Why I don’t give exams

I taught high school students for a decade and a half before my current university career. I obtained my education degree in the early 1990s, at the height of the interest in “alternative assessment.” The phrase “alternative assessment” was replaced eventually by “authentic assessment” and finally the term became simply “assessment.” The change in terminology reflected a change in understanding: alternatives to traditional paper-and-pencil testing should not be considered “alternatives” but as central methods of assessing students. Those methods should be “authentic” in that they reflect actual real-world (meaning, outside of school) tasks, and should require demonstration or performance of student skills. As these ideas became the norm among secondary school teachers, the adjectives “alternative” and “authentic” fell away.

From University of Tasmania, “Authentic Assessment,” http://www.teaching-learning.utas.edu.au/assessment/authentic-assessment.

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Class discussions

Earlier this year, I led a workshop for the University of Winnipeg History Department on leading class discussions. Below is a summary of that workshop.


In my first scheduled class with undergraduates, I take some time to explain how to read journal articles in preparation for class discussions. (See the suggestions provided in Patrick Rael, Reading, Writing, and Researching for History: A Guide for College Students (Bowdoin College, 2004)). I like to centre the first discussion around a non-threatening text – usually a poem, such as Tom Wayman’s “Paper, Scissors, Stone” or Bertolt Brecht’s “A Worker Reads History.”

rock paper scissors. © Janis Thiessen, University of Winnipeg, ja.thiessen@uwinnipeg.ca.
rock paper scissors. © Janis Thiessen, University of Winnipeg, ja.thiessen@uwinnipeg.ca.

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