Over my 23 years as an educator, I have noticed that students have an inherent student fear of written assessments, and this when combined with the procrastination and poor management typical of the teenage years, creates a perfect recipe for frustration. Students who do well in class tend to gravitate toward visual and very hands-on techniques to enhance their learning. I have been fortunate enough to create my own curriculum for my Physiology classes, and have implemented many hands-on activities into my classes. I constantly explore different options for assessments which will enable students to learn while at the same time taking responsibility for their own learning. Some examples of these assessments are the creation of heart models to study the cardiovascular system and measurement of heart rate using student-built Arduino based heart rate monitors.
Students were receptive to my innovative assessments. Yet there was a general lack of enthusiasm when it came to listening to peer presentations on common nervous system diseases. Since the material was important for them to assimilate, I tried various techniques to engage them during these presentations, including offering extra credit, but it was not as successful as I had hoped because some students stubbornly refused to pay attention.
Last year, I was selected as a Teacher Fellow and when the time for planning Phun week came around, I decided to implement the use of graphic novels in my class to solve the problem of student engagement. Accordingly, I gave students 2 weeks to research 2 diseases of any organ system in the body. The requirement was that they create graphic novels of their disease, and represent through their art, the inputs and outputs of systems leading to pathological conditions. Initially, students stared at me. What, they thought, could this crazy woman possibly be thinking? Who ever heard of graphic novels in biology? I listened to my students’ concerns, and reiterated that this assignment was replacing their unit exam on the nervous system. And that did it……
Suddenly students were chatting, brainstorming and throwing out ideas. Some asked me clarification questions, others wanted to know if their chosen diseases were acceptable. Giving students class time to complete their assignment, while I circled around asking
and answering questions, seemed to help student engagement. Everyone was on task, and their graphic novels grew and finessed.
When everyone was done, I contacted our Technical Services Supervisor and Digital
Student graphic novels were evaluated on the basis of creativity, accuracy and connections to other organ systems. This assessment was a success because students realized that they had to take responsibility for their own learning,and therefore worked harder and faster than before. Working in groups of 3-4 also helped them discuss and finesse ideas and research.