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Classroom Assessment

Classroom teachers can learn much about how students learn and how they respond to particular teaching approaches through close observation of students in the process of learning, through the collection of frequent feedback on students' learning, and through the design and use of modest classroom experiments.  Classroom assessment can help individual instructors obtain useful feedback on what, how much, and how well their students are learning.  Faculty can then use this information to refocus their teaching to help students make their learning more efficient and more effective. 

  • Characteristics of Classroom Assessment:  Classroom  assessment is an approach designed to help teachers find out what students are learning in the classroom and how well they are learning it.  This approach is:
  • Learner-Centered:  Classroom assessment focuses the attention of teachers and students on observing and improving learning, rather than on observing and improving teaching.
  • Teacher-Directed:  No one can provide teachers with rules that will tell them what to do from moment to moment in the dynamic learning environment of a college classroom.  Classroom assessment respects the autonomy, academic freedom, and professional judgment of college faculty.
  • Mutually Beneficial:  Because it is focused on learning, classroom assessment requires the active participation of students.  By cooperating in assessment, students reinforce their grasp of the course content and strengthen their own evaluation skills.
  • Formative:  Classroom assessment is a formative rather than a summative approach to assessment.  Its purpose is to improve the quality of student learning, not to provide evidence for evaluating or grading students.  Its aim is to provide faculty with information on what, how much, and how well students are learning, in order to help them better prepare to succeed - both on the subsequent graded evaluations and in the world beyond the classroom.
  • Context-Specific:  To be most useful, classroom assessments have to respond to the particular needs and characteristics of the teachers, students, and disciplines to which they are applied.  Each class has its own particular dynamic, its own collective personality, its own "chemistry."  This is true even for different sections of the same course.
  • Ongoing:  Classroom assessment is an ongoing process, perhaps best thought of as the creation and maintenance of a classroom "feedback look."  By employing a number of simple classroom assessment techniques that are quick and easy to use, teachers get feedback from students on their learning.
  • Rooted in Good Teaching Practice:  Most college teachers already collect some feedback on their students' learning and use that feedback to inform their teaching.  Classroom assessment is an attempt to build on existing good practice by making it more systematic, more flexible, and more effective.

Examples of Two Classroom Assessment Techniques
The One-Minute Paper provides a way to obtain input about how well students comprehend the context of a lecture or discussion.  To initiate the process, the instructor stops the class a few minutes (3-4) before the end of the period and asks students to respond to some variation of two questions designed to find out what it the most important thing they learned and what subject matter remains unclear.  The process provides student self-assessment process with which the instructor can not only obtain a sense of how well the students are or are not learning important material, but also see how they use important language related to the content and skill of the course.  In addition, as Cross and Angelo (1993) suggest, the Minute Paper assesses more than mere recall.  To select the most important or significant information, learners must first evaluate what they recall.  Then, to come up with a question, students must self-assess, asking themselves how well they understand what they have just heard or studied (p. 148).
  • The One-Minute Paper

            Please answer each question in 1 or 2 sentences:

    1.  What was the most useful or meaningful thing you learned during this session?
    2.  What question(s) remain uppermost in your mind as we end this session?

The use of the Muddiest Point Question provides a way for instructors to obtain feedback about what students find unclear about assignments, lectures, discussions, laboratory exercises, tutorials, etc.  When administered at an appropriate moment, the process provides a way for students to reflect on what they have heard/done and identity information, steps, or ideas where they are having difficulty.  In this way, it requires that students go beyond simple recall of information to some of the higher order thinking such as analysis, synthesis, and evaluation.  For the instructor, the technique provides an efficient way to get a sense of where students are having difficulty and determining the next steps for helping students master difficult information or skills.  As Cross and Angelo (1993) suggest, "It is particularly suited to large, lower-division classes.  Since students' responses to the Muddiest Point question usually consists of a few words or phrases, a teacher can read and sort a great many in a few minutes" (p. 154). 
  • The "Muddiest" Point**
      What was the "muddiest" point so far in this session? 
      (In other words, what was least clear to you?)

A Sampling of Classroom Assessment Techniques
  • Background Knowledge Probe - student familiarity with terms or basic problems in topic area is assessed.
  • Teaching Goals Inventory (modified) - teachers compare their goals with those of the students.
  • Focused Listing - students free association of terms associated with topic.
  • Directed paraphrasing - putting key terms into their own words.
  • Appropriate Analogies - students generate linkages between class material and other knowledge.
  • One-Minute Paper/Summaries - students identify key points from the class session.
  • Muddiest Point - students identify the most unclear part of the class session.
  • One Sentence Summary - class material is boiled down to one sentence.
  • Applications Card - students pull out key ideas and how they might apply them.
  • Group Informal Feedback on Teaching - students work in small groups to generate course feedback.
  • Pro and Con Grid - analysis of a key idea or approach.
  • Word Journals - one word is chosen to represent the class/week around which the student writes a journal entry explaining their choice of words.
  • Concrete Maps - free association of terms and subsequent visual mapping of relationships.
  • Human Tableau/Class Modeling - different points of the room are used to represent choices, students are posed questions and then locate appropriately.
  • Classroom Opinion/Problem Poll - teacher poses multiple choice questions, students respond on held-up cards.
  • Punctuated Lecture - teacher stops lecture at 1-2 points and asks students to reflect on what they are learning and how.
  • Electronic Mail Feedback - feedback about the course is requested over email/list-serv.
  • Student Management Teams/Quality Circles - students select a sub-group to regularly discuss class issues and content with the teacher.
  • Assignment Assessment/Reading Rating/Exam Evaluation - teacher asks students to evaluate the assignment/reading/exam on several criteria.

Article adapted from:  Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993).  Classroom assessment techniques:  A handbook for college teachers.  (2nd ed.) (pp. 3-6).  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.

From:  Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993).  Classroom assessment techniques:  A handbook for college teachers. (2nd ed.) (pp. 148-153).  San Francisco:  Jossey-Bass.
**This Classroom Assessment Technique was developed by Dr. Frederick Mosteller, a distinguished professor statistics at Harvard University.  For a detailed account of its development and use, see his article, The Muddiest Point in the Lecture" as a Feedback Device in On Teaching and Learning:  The Journal of the Harvard-Danford Center, Volume 3, April 1989, pages 10-21.  To request copies or reprints of the article, contact:  The Derek Bok Center for Teaching and Learning, 318 Science Center, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138.