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Stephen Brookfield (and others) talk about having students keep learning
journals, in which they reflect on and record their own learning process
throughout the course.
I have never tried to have students keep strictly "learning journals."
However, working with beginning and high-beginning ESL students, I do have
them write in journals at the beginning of nearly every class period.  I
respond to their writings once a week, both to model correct grammar and
spelling, and to understand them as people and as learners.  They often
write about personal experiences, and I ask them simple questions related to
their learning process.  Especially if you have students for longer than 10
weeks, you can really form a nice relationship with them through the
journal.

Sharon Hagy
Basic Skills Specialist
Mt. Hood Community College
(503) 491-7590
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> -----Original Message-----
> From: ted panitz [SMTP:[log in to unmask]]
> Sent: Friday, October 06, 2000 7:19 PM
> To:   [log in to unmask]
> Subject:      Alternative/unique student assessments
>
> Hi Listers,
>
>      I would like to initiate a discussion around the question:
>
> "Do you use unique or interesting assessment techniques in your classes
> which help you get to know your students on a more personal level as
> well as evaluate their progress in the course?"
>
>     I am interested primarily in student centered type classes, which
> include a wide variety of teaching/learning paradigms such as
> cooperative and collaborative learning, problem or project based
> learning, inquiry based learning, etc.  I would also like to hear from
> people who use other approaches such as lecture or lecture discussion.
>
>      Many if not all of us are familiar with Cross and Angelo's work on
> using alternative assessment techniques before during and at the end of
> classes in order to obtain information from and about our students. Some
>
> questions they address, in the One Minute Paper for example, are what
> the students think they have learned during a class and what questions
> students may have after a class is completed. I see these as being more
> content driven. What I am looking for here are approaches that are more
> personal and/or give you a better understanding of the nature of your
> students, their approach to learning, learning style, level of
> motivation,
> outside influences on their lives, etc.
>
> Regards,
> Ted
>
> ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++
> Here are some of my experiences and observations about using alternative
>
> assessment techniques in cooperative learning classes.
>
>     Cooperative learning activities which I use in my classes afford me
> with unique opportunities to observe students interacting, explaining
> their theories, arguing for a particular point of view, helping their
> peers and being helped. Only a few minutes of observation during a class
>
> period can provide significant insights into my student's ability and
> performance level.
>
> In using observations I look for a hierarchy of abilities similar to
> Bloom's taxonomy.
>
> 1. Do they know the basics- definitions, formulas, vocabulary, rules,
> and procedures needed to analyze and solve problems?
> 2. Can they apply their knowledge to similar problems or questions?
> 3. Are they able to extend their reasoning and analysis to new
> situations or problems?
> 4. Can they create their own problem statements or questions based upon
> the underlying concepts being studied?
> 5. Can they explain their reasoning in writing or verbally to their
> peers?
>
>      By asking each of these questions I can identify the stage of
> development the student has reached and make recommendations as to what
> material and procedures the student might apply to help him/her
> understand the concepts better.
>
> There are many benefits to observing students at work in groups with
> their peers.
> 1. You can observe a student working through a complete problem or
> assignment versus seeing only the final product (exam or paper).
> 2. You can observe their reasoning techniques, level of basic knowledge,
>
> and concept attainment.
> 3. You can identify their dominant learning style by observing whether
> their presentation in pairs or groups is oral, visual or kinesthetic.
> This information can be invaluable if you help tutor the student in or
> out of class. (As an aside, cooperative learning lends itself to using
> multiple learning style presentations throughout each class).
> 4. Brief, specific interventions are possible by the teacher or other
> students to provide help and/or guidance for students having
> difficulties. I try to make these in the form of guiding questions
> versus statements of fact or direction. This is very effective but can
> lead to frustration on the students' part until they get used to a
> questioning response from the teacher instead of a mini lecture.
> 5. Informal conversations take place between individuals, groups and the
>
> teacher, which help highlight problem areas the entire class may be
> having. These discussions also help create class environment, which is
> more personal, as students get to know the teacher and the teacher
> learns about the students.
> 6. Shy students will participate more with their peers in small groups
> than in a large class and they too can be observed. It is very helpful
> to identify students who are shy in order to encourage their
> participation in non threatening ways.
>
>     By the time a test is given I know exactly which students will
> perform well and which will not. I often suggest that students postpone
> taking an exam if I have observed that they are not ready. I use a
> mastery testing method, which allows for this approach. This requires an
>
> extra effort on my part to have multiple tests available. I find that
> the positive effect of encouraging students to take tests when they are
> truly ready far outweighs potential problems. The one caveat here is
> that the students must keep up with the course if they want to finish in
>
> one semester. Their options are to repeat the course or take an
> incomplete and finish during the next semester if they do not finish on
> time. On occasion I have passed students on exams who have such high
> test anxiety that they cannot function under exam conditions but work
> perfectly well outside of the pressure of the exam. By relying on
> observations I can have the student demonstrate in their groups how to
> answer test questions or I can invite them to my office to have them
> show me their solutions one on one instead of in a public setting. I can
>
> have them make oral presentations in class or out of class, in their
> groups or on the board before the whole class at their discretion. This
> has the effect of relaxing students when they see they are not going to
> fail since they have several alternative ways of being assessed.
> Invariably their self-esteem builds to the point where they can overcome
>
> their test anxiety. They have demonstrated to themselves as much as to
> the teacher that they can understand the concepts and demonstrate their
> competence.
>
>     The benefits of using observations as an assessment tool to help
> students understand when they have mastered course material are
> numerous. This approach reduces anxiety markedly, raises students' self
> esteem, puts them in control of their own destiny and emphasizes that
> they are responsible for their own learning The results they obtain are
> based upon their efforts, not the teacher's.