The research suggests that lectures are most effective if they can be interrupted with some active learning exercise. One such approach is to give the students short, ungraded, anonymous quizzes. These exercises are called "Classroom Assessment Techniques" and they serve two purposes. On the one hand, they make the students engage more actively with the material, and, at the same time, they give the instructor a sense of what the students are getting out of the class. Here are some examples:
- One Sentence Summaries. Students are asked to respond to a specific question that directs their thinking, e.g. "What is Descartes trying to prove with by talking about dreams?"
- Surveys of Knowledge. Ask students (before topic is covered) what their beliefs about the topic are.
- Application Cards. Students are asked to write on a card a specific real world application of the theory or concept that has just been discussed in class. This also tests a higher order of thinking then just understanding what is said.
- Chain notes. The professor passes out several envelopes, each has a question about the class. Students read the question, write a brief answer, and put it in the envelope.
- One Minute Papers. Here the professor asks students (at the end of the class) to explain what the major point of the day was and what they still don't understand.
There are a variety of other techniques as well, including:
- Group quizzes (with scratch-off sheets). We usually think of quizzes as a way to assess individual students but they often work better if assigned to a group. Dan Mittag (Albion College) does these with scratch off sheets available from if-at.com. The students get a multiple choice answer sheet with scratch off responses and they work together to figure out the best answer. If they scratch off the correct response they see an "*." If their first answer is wrong, they need to decide which is the next best answer. The fewer the scratch-offs, the better they have done. TΦ101 has tried this and the students went absolutely crazy for it. These were ungraded and the students don't even hand them in. Nonetheless, the noise level in the room was at a record high and groups that got all of the correct answers were observed hugging and high fiving each other.
- S-E-E-I (sometimes called the SEEing I) is an exercise where students are asked to go through a four step process with a concept that the teacher has introduced: 1) S-tate the concept; 2) E-laborate upon it; 3) E-xemplify it by providing an example or application; and 4) I-llustrate it with a map or chart. You can also ask groups of students do do this.
- C.L.I.M.B is a similar task: 1) Choose a concept from the class discussion; 2) List similarities to a concept from another class; 3) Identify differences between the two concepts; 3)Make up new examples; 5) Build a paragraph demonstrated understanding.
- IDEA is a good exercise for the end of class, and is a variation on the one minute paper strategy: 1) Identify a concept from the class; 2)Describe why it is important; 3) Elaborate on what thoughts or questions the concept brings up; 4) Apply the concept to some area of your life.
- Clickers. In large classes, professors use these electronic devices (that look like TV remotes) to answer multiple choice questions projected at the front of the class. These can either give the professor feedback to direct the lecture or can be used as the basis of small group discussions.
- Polling. Whether or not one uses clickers, student surveys on issues are a great way to build student engagement. For example, a teacher might distribute a survey with some questions about some cases at the beginning of class (asking other students to quickly score and tabulate the results) and then use the results to guide the lecture or discussion. Nadelhoffer and Nahmias have an excellent discussion of this in Teaching Philosophy (31.1 2008: 39-58), including some suggestions and sample cases.
- Time on Task. Ask students (anonymously) how much time they spent in the last week doing the assignments.
- For more, consult the website on Classroom Reaching Activities from Iowa State University's CELT (Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching) Website. Great name for a teaching center!
"Classroom Assessment Techniques." National Teaching and Learning Forum 14 February 2008 <http://www.ntlf.com/html/lib/bib/assess.htm>
"Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS). Vanderbilt University Center for Teaching. 22 February 2008 http://www.vanderbilt.edu/cft/resources/teaching_resources/assessment/cats.htm.
Sweet, Charlie, Hal Blyth, and Bill Phillips, are the source for SEE-I, CLIMB, and IDEA above, in "Triple Play" National teaching and Learning Forum 19:2, February 2010, 1-4
Angelo, T.A. and K.P. Cross. Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1993. Some material from the Angelo and Cross book is available on a University of Hawaii website: http://honolulu.hawaii.edu/intranet/committees/FacDevCom/guidebk/teachtip/assess-2.htm
Nadelhoffer, Thomas, Eddy Nahmias, "Polling as Pedagogy: Experimental Philosophy as a Valuable Tool for Teaching Philosophy." Teaching Philosophy 31.1 (2008): 39-58.
Also check your search engine on Classroom Assessment Techniques for other pages on this topic.
Author: John Immerwahr
Update: Oct 11, 2012