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
outside influences on their lives, etc.


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

     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

    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.