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.