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Meeting students where they are: Assessing for learning

Posted Tuesday, February 11th, 2014 Tagged:

A special guest blog by
Hannah R. Fishburn, Visiting Professor of Spanish

We have all heard that the best teachers “meet the students where they are” and cater well to individual needs and learning styles. This can be a daunting task, and raises the question, “Well, how do I know where they are and what their learning style is?” This article will attempt to give a very brief answer to these questions, as well as a few tips and examples.

Pre-learning assessment

We all struggle with knowing where students are coming from and what they already know. This can make designing units and lesson plans very challenging, as we feel like we are taking a shot in the dark. Since college classrooms contain students of varied abilities and backgrounds, instructors are tasked with collecting student learning data that will guide them toward good instructional decisions. This, as with everything, can be as simple or as complex as the curriculum demands.

In some classes, I’ve used pre-tests with unit-specific sections to help students identify areas of strengths and weaknesses. Students were taught how to interpret the data from their pretest, and given extra help on areas of weakness. When assessment precedes the teaching of a concept, the instructor can design a more effective unit for the class as a whole and for each individual. While this is a little more complicated, it’s one of those strategies in education that I see as an investment. Students who enter a course with misconceptions or gaps in their learning will eventually require more help – the earlier, the better for everyone.

exit ticketA much simpler method that I like to use is an “exit ticket.” Simply save a few minutes at the end of class to preview the following class meeting with a few simple questions. Students can write their responses on a slip of paper and have to hand it to you before exiting the room. For example, a professor can ask questions about students’ prior understanding of a topic, their exposure to it, and any questions they may already have about it. This helps you to design an engaging lecture that addresses misconceptions, answers questions (many of which students are too shy to ask in a classroom settings), and does not waste time repeating concepts that students have already mastered. Most importantly, it gives us a reality check of where students stand, helping us to avoid skipping ahead and subsequently leaving harmful gaps in student learning. It also gets students excited about the next class meeting, which I believe really helps with student attendance.

Formative assessment

Typically when we think of assessment, we are thinking of the traditional assessment of student learning (known as summative assessment). Since these assessments are usually done at the end of the unit, the results do not have a lot of impact on the teaching of the tested concepts. They do typically have a heavy impact on students’ individual grades.

In contrast, formative assessment is assessment for learning. These assessments usually carry little to no grade weight, and may even be anonymous or not recorded. The methods can range from in-class discussions to pop quizzes to students writing the main points of the lecture on a slip of paper. The purpose is to give feedback to both students and teachers on what needs improvement before the higher-stakes testing takes place. Students will learn areas of weakness and be able to step up the study habits or seek extra help. Professors will know where the class stands and be able to adjust instruction, assignments, test dates, and even test content accordingly.

You can be as high-tech or as simple as you want with formative assessment. Our instructional technology staff can get you set up with the Turning Point software, where students can answer questions in class and the data appears instantaneously on your computer and / or the projection screen. If instantaneous survey results are not conducive to the lesson or your teaching style, you can collect quizzes, surveys, or short writings to mull over in your office before the next class. Regardless of the method, the purpose is to get (and give) feedback that allows students and professors to adjust study habits and instruction before the summative assessment takes place.

Differentiated instruction

This term intimidates some, because it sounds like having to do our job multiple times. The simplest way I can describe it is to first acknowledge that the student body is diverse, and then find ways to vary instruction to best reach them. This applies to assignments, activities and assessments. You can offer multiple options for a project, all of which accomplish the targeted learning objective. When repetition fits in a presentation or lecture, try to present the material in ways that apply to visual, auditory, and kinesthetic learners.

One thing I have used in the past is a learning styles inventory, which students can take to determine which learning style best describes them. Teachers can use the data from their classes to steer their classroom time and assignment design, and students can learn a lot about how to be efficient and effective with their study time.

Faculty Collaboration

While this entry was pretty specific to a few teaching strategies, I have one very general piece of advice to share with my friends and colleagues: collaborate, collaborate, collaborate! We all have unique gifts and talents, and unique struggles. We all have days when we feel like our classroom time went well, and some when the blank stares and chaotic activities (that had seemed so clear in our head) haunt us. This institution is blessed with so many gifted individuals, and there is absolutely to shame in turning to a colleague and saying, “How do you make sure students are learning before giving a test?”, “Could you come watch my lecture and give me tips on how to make it more engaging?” or “What technology have you found effective for group projects?”

The best teachers are great thieves, really – they seek out people who have more experience, creativity, or time on their hands and take their ideas to use in their classroom. And since imitation is the greatest form of flattery, I have never met an educator who objected to this sort of thievery. We owe it to the students to be the best we can, and we can certainly learn infinitely more when we combine our decades of experience and our unique talents.

Special note

I’d like to thank Hannah for taking time from her busy schedule to share these valuable tips and suggestions. I’d also love to hear from more of you, our faculty at Greenville College, about your favorite methods for instruction and assessment. Post a comment to share with your colleagues.

~Rhonda

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Faculty Tech Spotlight: Lori Gaffner

Posted Friday, September 13th, 2013 Tagged:

Fall is in full swing, complete with 70-degree temps to cool and calm us as we settle into our academic year routines. But this fall, there is something new happening on the Greenville College campus… and the buzz is that it is fun! Have you heard what it is? It’s clickers!

Late last spring, we introduced clickers to the GC community. A few folks came to training and began to consider the possibility of using clickers in their classrooms. Lori Gaffner was one of those who came, and she recently started using clickers in her COR301 Liberal Arts and Christian Thought class.

I’ve kept up with Lori through her “trial” period using clickers. I have been delighted to see the excited smile on her face when she comes by my office and says “We’re using clickers again today.” Curious about her enthusiasm, I asked if I could come watch a class period to see what was happening, then asked Lori for her thoughts about using clickers to share them here on the blog.

In Lori’s words:

RG: What’s the best part of using clickers in your classroom?
LG: They keep the students more engaged in learning by far.

RG: What is the student perception so far?
LG: They feel a part of the process, that their opinion matters. So far, I’ve asked content related questions that don’t have a right or wrong answer and wait for everyone to respond. I give them time to think and reflect because everyone’s opinion does matter.

RG: How would you rate the process of setting up and using clickers?
LG: On a scale of 1-10, 10 being the hardest, I’d say a 2. And I say that only because you have to learn the basic setup. With any new technology, there are things to learn, but this was easy. The only tricky part is remembering to open the Turning Technologies software first instead of PowerPoint.

RG: Other thoughts/ideas you want to share with other faculty?
LG: There needs to be a balance to how often you use clickers. It’s a novelty for the student. I’d say once a week is a good balance. So far I’ve only used them for anonymous questioning. I’m also looking forward to working with them on a deeper level by knowing who answers what. That’s my next step.

Above: Lori Gaffner using clickers in COR301, September 2013.

Want more information on clickers at GC?

Visit IT Solutions or contact Rhonda Gregory.

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Clickers in the Classroom

Posted Wednesday, June 19th, 2013 Tagged:

Student Response Systems, also known as audience response systems or “clickers,” are an excellent addition to the traditional higher education classroom. These devices come in a variety of forms, but the basic principles are the same. Instructors hand out a clicker device to each student present, then invite them to participate during the lecture by responding to well-designed questions. This type of questioning can increase student involvement, encourage peer instruction, and lead to deeper, more meaningful learning for your students.

Using clickers in the classroomClicker Image:

Improves student engagement
Increases active learning
Promotes peer interaction
Provides prompt feedback to student questions
Gathers information quickly
Allows anonymous participation – giving the shyest student a voice
Gauges the level of understanding for all students
Bolsters understanding and reasoning
Is fun!

How to Use Clickers Effectively

If you’ve never considered using clickers in the classroom, or just don’t know how to use them effectively, watch this video from the University of Colorado at Boulder which explains how to use clickers effectively.

YouTube Preview Image

To summarize, here are some take-aways from the UC video above:

Explain why you are using clicker to get student buy-in.
Write meaningful questions that progress the class, not just regurgitate information back to you.
Allow 2-5 minutes for discussion after asking a discussion question.
Facilitate conversation after questioning & class discussion before revealing “right” or “wrong” answers.
Explain why wrong answers are wrong to deepen the learning experience for students.
Let the answers guide how you continue your lecture.
Make clickers count only as trivial amounts of the students’ grades.
Use clickers regularly.
Be patient with yourself as you learn to use clickers.

Clickers at GC

Greenville College now has clickers available for use in your on-campus courses. There are two sets of 25 and one set of 30; sets can be checked out at the Ruby E. Dare Library circulation desk. Training is available through the Office of Instructional Technology. Contact Mark Ufert or Rhonda Gregory for assistance.

Additional Resources

Bruff, D., Vanderbilt University. Clickers and classroom dynamics. http://www.nea.org/home/34690.htm

Engaging Technologies Clicker Research and News http://www.engaging-technologies.com/clicker-research.html#sthash.63b7lBSS.dpbs

James, R. Using clicers in the classroom (slideshow with examples) http://www.slideshare.net/rnja8c/using-clickers-in-the-classroom-posted

Martyn, M. (2007, Jan. 1). Clickers in the classroom: An active learning approach. Educause Review Online. http://www.educause.edu/ero/article/clickers-classroom-active-learning-approach

Thalheimer, W. (2007, March). Questioning strategies for audience response systems: How to use questions to maximize learning, engagement, and satisfaction.

http://www.work-learning.com/catalog/

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