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Questioning Strategies

Classroom Assessment is a systematic approach to formative evaluation, used by instructors to determine how much and how well students are learning. CATs and other informal assessment tools provide key information during the semester regarding teaching and learning so that changes can be made as necessary. "The central purpose of Classroom Assessment is to empower both teachers and their students to improve the quality of learning in the classroom" through an approach that is "learner-centered, teacher-directed, mutually beneficial, formative, context-specific, and firmly rooted in good practice" (Angelo & Cross, 1993, p. 4).

In their book, Classroom Assessment Techniques, Angelo and Cross describe 50 Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)-simple tools (instruments, forms, strategies, activities) for collecting information on student learning in order to improve it. CATs are easy to design, administer and analyze, and have the added benefit of involving students in their own learning. They are typically non-graded, anonymous in-class activities that are embedded in the regular work of the class. The 50 CATS are divided into three broad categories:

  • Techniques for assessing course-related knowledge and skills
  • Techniques for assessing learner attitudes, values and self-awareness
  • Techniques for assessing learner reactions to instruction

Examples of easy-to-use CATs

  • Minute Papers and Muddiest Point, the best known and easiest CATs, are used to assess course-related knowledge and skills.
  • One-Sentence Summaries challenge students to answer the questions "Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?" about a particular topic, and then to synthesize those answers into a single, informative, grammatical, and long summary sentence. It allows you to find out how concisely, completely, and creatively students can summarize a large amount of information on a given topic. The format allows you to scan and compare responses quickly and easily. This CAT gives students practice in using a technique for "chunking" information-condensing it into smaller, interrelated bits that are more easily processed and recalled-and makes it is easier for them to recall the information. To use:
  1. Select an important topic that your students have recently studied in your class and that you expect them to learn to summarize.
  2. Students should be told to answer the questions, "Who Did/Does What to Whom, When, Where, How, and Why?" in relation to the topic. Providing a matrix with the questions ("Who?" "Does What?" etc.) listed down the left side of the page makes it easier for students to create the sentence. Some topics don't fit into this format described and you may need to create a different pattern, such as, "How Does Who Do What and Why?"
  3. Students should then turn their answers into a grammatical sentence that follows the pattern given.
  4. Practice the task yourself to be sure you can coherently summarize the topic in one sentence.
  5. You can evaluate their responses by marking each component (Who, What, How, etc.) with a zero, check, or plus. You can then make a matrix to represent the whole class's responses. This will tell you if students are having a more difficult time, for example, answering the "how" and "why" questions than the "who" and "what" questions.
  • Course-Related Self-Confidence Surveys are used to assess your students' levels of confidence in their ability to learn the skills and content of your course. This is especially important to know in some specific contexts: students' mathematical skills, their ability to speak in public, their athletic ability, etc. When you know the confidence levels of the students, and what affects their confidence, you can build assignments that build confidence. To use:
    1. Focus on skills or abilities that are important to success in the course.
    2. Make up questions to assess students' self-confidence in relation to these skills or abilities.
    3. Create a simple survey to gather the data. For example: How confident do you feel you will be able to do the following by the end of this course? For each, indicate: Very confident, somewhat, not very, not at all confident
      1. Feel comfortable working out in a gym and/or running in a public place.
      2. Run three miles in 30 minutes.
      3. Maintain your exercise program for a year after the class has ended.
    4. Allow students a few minutes to respond. Be sure to tell them that the survey is anonymous.
    5. Summarizing the data is a simple process of tallying responses to each question.
  • Reading Rating Sheets and Assignment Assessments are used to assess learner reactions to instruction. Reading Rating Sheets are short, simple assessment forms that students fill out in response to their assigned course reading. The purpose is to provide you with feedback on students' evaluation of course readings. You can use this CAT to find out how motivating, interesting, clear, and useful the readings are to your students. Assignment Assessments ask students to consider the value of assignments to them as learners. You can use this technique to see assignments from the students' perspective; get feedback on difficulty level, learning value, and interest level of the project/assignment; and also motivate students to complete assignments because they know they will have an opportunity to assess the assignments. To use:
    1. Determine why you want students to rate the course readings or to assess an assignment and then write a few questions that will elicit the information you desire.

      Reading Rating Sheets

      • How much time did you spend reading this assignment?
      • How useful was this reading assignment in helping you understand the topic/concept?
      • How interesting (or clear, etc.) was the reading? Why?

        Assignment Assessment: (about in-class example problems)

      • What do you like about the example problems?

      • Who do you not like about the example problems?

      • What specific changes would you suggest to improve the example problems?

    2. Make up a simple assessment form and give it to the students to complete in class or as homework.
    3. Use their feedback to improve the assignments you use. However, don't ask for feedback on assignments/readings that you are unwilling to change.

An example of a more complex CAT

  • Concept Maps are drawings or diagrams showing the mental connections that students make between a major concept stressed in class and other concepts they have learned. This technique provides an observable and assessable record of the students' conceptual schemata (the patterns of associations they make in relation to a given focal concept). Concept maps allow you to discover the web of relationships that your students bring to the task at hand-their starting points-and compare their understanding of relevant conceptual relations to your own. By literally drawing the connections they make among concepts, students gain more control over their connection making. They can scrutinize their conceptual networks, compare their maps to those of peers and experts, and make explicit changes. This CAT prompts students to consider how their own ideas and concepts are related and to realize that those associations are changeable. Some students will find this activity challenging and even frustrating. (Note: There are many resources on this topic on the web with sample concept maps). To use:
    1. Select a concept that is both important to understanding the course and relatively rich in conceptual connections to use as the stimulus or starting point for the Concept Map.
    2. Before class, create your own concept map to determine if the topic lends itself to the mapping process.
    3. Proceed to have your students draw their own maps, either individually or in groups. Give them the directions and show a simple example of a concept map.
      • Begin the process by brainstorming for a few minutes, writing down terms and short phrases closely related to the stimulus.
      • Draw a concept map based on your brainstorming, placing the stimulus in the center and drawing lines to other concepts. It can look roughly like a wheel with spokes, or it might take other forms such as a geographical map, a hierarchical chart, a flowchart, etc.
      • After sketching in the primary associations, move on to add secondary and even tertiary levels of association, if appropriate.
      • Determine the ways in which the various concepts are related to each other and write those types of relations on the lines connecting the concepts.
    4. You can compare the students' maps to your own, being aware that they might come up with different elements and relationships.

Readings

  • Angelo, T.A., & Cross, K.P. (1993). Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.