Pass the Test?

One of my favorite shopping ventures with my children is our semi-regular visit to the local comic bookstore. In addition to picking up the issues and series that the store owner holds for us, we wander around the store and look at newly released books, graphic novels and other comic-related merchandise. My son will inevitably check out the Marvel action figures and shirts. My daughter, who will soon be in her early twenties, has moved on to looking at graphic novels almost exclusively. With her interests in civil rights and crime stories, she always picks up something interesting.

She recently purchased Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic by Alison Bechdel, which encompasses my daughter’s interests perfectly. The book focuses on Bechdel’s own life and how she confronts her sexuality (and her father’s) after growing up in a funeral home. In addition to the subject matter of the book, my daughter was drawn to this graphic novel because she had learned about the “Bechdel Test” in one of her college classes last semester. If you haven’t heard of the Bechdel Test, it was introduced in one of Bechdel’s earlier works. In a scene, two characters discuss female representation in movies and literature and offer three simple criteria for identifying whether women are actively present or not. These criteria include:

  1. The movie has to have at least two women in it,
  2. who talk to each other,
  3. about something other than a man

While these seem like pretty simple criteria that would be easy to meet, many people would be surprised to learn that a lot of movies don’t pass this test. Star Wars? It doesn’t pass. The Avengers? It doesn’t pass. Even the Disney class Ratatouille doesn’t pass. If you’re interested in checking out which movies “pass the test,” visit: https://bechdeltest.com/

My conversation with my daughter about Alison Bechdel and the Bechdel Test got me thinking about what a similar assessment would look like for active learning environments. To be clear, I’m not equating the societal need for the Bechdel Test with the educational need for an “active learning” test. Instead, I’m using the Bechdel Test as inspiration to consider how we can easily assess how educators use learning environments and whether they’re putting students in active roles of socially constructing their understanding with classmates.

Without much fanfare, here’s my first attempt.

  1. A teacher plans a lesson,
  2. where at least two students talk to each other,
  3. to investigate something that Google can’t answer

Without running the risk of stating the obvious, let me unpack my rationale with each of these criteria. The first aspect of the test focuses on instructional planning. It requires some intentionality on the part of the educator. Active learning doesn’t just happen but results from carefully planning by the teacher.

The second aspect focuses on the social nature of learning. In active learning environments, students need to interact with their classmates to build their understanding and challenge the ideas of one another.

The third aspect outlines the types of topics that warrant discussion. In active learning environments, we want students to focus on higher order topics, which is what lead to the inclusion of the “Google criterion.” I felt it would make it a little easier to assess than including something like Bloom’s Taxonomy or Webb’s Depth of Knowledge or something.

So, that’s my first attempt at an “active learning test.” I welcome your thoughts. Feel free to comment on this post or reach out to me.

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