How can I find out more about what exactly my students are learning throughout the quarter?
Evaluating student responses to formal assignments alone only tells us so much about what students are learning, and usually tells us very little about how they are learning. Informal, reflective writing can give you a window into student learning: how they go about tackling a problem or question, what challenges they face in an assignment, and what about their work sparks their personal interests and passions.
Activity Idea: Try using short reflective writing assignments throughout your course to gauge students’ understanding of the material and to help them think through larger assignments.
•Today: Incorporate an icebreaker into your lesson plan that allows students to respond to a set of questions about the course toward the beginning of the quarter. Think about asking students for the most memorable idea from last class, to describe an aspect of the material that they are finding confusing, or their favorite part of the reading for the day. Not only can short 1-5 minute writing assignments help prepare students to actively participate in discussion, small group sessions, or other in-class activities, but they can also help you as an instructor to listen more closely to how students are interacting with your teaching methods and course content.
•Later this Quarter: After you have given your students a larger assignment for the course, ask them to reflect on the assignment prompt by writing a short response about what they think the assignment will entail. Not only does this help students to process an assignment before they leave the classroom and begin their work, but this kind of activity can also help you clarify questions or misinterpretations of the assignment right from the start. Students might also share their impression in groups if you would like them to be working collaboratively on the project you have assigned.
•Long-term: Try to plan regular (weekly or even daily) assessment activities that address particular learning goals you have set across the quarter. Using a diverse set of Classroom Assessment Techniques (see the Angelo and Cross book cited below) can offer instructors the opportunity to listen in on your students’ learning throughout the quarter. Ask students to reflect on their learning from a number of different perspectives by using varied assessments that allow students the opportunity to look at their own work and the work of their peers in conjunction with the feedback they receive from you as their instructor. In-class minute papers, Carmen surveys or discussion boards, as well as short reflections on lectures are all ways to help students reflect on their own learning in ways that also give instructors insight into their own teaching choices and their students learning needs.
OSU Community Example: Art Education Professor Christine Ballengee-Morris uses an activity in her class called “Baggage and Luggage.” This activity asks students to identify ideas, notions or concepts they had prior to working on an assignment (this is ‘baggage’). From there, students reflect on any new ideas, notions or concepts they may have developed after a particular class session (this is ‘luggage’). This writing exercise allows students to process what has been discussed in class, encourages them to reflect on their own transformative learning process, and lets the instructor know whether or not students need clarification on course concepts or assignments. Dr. Ballengee-Morris explains, “I have been using this assignment for over five years and so far, the students’ answers demonstrate self criticality (baggage), which provides fodder for acknowledging their learning”.
WAC Resources: For more resources on assessing student learning with writing, check out our new resource wiki, which includes a whole section on writing and assessment, with tips, resources, rubrics, and sample assignments: https://carmenwiki.osu.edu/display/osuwacresources/Assessment+and+Writing
Other Resources: For further ideas on Classroom Assessment Techniques, see Angelo, T.A. & Cross, P.K. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Angelo and Cross’s text offers a variety of short assignments to be used as in-class activities that assess student learning. The authors also discuss assessment techniques broadly, offering tips about how to plan and implement these techniques in the classroom in a variety of ways on a day-to-day basis.
More Ways the WAC Team Can Help You: See an archive of our past tip e-mails at: http://cstw.org/WAC/?cat=50. For more ideas about how you might implement writing to learn activities please contact us to schedule an individual consultation. To further our aim of facilitating dialogue about teaching writing, we offer workshops with faculty and graduate teaching associates that tackle issues involving the teaching of writing in various academic genres. We also can co-facilitate in-class presentations for your students, demonstrating innovative approaches to writing instruction and lending students strategies for overcoming challenges with assignments.
We’ll be leading two workshops this quarter through Faculty and TA Development:
•Grammar 101: Effectively Addressing Surface Error in Student Writing. Thursday, October 28 from 11:30-1:00 @ 300 Younkin Success Center
•Writing and Critical Thinking: Quick and Easy Assignments for Any Classroom. Wednesday, November 4 from 11:30-1:00 @ 300 Younkin Learning Center
For further information, visit the University Center for the Advancement of Teaching’s website (http://ucat.osu.edu/participate/ftad_events/ftad_events.html). We hope you’ll join us.
Let us know how we can help. Contact us by phone (292-9650), e-mail (email@example.com), or through our website (http://cstw.osu.edu/wac).
Have a great quarter,
The WAC Team,
Dr. Chris Manion, WAC Coordinator
Victoria Genetin, Women’s Studies
Tanisha Jackson, Art Education
Katie Linder, Women’s Studies
Kate White, English