy: A Strategy for Assessment

This is an update on a previous blog post: Color Coding Recall Attempts to Assess Learning. This post is, by far, my most popular in both number of hits and in positive responses. Below, I’ve adapted it to, what I believe, is a more student friendly application. I’ve come to call this strategy Brain-Book-Buddy. In all honesty, I didn’t come up with this name. I actually read on twitter where someone was using the Brain-Book-Buddy terminology with my previously mentioned article…if that was you, please let me know so I can give you credit.  🙂

So, here’s what the end product looks like:

I usually use this as a strategy for review either at the end of a unit of work or to begin class with some retrieval practice. As you can tell, there are three columns. The first column is used to complete the questions using only your brain. I instruct my students to pretend this is the final assessment. Answer to the best of your ability and leave nothing blank…just like on a test. I also have my kids put an asterisk beside any answers where they guessed or just aren’t to confident with (In the image above, the student decided to highlight, in green, those questions she was unsure of). This step is something I’ve added recently, but I believe it’s powerful for students to see just how many questions they are unsure of. It’s quite easy for a student to look down at their paper and see that they answered 14/15 correctly and believe they’ve earned a 93%. But if they guessed on three other questions and they don’t really know the information, that 93% can be quite misleading as it pertains to their level of understanding. Before moving on to column two, I want to point out that I also have my students write down any unfamiliar terms in the far right margin. They can revisit these terms when working with the second or third columns.

In the second column, students use a book (notebook and then textbook). This allows students to check their answers (*especially those they were unsure of in the first column) and also see whether they took satisfactory notes from class presentation of material. If they cannot find the answers in their notes, that should tell them something or hopefully make them question their note taking ability. Students are allowed to change any answers from the first column. It is important that they don’t simply erase their answers from the first column and change them, though. Again, it can be a powerful realization to see how your understanding changes throughout this activity.

Finally, in the third column, student can use their buddies and chat with peers about anything that may still be confusing them. An easy way to get this started is to have them just verbalize their answers and encourage dialogue whenever answers don’t align. After a few minutes of conversation, the students should write down their final answers in the third column.

Then, I read out the answers and the students grade the columns. Often, the grade improves as students move from column one to column two to column three. I want the students to give each column a grade so they can see their improvement. Sure, Hannah may have ended up scoring a 93%, but she only earned 67% in the first column where she used only her brain. Either through using her notebook/textbook and/or buddies around her, she increased her grade a significant amount. Here’s something I explicitly say to my students at this point:

Just because you ended up with a good grade in column three, don’t assume you know it that well. Look at your score in column one. That’s what your brain knew. That’s what you knew without help of any kind. Is it possible that you’ve learned more of this material through looking in your notebook/textbook and through conversation with your friends? Yes. Of course. That’s definitely the hope. But don’t assume that. If you knew it correctly, you would not have missed it in the first column.

I guess that can be a little blunt, but that’s okay. I would much rather the students attempt to answer questions now and get them wrong, so they know what to study, than to first encounter the material on the test and find out then that they don’t know the material. At that point, it’s too late.

As a final discussion with my students, I tell them that this may be harder than simply rereading your notes the night before the test, but you will get better results. More thinking with and about the material will, more than likely, equal more information being remember and a better grade on any assessment. And this is something that does not only apply to this class. This strategy can be applied to almost any subject matter. It is a much more efficient and effective way to study.

If you’re working with images, charts, or labeling, then this method might not work for you. I would encourage you to look at this post as it is much more friendly to illustrations while still accomplishing the same goals.

How can you tailor this strategy for your classroom?

What small changes might you recommend?

Please comment. 🙂

15 comments

    1. Depends on the amount of questions. To really give it a proper go, it takes about 30 minutes for 15 questions. The more times we use the strategy in class, though, the faster the kids get the structure down.

  1. As I start to implement frequent low stakes testing in my junior school music classes I’ll be adapting this approach. Thank you for sharing it here on your blog.

  2. This has been a great strategy in my class. Thank you so much for sharing. As a further extension I have combined this with your Last Semester, Last Unit, and Last night assessment. I choose 3 questions for each topic. I have been using this to much success in my AP Psych class. This further demonstrates to the students the power of retrieval practice.

  3. I’m wondering about the order. Do you have specific considered reasons for this sequence?
    I wonder if Buddy then Book might not work better? This way, SS can discuss and reach an answer together *before* they confirm from the book. Seems there might be more critical thinking and collaboration this way.
    Is this something you’ve thought of and rejected for reasons I might be missing? Or do you think this could work?
    Either way, great strategy that I’m keen to trial in class!

    1. I like the individual method first because the student is processing their own thinking before relying on other people. Going from brain to notebook helps highlight what they have either committed to memory or to paper first. The third step of talking with a buddy should be only for those items which the student doesn’t have in memory or written down anywhere.

  4. I use Team-Based Learning (Michelsen, Knight and Fink, 2004) in all my classes. The readiness assurance process (RAP) is a formative assessment technique whereby students do the assigned readings and exercises. They then take a test (quiz) over the readings individually. Immediately, after they take the same test in their teams using the immediate feedback assessment technique (IF-AT) method. This can be done using IF-AT scratch off sheets or electronic technology. I use clickers. When the team answers an item, they are immediately informed as to whether or not they got the item correct. If they did not get it correct, they try again until they do get it correct (with diminishing point values for each answer). At the end, they have all of the correct answers. The final part of the RAP is the appeals process. Any team can appeal any item that they felt was too ambiguous where there could have been more than one answer or they believe disagreed with the readings. They appeal by re-writing the item to either make it more clear or make it agree with the readings. If the appeal is accepted, them team and each individual gets credit for the item.

    I follow up this process by lecturing over the items that 40% or more of the students missed on the individual assessment. So our process is more of a brain-buddies-book-briefing sequence.

  5. I like this idea. Something else I have used before with some simple assessments is Confidence Points. Similar to what people do with their Bowl Pick’ems at the end of football season. I hand my students a quiz (let’s just say it’s 20 questions). They take it with the same guidelines that you use in your brain column. Answer to the best of your ability, leaving nothing blank. After I give them time to complete this I walked to the front of the room and have them rate each question (1-20) based on how confident they are in their answer (20 being the most confident and 1 being the least confident). We then go over the answers aloud and they are to mark their incorrect answers. They then circle their top 10 most confident answers (I suppose you could do this before you grade them). Their grade on this assessment is based off of those 10 questions and the others are discarded. Everyone’s 10 may be different, but they can then see the ones they don’t know well and go back and focus on those concepts.

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