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Classroom Assessment Techniques

Effective Instruction Through Classroom Assessment

You watch the expressions on student faces. You notice whether students are shifting in their seats or diligently taking notes. The very questions that students ask tell you whether they are learning the material. But how well are they really learning and, perhaps more importantly, what can you do to improve their learning?

Just as scientific research within an academic discipline is used to examine phenomena pertinent to the subject matter, "classroom research“ can be used to examine the phenomenon of learning within any given classroom. Data on student learning can be collected and analyzed. The results can inform the instructor about how instruction should most effectively proceed. It is a scholarly approach to teaching that does not have to be time-consuming. Many assessment strategies have already been devised that can be applied to a variety of academic disciplines (Cross & Angelo, 1993).

The following Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) may be appropriate for your course. If not, perhaps they will give you some ideas for designing assessment techniques of your own, or you may want to peruse the second edition of Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers by T. A. Angelo and K. P. Cross (1993). It describes 50 Assessment Techniques that relate to knowledge and skill analysis, critical thinking, synthesis and creative thinking, application and performance, attitudes and values, and problem solving skills. To examine a copy of the latest edition, stop by 1130 Kerr Hall.

Four Sample Classroom Assessment Techniques

1. The One Minute Paper

Data Collection: After your lecture, ask students to take 2-3 minutes to write down the three main ideas of the lecture.

Data Analysis: Compare your list to student lists or give your list to students and have them make comparisons. Discuss discrepancies.

Follow up: Reinforce ideas that students failed to mention. Direct student attention to the syllabus or course readings that emphasize the ideas that appeared on your list. Explain why you chose the ideas on your list. If there are large discrepancies between student lists and your own, devise ways to better emphasize major points and let students know how you will do this. You might also ask student to suggest ways to better emphasize major points.

Variation: Ask students to write one or two questions they have after hearing the lecture, or ask them to write their personal opinion responses to a specific concept on which you are lecturing.
Classroom Assessment Technique 2:

2.  Background Knowledge Probe

Collect Data: Before introducing a new topic or major concept, find out what students already know about the topic. Prepare 2-5 open ended questions; be sure not to use unfamiliar terminology. Write the questions on the board or distribute on a handout. Ask students to write 3-4 sentence answers, making sure that students understand this is not a quiz and will not be graded.

Data Analysis: Scan the responses and divide them into four piles: erroneous background knowledge, no relevant background knowledge, some background knowledge, and significant background knowledge.

Follow up: Report your findings to the class and adjust your lectures accordingly. You could also form study groups by numbering the four data analysis groups (1-4, lowest to highest) and forming groups of 3 to 4 students from the various knowledge levels.

Adaptation: At end of course, repeat the exercise, then hand back papers and ask students to compare their two responses. It can be motivating for students to realize just how much they've increased their knowledge. It may also motivate some to seek needed help.

Caution: Only use this technique if you have the time and inclination to respond to it. If you can't or are unwilling to modify your lectures or syllabus, you may not want to do this exercise. On the other hand, it may give you vital information on what to spend time on and what to run through quickly.

3.  Focused Listing

Data Collection: Ask students to list all the topics and ideas they know that relate to a key concept that you have been emphasizing in lecture.

Data Analysis: Compare your list to student lists, during or outside of class, or give your list to students and have them make the comparisons. Discussion of discrepancies can be enlightening.

Follow up: Reinforce ideas that students tended to leave off their list. Explain why some ideas on students' list are less important for purposes of the course. If student lists are weak, ask them to improve their lists and to turn their lists into essays. As a review for an exam, have students identify numerous exam questions that could be asked on the topics listed.

Caution: Choose a topic neither too broad or too narrow; some experimentation may be necessary.

4. Directed Paraphrasing

Collect Data: Before class begins, at the end of class, or outside of class, ask students to paraphrase a given portion of the text or an article that puts across a crucial aspect of the course or of the particular topic for the class session.

Data Analysis: You and your TA can scan responses and identify model answers as well as misconceptions. Or, you can have students critique one another's answers.

Follow up: You (or your TA in section) can first clear up misconceptions and then read a few anonymous model examples to the class. This also helps prepare students for essay or short answer exams.

Angelo and Cross, the originators of these Techniques, suggest the following helpful hints when carrying out Classroom Assessment Techniques.

  • Don't ask your student to use any CAT you haven't already tried on yourself.
  • Allow for more time than you think you will need to carry out and respond to the CAT - so keep it simple!
  • Let students know what you learn from their feedback and how you and they can use it to improve learning!

You may get many more ideas by asking colleagues in your department what techniques they use to assess student understanding.   Bill Prothero, Professor Emeritus in Geological Sciences, uses a "Question of the Day", which he finds very useful in a large class setting. He hands out a sheet of paper asking students to respond to a key, overarching question about the subject matter, has them affix a bar code label with their Perm # on it (these are distributed in the lab sections). He then collects and scan in the answers. It takes his TAs about 5-10 minutes to scan 200 responses.  It is now possible to design a similar in-class Technique using Clickers.

NOTE: These CATs were summarized and published by permission of Jossey-Bass. To order the book Classroom Assessment Techniques, please contact Jossey-Bass Inc, Publishers; 350 Sansome Street, San Francisco, CA 94104. (800-956-7739).

ReferenceClassroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (2nd edition). T.A. Angelo and K.P. Cross. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. 1993.

More Information

For more CAT ideas, many of them discipline-specific, stop by 1130 Kerr Hall to examine a copy of Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. For ideas on creating your own CATs, or for information on designing mid-quarter student feedback questionnaires, contact an instructional consultant:

Article originally prepared by Dr Shirley Ronkowski and published in Instructional News, Spring 1998, Office of Instructional Consultation, UCSB.

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