Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Non-graded assessments

While reading the article for last week and listening to Tony's presentation, I was once again struck by the conundrum of how to adapt my grading to better facilitate student learning. Indeed, the paradox of learning and grading has always been a point of concern in my own classes. Because of this, I was grateful for the insights offered both by Tony and by the article. What I want to address, though, is the educational value that I have found in the use of non-graded assessments.

I suspect that many of you, like me, use non-graded assessments in your classrooms to try to assess learning in creative ways while sidestepping some of the problems that come with grades. I like non-graded assessments, because when I read them, I don't have to worry about critiquing individual students. I can spend more time assessing my own teaching through student feedback. One technique that I use in my classroom is the "one-minute paper." This assessment technique is more frequently used by colleges and universities and is succinctly articulated by Tom Angelo and Patricia Cross and is explained more indepth by Steven Draper of the Universtiy of Glasgow. Basically, I ask students to take out a 3x5 index card and to spend one minute writing as much as they can reflecting on a prompt question that I give. I might ask students what they thought was the point of class that day to see if I am doing a good job articulating my learning objectives. I might ask what lingering questions students have or what they thought were the most important two (or three or four) things they learned that period. I love the instant feedback that they give me. I usually can read about 3-4 minute papers per minute.

Has anyone else used this technique or a similar technique? Did you find the two links that I provided helpful? What other forms of non-graded assessment do you use? What are some of the strengths and/or drawbacks of this form of assessment? I am excited to get your insight.


Blogger Mwiebe said...

I use a similar technique on occasion, usually asking what questions are still unanswered or what was most clear. I also use these to ask students what they want to learn more about. This is where I get the biggest variety of responses, as well as some insight into what my students are curious about. If I can fit their curiosities into my future classes, I do that. If I can't, that is a great use for my class blog. I usually find a few web resources and post them to my blog for those students who want to go deeper into a subject than we have time for in class.
These 'one minute essays' have been especially helpful when trying a new teaching strategy or technique for the first time. Like Jared said, the instant feedback is great.
When I first started asking these questions, some students didn't take them very seriously, but I've found that if, during the next class, I refer back to something a student said on one of these, it lets them know that I read them and take them seriously. In turn, they take them more seriously now.

9:08 AM  
Blogger Mrs.Paswaters said...

Thanks, Jared, for your thoughtful remarks. I often use "non-graded assessments" for reflective purposes so that I can continue to improve upon my craft. As you mentioned, from time to time I set aside a few minutes at the end of class to ask follow-up questions that help reveal whether or not my students have understood the purpose and/or content of the lesson. Have you ever provided an opportunity for this type of assessment at the beginning of class? I have found this to be particularly useful in determining whether or not my students are beginning to "own" any of the information. If they aren't, it helps me know that I need to continue to communicate the practical nature of my lessons and how the lessons can be meaningful or useful to students. This activity also serves to create a continuity or fluidity among my lessons.

Additionally, I frequently ask my students to "trace the semester/year." Since we both teach American Lit, I'll use that as a frame of reference. Of course, there is content we are trying to teach in terms of American literary periods, but I also want them to remember other critical information such as the reasons why we experience different literary movements ... the cause and effect relationship between and among the periods, if you will. I have found this type of activity, whether conducted individually or collectively, not only helps me see where my students and my teaching are at, but also helps students to see they are actually learning something. It can be very encouraging to both of us!

11:40 AM  
Blogger kleibsohn said...

I feel that non-graded assessments are some of the most insightful and honest assessments that students do. In my class I will ask the students questions about what they feel they learned or what they liked about a particular lesson. They journal on this or we discuss this and I get some of the most inspiring and honest feedback than I would get back on an actual test. On tests they know they are getting a grade and it is as though they freeze and hold back on what they truly feel and think.

10:35 AM  
Blogger lgaffney said...

I also do something similar to this that's called a "ticket in the door" or a "ticket out the door". If it's in the door, I might ask something that measures their understandings of the essential topics associated with the previous night's reading. This allows me to guide my class instruction for any given day. If it's a ticket out the door, it is typically a reflection of some variety that I do following a major paper. Rather than one question, these usually have two or three that ask them to reflect on, for example, what they found most valuable about the paper's creation process and why.
I agree about the value of this feedback. It's honest, it's sincere, and it strongly communicates the fact that their opinion and level of understanding is what determines my instruction, NOT my own agenda.

11:20 AM  
Blogger Michael S. said...

I am becoming a believer. Specifically, I am finding these assessments powerful in several ways. The first is personal - I get the opportunity to "assess" the class or series of classes that encompass one skill or piece of literature. In addition, I'm finding that it allows students to vent regarding their own frustrations about unanswered questions or missing information (even boredom). With this, I agree that it is vital to communicate with the class quickly thereafter. I see this type of activity as a low-tech blogging (in a very short, condensed timeline).

I vary only slightly at certain times depending on the topic of the quick write. Sometimes I do "assess" the product as a Student Responsibility grade, never as an assessment for knowledge or as a writing assignment. Mostly, they seem to like the opportunity to communicate their opinions in a quick and painless way.

Lastly, I like the idea as a warm up or closure activity. Yes Ray, you read that right. Warm up and closure. As long as the timing and content of these quick writes does not become too repetitive or “set up,” they seem to work as a feedback tool, venting tool and planning tool.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Jared Robinson said...

I am finding that my minute-papers are becoming more effective as I apply the advice that has been given so far. Thank you.

7:12 AM  

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