Gilgamesh: Results

The program I’ve got going now, using some of Doug Lemov’s techniques from his book Teach Like A Champion, is on the text of the first five tablets of the Epic of Gilgamesh, and I have to say that it’s going pretty good.  I’m just worried about how to structure the examination.  Paul Bambrick-Santoyo talks about designing assessment questions in such a way that you know what it is that a wrong answer means.

I’ve noticed that a lot of my students got this question wrong in daily homework:

What ancient culture first told stories about Gilgamesh?

Our text tells us that the standard text came from the library of Ashurbanipal at Nineveh, but the original story comes from the Sumerians.  This is the answer I’m looking for; I want one of the answers to be the Sumerians. But now, if I’m making a multiple choice question out of this, I want one of the wrong answers to be the Assyrians — Ashurbanipal’s people.

Now my two choices look like this:

  1. Sumerians
  2. Assyrians

This is good as far as it goes.  But what data do I really need from my students?  Maybe the first thing I need to know is, do they confuse peoples and nationalities with individual historical figures? So then maybe my third choice should be this:

  1. Sumerians
  2. Assyrians
  3. Ashurbanipalians

What should be my fourth choice?  Again, it depends on the question I’m trying to ask, and whether or not I want a casual answer that they can eliminate more easily, or do I intend to make it challenging.  Perhaps one question should be: Are they able to distinguish between persons, nationalities and place-names? Now my question ought to be:

  1. Sumerians
  2. Assyrians
  3. Ashurbanipalians
  4. Ninevehites

My colleague Greg pointed out that the Sumerians sounds like a reasonable name, as do the Assyrians.  Ashurbanipalians sounds almost plausible, but Ninevehites is rather a stretch.  If they sound the word out, Ni-ne-veh-ites, the word doesn’t really sound reasonable.  So it fails the test on two levels:  it’s a complex word to say or sound out, and the veh-ites at the end is pretty awkward; and it’s the name of a city they’ve heard and placed on a map, but we’ve never talked about them as a people, so they’ve never heard me say this word.  Nor Ashurbanipalians, for that matter.

So we have four possible answers, two of which are close but a stretch, and further discounted because I’ve never said them.  And then we have two real peoples, one of whom is much earlier than the other, and the correct answer.  And the other of whom were the final guardians of the text.

And the answers to these questions will help me understand not merely whether they know the right answer or not, but also which way they’ve misunderstood.

I think this counts as a pretty good multiple choice question.  I wish it hadn’t taken me almost 500 words to figure out why.

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