The One-Minute Paper or the Muddiest Point. Stop class a few minutes early, put a question on the board, and ask students to write an anonymous response on a half-sheet of paper or 3x5 card you distribute. Pose questions about content, in-class activities, assignments, or anything you're curious about. Check on factual understanding: "Which of the compounds described today are the most stable, and why?" Check on understanding and ability to draw inferences: "From what we've seen of French culture, why would you think French people often say that Americans have no friends, only acquaintances?" Or ask students to write what they found to be the muddiest or most confusing part of the lesson (Mosteller, 1989). It is essential that you read and analyze students' responses as a group, and then respond appropriately during the next class. You might review part of your previous lecture, give more information about a topic students understood, or solve more problems as examples.
Background Knowledge Probe. In order to collect more specific and useful information about students' prior learning, distribute short questionnaires at the beginning of the semester or before introducing a new topic, thus previewing what is coming and reviewing what students already know. Ask at least one question that most students should know, and at least one other question that is more difficult. Avoid unfamiliar vocabulary because it may obscure knowledge of fundamental facts or concepts. Emphasize that these are ungraded and are neither tests nor quizzes. Report results at the next meeting so that individual students will be able to gauge their level of preparation relative to that of the class as a whole.
Pro and Con Grid. To assess students' level of analysis and capacity for objectivity, ask them a question that will elicit thoughtful pros and cons in relation to an important issue, dilemma, or judgment in your course. To make their pros and cons more comparable, you can indicate a specific point of view they should adopt; and be sure to tell students whether to write in sentences or phrases. In analyzing students' responses, you can begin with a simple frequency count, looking at how students tend to perceive the issue. Or you can compare their lists with yours, or see how balanced their two sides are. Their responses may well provide you with a perspective to begin the next class.
any of these assessment techniques, when you read responses soon after
class, you will know more about your students. If you find many incorrect
answers to factual questions, you know you're not getting your message
across. If students can't draw inferences, you need to teach them how.
The students' "muddiest points" may be ones you thought were
clear; analyze the source of the discrepancy and figure out a better way
to explain the point during the next class.
Comments forms. Use the One-Minute Paper format ("Do you prefer small-group or whole-class discussions, and why?"), or create a brief form to gather precisely the information you need. It can be as short as three or four questions:
only questions that require students to create an answer, and try to generate
as many ideas as you can. Open-ended questions also work well: "I
learn the most when we _________ because . . . ."Of course, with
such item types, you cannot statistically analyze the data; yet early
in the semester you will have information and ideas. For help with questions
or format, call the Teaching Resource Center; How Am I Teaching?
by Weimer et al. (1988) offers sample forms directed toward various specific
Teaching Analysis Poll (TAP). The Teaching Resource Center can also give you a summary of your students' views about their learning in the course by conducting a Teaching Analysis Poll for you. To begin, you first discuss your course with a TRC consultant: format, objectives, students' background and assumed motivation, and your concerns. Then, one day, thirty minutes before the end of class, you introduce the consultant, declaring that you have initiated a student-oriented analysis of the course and that you will talk about results with students during the next class. You leave the room, with an appointment to talk with the consultant soon.
The consultant gives groups of four or five students five minutes to answer three questions:
student in each group writes on the board, in three columns, the answers
most group members agree about. The consultant monitors responses to verify
that a proposed solution accompanies any problem. With the class as a
whole, the consultant reviews comments on the board, clarifying ambiguities
and keeping only those observations that a majority of the students approve.
The consultant thanks the students and reiterates that the instructor
will receive the summary of reactions remaining on the board.
evaluations. Use your departmental or schoolwide standardized final
evaluation form; you may include other questions as well. Of course, do
not look at these student evaluations until after you have submitted final
grades. Even if you don't recognize individual evaluations, negative responses
(including those with little foundation) can make it difficult to grade
final papers objectively.