Classroom Assessment Techniques

Classroom Assessment Techniques

How Can I Tell What My Students Are Thinking?

There are several ways to answer this important question. A general answer is that students often have enough time on their hands, even as they sit in class and listen, to think about several things at the same time. None of us puts 100 percent of our attention to a lecture for long periods of time. Instead, attention waxes and wanes.

We also know that students have seven developmental tasks they are working on during the college years: achieving intellectual, physical, and social competence; managing emotions; becoming autonomous; establishing identity; managing interpersonal relationships; clarifying purpose; and developing integrity (Chickering, 1969). At times, students are probably thinking about these other things, rather than about purely intellectual pursuits.

But good teachers will also want to know a more specific answer. In fact, a set of techniques has been developed to get at the question, “What are students thinking?” They are called Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs), and were developed by Angelo and Cross (1993). There are many varied CATs that can be used. The most important things are that they are quick to use, easy to interpret, and provide a wealth of information about our students’ thinking, so we can have a better idea of what is going on with our students.

Using a CAT is a little like asking a research question. Is there something you would like to know about your specific students in your specific course? CATs can get at:

  • What do students come to my course knowing (or thinking they know)?

  • What are they thinking at any moment in class?

  • What did they get out of today’s class compared to what I wanted them to get?

  • What are they thinking when they study (or how did they go about answering a problem)?

Why Should I Use CATs?

For instructors, more frequent use of CATs can:
  • Provide short–term feedback about the day–to–day learning and teaching process at a time when it is still possible to make mid–course corrections.

  • Provide useful information about student learning with a much lower investment of time compared to tests, papers, and other traditional means of learning assessment.

  • Help to foster good rapport with students and increase the efficacy of teaching and learning.

  • Encourage the view that teaching is a formative process that evolves over time with feedback.

For students, more frequent use of CATs can:
  • Help them become better monitors of their own learning.

  • Help break down feelings of anonymity, especially in larger courses.

  • Point out the need to alter study skills.

  • Provide concrete evidence that the instructor cares about learning.

CATs are feedback devices to help us determine how much, how well, and simply how our students learn. Many faculty on the Bloomington campus use CATS regularly. Make an appointment with one of our consultants to help you identify the question you would like to ask about your students’ learning and adapt a CAT to your topic. 

Example CATs

  • Minute Paper
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    During the last few minutes of the class period, ask students to answer on a half–sheet of paper: “What is the most important point you learned today?”; and, “What point remains least clear to you?” The purpose is to elicit data about students’ comprehension of a particular class session.Review responses and note any useful comments. During the following class periods emphasize the issues illuminated by your students’ comments.Prep: Low
    In class: Low
    Analysis: Low
  • Chain Notes
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    Students pass around an envelope on which the teacher has written one question about the class. When the envelope reaches a student he/she spends a moment to respond to the question and then places the response in the envelope.Go through the student responses and determine the best criteria for categorizing the data with the goal of detecting response patterns. Discussing the patterns of responses with students can lead to better teaching and learning.Prep: Low
    In class: Low
    Analysis: Low
  • Memory Matrix
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    Students fill in cells of a two–dimensional diagram for which instructor has provided labels. For example, in a music course, labels might consist of periods (Baroque, Classical) by countries (Germany, France, Britain); students enter composers in cells to demonstrate their ability to remember and classify key concepts.Tally the numbers of correct and incorrect responses in each cell. Analyze differences both between and among the cells. Look for patterns among the incorrect responses and decide what might be the cause(s).Prep: Med
    In class: Med
    Analysis: Med
  • Directed Paraphrasing
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    Ask students to write a layman’s “translation” of something they have just learned–geared to a specified individual or audience—to assess their ability to comprehend and transfer concepts.Categorize student responses according to characteristics you feel are important. Analyze the responses both within and across categories, noting ways you could address student needs.Prep: Low
    In class: Med
    Analysis: Med
  • One-Sentence Summary
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    Students summarize knowledge of a topic by constructing a single sentence that answers the questions “Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” The purpose is to require students to select only the defining features of an idea.Evaluate the quality of each summary quickly and holistically. Note whether students have identified the essential concepts of the class topic and their interrelationships. Share your observations with your students.Prep: Low
    In class: Med
    Analysis: Med
  • Exam Evaluations
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    Select a type of test that you are likely to give more than once or that has a significant impact on student performance. Create a few questions that evaluate the quality of the test. Add these questions to the exam or administer a separate, follow–up evaluation.Try to distinguish student comments that address the fairness of your grading from those that address the fairness of the test as an assessment instrument. Respond to the general ideas represented by student comments.Prep: Low
    In class: Low
    Analysis: Med
  • Application Cards
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    After teaching about an important theory, principle, or procedure, ask students to write down at least one real–world application for what they have just learned to determine how well they can transfer their learning.Quickly read once through the applications and categorize them according to their quality. Pick out a broad range of examples and present them to the class.Prep: Low
    In class: Low
    Analysis: Med
  • Student-Generated Test Questions
    Description:What to do with the data:Time required:
    Allow students to write test questions and model answers for specified topics, in a format consistent with course exams. This will give students the opportunity to evaluate the course topics, reflect on what they understand, and what are good test items.Make a rough tally of the questions your students propose and the topics that they cover. Evaluate the questions and use the goods ones as prompts for discussion. You may also want to revise the questions and use them on the upcoming exam.Prep: Med
    In class: High
    Analysis: High
    (may be homework)

References

Angelo, T. A., and Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.

Chickering, A. (1969). Education and identity. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.