Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
We all want to create the ultimate learning environment for our students. What does this look like? It may vary from discipline to discipline, or from lower-division to upper-division classes, but two aspects of a good learning environment are constant: student contribution and student safety. Every student should contribute to the learning community, and in order to do that, he or she must feel that it is safe to make mistakes and safe to give wrong answers. If students are concerned about “looking stupid” or being berated by classmates or the instructor because they miss the mark in a group conversation, they won’t participate at all. So how can we create a learning environment that supports high standards for student learning while at the same time allowing students to learn from their own mistakes?
Integrate frequent, formative, low- or no-stakes classroom assessments into your daily plans to complement the summative assessments that structure your syllabus. There are many “Classroom Assessment Techniques” (“CATs”) that can allow students to demonstrate their control of course content and, if their control is not strong, receive feedback from the instructor that can get them back on course.
The classic example of an effective CAT is a Minute Paper. Let students use the last couple of minutes of a class session (or assign this as a task in an online course) to answer three questions on a piece of paper: What is the most important thing you learned in class today? What questions do you have about the material from class today? Is there anything that you didn’t understand? This low-impact exercise lets the student be honest about their control of the material, and it lets the instructor know what needs to be clarified or re-visited either individually or collectively at the next class meeting. When students see that the instructor is ok with mistakes and actually values input on content control, they are more likely to participate openly in class and gain a deeper understanding of the course content.
Still thirsty? Take another SIP of Classroom Assessment Techniques
There are many CATs that vary in intensity and preparation. Below are some resources to help you discover the CAT that is right for you and your course.
- Here’s a link to Angelo and Cross’s foundational work on Classroom Assessment Techniques (there are copies in the MSU Denver Center for Faculty Development—pop in to check them out without buying your own copy!): http://www.amazon.com/Classroom-Assessment-Techniques-Handbook-Teachers/dp/1555425003
- The Vanderbilt Center for Teaching has a nice website on CATs: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/cats/
- And the Iowa State Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching has information on CATs that really digs into the psychological benefits that performing these assessments provides to classroom climate: http://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/cats/