The tests were more frustrating, particularly the history test. I had a hard time writing it, and while I was more or less satisfied with what I eventually came up with, the process of writing it left me unsatisfied. Partly, I was working within the assessment culture of my school, which is pretty traditional. But it was more than that. Few things force you to think about your teaching more than designing an assessment. You're forced to think about what you want the students to learn, and how you're going to tell if they learned it. Some of my initial difficulties in writing the test came from a lack of clarity in my own mind about what I wanted students to learn. It's a little odd, really: the unit syllabus includes learning objectives, key terms, and study questions to help students master the material, so it's not like I don't provide guidance to my students and (hopefully) to myself. But there was so much material that I think my big goals got watered down. It didn't help that we were studying the French Revolution, an event so complicated that it's easy to get bogged down in details--and complicated enough that you have to know the details to understand the revolution.
So I thought about what I wanted students to learn: in the context of the revolution itself, in the context of our overall comparative revolutions course, and in the context of history pedagogy generally. Because what I most fundamentally want is for students be time travelers, to immerse themselves in the time period to try to understand the period from the inside--what it was like to be alive during those tumultuous events, what it was like to have to decide what to do based on limited information, and why things turned out the way they did. What causes people to rise up? What causes violence to erupt? And why do revolutions so often fail? Those questions are historical, but also very topical and contemporary.
I'm not sure whether the tests I ended up writing assessed for that. I tested for whether they knew certain terms which I think it's important to know for cultural literacy reasons (like what the Battle of Waterloo was, and some others). I assessed their ability to read and analyze historical documents--a good test of critical thinking. And there was an essay, so students could continue to work on writing.
Whether the assessment of historical empathy or that passion was in there, I'm not so sure. But as we begin our next unit, on the Haitian Revolution, I think I've got a better handle on what I want my students to get out of it. And that's one good thing that came out of assessment week.