I hestitated including sample questions just in case students happened upon this site, but I sucked it up and got over it. As per request, here are three representative questions from the harder parts of my Bill of Rights test.

Assume justices on the Supreme Court determined that Americans possess a right to privacy. Which Amendment could not have implied that right?
        a. Fourth.
        b. Seventh.
        c. Ninth.
        d. Fourteenth.

Or another:

According to the precise wording of the Eighth Amendment, which of the following actions is prohibited to government agents?
        a. Forcing self-incrimination.
        b. Torture of potential terrorists.
        c. Every type of execution ever.
        d. Cruel and unusual punishment.

Or another:

Soldiers enter your home to stay the night without permission of its owner. They find a gun that is illegal to own under federal law. Which amendment’s protections would not be debated?
        a. Second.
        b. Third.
        c. Fourth.
        d. Fifth.

That’s what I’m talking about.

These questions require students to piece together what they know about all amendments in question, and then go through the process of elimination.

Keeping with common practice, all the questions are complete sentences, and all answers are generally about the same length.

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  1. I might consider rewording #1 to be more straightforward — something along the lines of “which one of these amendments could not be used to argue for a right to privacy?”

    Somehow #3 makes me laugh; I’m imagining a chain situation that happens to violate every article of the Bill of Rights in order.

  2. Good tip for No. 1. I’ll be sure to change it for future tests.

    In addition to the situation above, such a scenario requires that something profane was written on the gun in question, and the owner is convicted after an unfair criminal trial. As punishment, the great state of California punishes her by requiring a first-trimester abortion, in accordance with state law.

    In response, the defendant sues the government for $21 and is granted a bench trial over her wishes. I think this does it.

  3. TeacherMom

    These are pretty tough questions for hs kids to answer! Thanks for providing specific examples. I agree that they do provoke thinking instead of being the rote questions that are so typical.

  4. Hard isn’t always, great. Hard can be great — if it involves thinking.

  5. I have been following this with interest. I wish your supervising (master?) teacher were more open to learning from you instead of feeling that the flow of information only goes one way. On this issue though, I’ll bite. Your test questions are interesting and ask students to make connections. However, the baseline still seems to be memorizing the Bill of Rights, by number. This means that the questions look hopeless to that creative, thoughtful, extremely intelligent but otherwise challenged kid sitting in class. Maybe those kids can make up the points in the essays. Did you see last week’s Doonesbury? Or, more appropriate to this venue, do you know of Pizza Andy, a recurring character in this blog: http://mybellringers.blogspot.com who carries a pocket copy of the US Constitution with him for “emergency purposes?” I have come to believe that memorizing needs to be assigned extremely judiciously. Have kids put their brainpower to the important tasks.

    But–I’m making an assumption here. Maybe you has the amendments listed somewhere? Just the number and a single key word would be enough to separate those who can’t memorize from those who didn’t do the thinking. I am a big fan of getting students to work hard, and I think your students are fortunate to have encountered you this year. Keep using vocabulary that encourages kids to stretch their brains. If their teachers don’t use and expose kids to sophisticated language, who on earth will??

  6. arghh! Never change tenses and then skip that final re-read. Never!

    Maybe you had posted. . . was what it should have read.

    I am chagrined!

  7. Memorizing the Bill of Rights was an important part of this class.

    Moreover, as I interpret Bloom, higher-level thinking is the most important and desirable, but that effective higher-level thinking must have a foundation of genuine lower-level thinking. Students having memorized the Bill of Rights is a basic, lower-level thinking goal of my class.

    Students who simply can’t memorize because of a legitimate learning disability are allowed to take the test with a one-on-one RSP coordinator present.

  8. Bloom is definitely still applied to many educational tasks. Memorization can be a valuable tool in many areas of life and academia. Remember though, that in the 50’s (I don’t recall the exact date Bloom first published) access to information was far more limited than it is now. According to your interpretation and your test design, there will be little opportunity for students to demonstrate higher-level thinking about the role of the Bill of Rights until rote memorization tasks have been accomplished. I would not require one to get to the other. If you feel memorization is important here, ask them to do just that–memorize and reproduce. A perfectly legitimate intellectual exercise, and one that is easily assessed.

    However, it looks like you are expecting much more from your students than just rote memorizing. So, I would suggest that you don’t cut off their opportunity to demonstrate to you the higher-level thinking they’ve done by tying the two tasks together.

    I don’t know what an RSP coordinator is, or what a “legitimate” learning disability is, although I was in special education for several years. Isn’t it interesting how quickly the lingo of a district becomes part of one’s own vocabulary? I do know that there is quite a variation in memory capabilities among all students. I believe students and teachers benefit when we design assessments that allow students to show us what they can do as well as identify what they cannot yet do.

  9. My understanding of Bloom is that higher-level thinking first requires quite a lot of Knowledge. It is in an integral part of the way the mind works — easier access to this knowledge overall can’t replace rote memorization of the basic details. Someone correct me if I’m wrong.

    I had a whole Bill of Rights quiz that I insisted my students take. This quiz asked for answers from my students’ rote memorization. They should have been well-prepared for this test because of that quiz, though I threw in some matching questions later on in the test.

    RSP is effectively individualized study help, mano-a-mano with dedicated adult. It is also a part of my vocabulary, these days.

    I do know that there is quite a variation in memory capabilities among all students.

    Which students should be encouraged to work on by themselves, or with the guidance of another adult. This is a skill that cannot be underestimated.

    I believe students and teachers benefit when we design assessments that allow students to show us what they can do as well as identify what they cannot yet do.

    I agree, and not that that’s the realm of formative assessment. This should not be the focus of a summative assessment like this unit test.

  10. Hello, I log on to your blog daily. Your writing style is witty,
    keep up the good work!

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