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Who are you to test me?
By Joe Bouchard
Published: 12/01/2014

Question mark The following is an installment in "The Bouchard 101", a series featuring "Ice Breaker's" designed to promote training awareness and capabilities in the corrections industry.


Experience is a great teacher. Consider the exciting act of riding a roller coaster. One can read about the angles, speed, and duration of a ride. One can hear about the wind, the rush of adrenaline, and the anticipation of getting in the car and the point of no return. Still, nothing rivals experiencing the actual ride.

The same is true in corrections. I find that the most potent lesson that I can deliver to pre-professionals is in a tour of a facility. Certainly, I can marshal creative words to form descriptive and accurate stories of how it is ‘on the inside’. Students can read the works of corrections experts that I suggest or that they find. But there is no substitute for the experience of an actual tour. A student could learn more in five minutes ‘inside’ than from a whole semester of lecture.

Relative to a tour, when is the best time for instructors to solicit questions about the workings of a prison or jail? Certainly, you should answer students’ questions as they arise. Here are some thoughts:
  1. Asking questions during a tour can be useful. That may harvest a few concepts on the fly, as new situations pop up before students’ eyes.
  2. Even better, is when the instructor prompts discussion just after the tour. That is, ask questions when students are no longer in the secure perimeter. This allows students a feeling of accomplishment (just like one gets off the roller coaster) and removes the psychological block of anxiety.
  3. However, the instructor can get great questions from the students if he or she tells students to think about what they saw and write the questions for later.
With that in mind, there is another learning opportunity. Just as a tour will prompt the opportunity for students to ask the right questions, encouraging students to test their classmates will help them ask the right questions in an effective way.

When the class is assembled in a classroom after a tour or a demonstration, the instructor will divide the class into groups of 3. The class is instructed that each team will create a test about the tour or demonstration. Their classmates will take the test that they create. Naturally, each team will not take their own test, but will take all test prepared by other teams of classmates.

Give the students what you think are necessary parameters. Remember your own teaching style when setting these limits. Some instructors make a well-defined, limited teaching experience while others have students run free with creativity. So, each instructor has the option of a highly structured exercise, a high-scope paradigm (do as thou wilt sort of exercise), or anything in between. Consider the needs and personalities of your students.

Here are some notes for the process and some limits or suggestions you may offer to student as they craft their tests for their cohorts:
  1. What types of questions will you ask? Will they be true or false or multiple choice? Will the questions be formed in the style of fill-in-the-blank or essay? Will there be a mixture of all styles?
  2. How difficult will the tests be, keeping in mind that this is an opportunity to learn, not to stump the other team. Remember to notion of fair play versus revenge.
  3. The instructor may encourage one trick question per test.
  4. How many questions would be a good number? The instructor may leave this to the teams or impose a limit. I believe that five or ten questions may work best.
  5. Assign a Recorder for each team with neat hand writing or someone who can type the quiz in a computer lab. Once the tests are created, the instructor will copy the necessary amount for distribution.
  6. Have each team appoint a Corrector, someone who will go over the tests when they have been taken.
  7. The instructor will appoint a Floater who will observe how the tests were created and what the other teams thought about the test. The Floater observes and reports. The Floater does not advise the teams.
  8. Have teams meet in different areas to minimize espionage. There they will create the tests.
  9. Remind everyone to stick to the topic (tour, demonstration) and to create the test on important points. It is about learning. The exercise is not designed to simply create a whole sheet of trick questions.
  10. Copy and distribute tests and let student take them.
  11. In turn, the Corrector reads the correct answers.
  12. The instructor prompts the Floater to discuss nuances of the tests and encourages the teams to chime in about the process.
Asking the right question is important. Sometimes we do not ask the right question in the right way. “Who are you to test me?” is a way to place students in the shoes of the instructor and to develop empathy for fellow test takers.

Joe Bouchard is a Librarian employed with the Michigan Department of Corrections and a collaborator with The International Association of Correctional Training Personnel (IACTP). He is also the author of “IACTP’s Corrections Icebreakers: The Bouchard 101, 2014”. The installments in this series include his opinions. The agency for which he works is not in any way responsible for the content or accuracy of this material, and the views are those of the contributor and not necessarily those of the agency. While some material is influenced by other works, all of the icebreakers have been developed by Joe Bouchard.

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