Roots “Midterm Formative Assessment” Survey Results

Before spring break I gave my Roots students a Midterm Formative Assessment Survey. Below is a summary of their answers. The results of this survey bring to light many of the issues that arise when learning leaves the classroom and falls into the unstructured category of “homework” and “self-study.” In addition, students have both favorable and not-so-favorable responses to many of the student-centered activities I have tried out this semester which have taken the forms of group-work and “projects.” I conclude this summary with a call for help – how can I better balance my classroom and lessons?

1. Course Objectives – I first asked my students to please rate their confidence in performing the following from 1 (low) to 5 (high).

*Based on their quiz results I would shift their answers up by a point. There might be some under confidence bias reflected here.

Finding the stem of a Latin noun or adjective  Average was between a 3-4. Since this task is the most basic one the students need to master (before they can do anything else really) I am not as happy with these numbers as I would like to be. In my lesson plans I aim to review roots/stems in some form every class but I am now wondering if the correct answers I have been hearing have been simply coming from those few students who circled 5 on their surveys. Also, going by their quizzes, I would actually give this objective a solid 4.5. Very rarely do students make mistakes in this area.

Transliterating a Greek word  The scores were all over the place here (from 1s to 5s) which I can understand. 1) Greek is a new alphabet entirely to master and 2) the transliteration lesson was rushed in my opinion because of scheduling issues at the beginning of the semester. That being said, I knew both of these things before hand and therefore tried to compensate throughout the rest of the semester with frequent transliteration review (mostly warm-up and think-pair-share activities).

Since I only have a limited amount of time to review the Greek alphabet in class much of the responsibility (for better or worse) falls on the students going home and practicing themselves – better solutions are definitely needed here. I showed them a Greek ABC song Youtube video (and posted it to Blackboard) and many students seemed to not only like this video but want more.

Providing Latin or Greek derivatives on quizzes I know from grading said quizzes that the students are strong here and their answers reflected that.

Memorizing the meanings and definitions of Latin and Greek words  I will talk about this more at length below. In short, ‘memorization’ is the students’ number one “fear” in this class. Average was a 3.

*I also recognize that memorization is negatively impacted by test anxiety, which is when all the vocabulary you memorize flies out of your head as soon as you see that blank quiz in front of you. This is why I am much in favor of lessons that emphasize internalizing the material rather than “cramming” it in the night before the quiz.

Navigating a dictionary entry and/or etymology guide  This means can the student find the etymology of a word in a dictionary or online compendium like I was expecting solid 5s but the average was closer to a low 4. This is maybe understandable because it is a task the students must complete when doing their homework but in class I serve as their dictionary – which may not be the best thing. Hm.

Overall, I am most concerned about the scores for their ability to find roots/stems but then again, in the “real world” and along the lines of “applied etymology,” the dictionary task is the one mastery my students will likely use the most after this class and throughout their lives. So I feel I have a responsibility to improve their confidence in both these areas.

2. I then asked:

What is the ONE concept or topic in this course that you are worried about moving forward? Please be as specific as possible to help me address these

Memorization. Memorization. Memorization. They all put it.

Answers ranged from “I know I have to  – it just takes so much time” to “I simply can’t do it.”

I’m paraphrasing but still – sigh.

I’m only sighing because I know the (necessary) struggle all too well and feel helpless. There is SO MUCH memorization in classical language courses – pages and pages of lists of lists of vocabulary words (some written in Greek letters!). Because of how the textbook is organized (thematic vocabulary lists) lots of creativity, innovation, and energy has been needed to overcome this pedagogical inertia and invent new ways to help students with this challenge.

Knowing this at the beginning of the semester, the first thing I did was cut down on the number of words they need to know by being more selective with the the vocabulary the textbook offers. I am also extremely (extremely) explicit about exactly which words to focus on when studying and which may appear on the quizzes. In addition, I regularly “practice” vocabulary through various in-class exercises and discussions about etymology and their homework also lets them review these words too.

More is needed. Online flashcards and “jeopardy” review games have been suggested and I will be trying those out for our final review coming up soon. I also sometimes take a few minutes to ask the class “so how do you study” and then we talk about tips and tricks for memorization (like folding paper so you can “quiz” yourself on vocabulary lists or notecards with pictures for each word).

That being said – the rest of the memorization falls on the students out of class and at home. Which leads me to…

3. On a scale of 1 to 5 how much time out of your schedule do you devote to studying for this class? 1 (not as much as I probably should) through 5 (a decent and appropriate amount)

Their answers were hitting the 2s and 3s. Hm. To me the answers to question 3 are creating tension with the answers to question 2 because memorization/internalization and just studying and absorbing the material all takes time. I can only do so many review exercises in class because of time constraints – I find myself struggling to move forward with the lessons while at the same time constantly swinging back around to review older concepts. I had hoped to help the students master the “tools” to etymology in class so that they could use them on their own at home but I can’t serve as a guide or facilitator when class in over.

For many students, due to various life issues (which we will discuss in the upcoming weeks in the Futures course) the time in class is the only time they can devote fully to the material – which puts the pressure on me to make the most effective use of that time.

Which leaves me conflicted. For question 4 I asked:

4. What would you like to see less of in this class? More of? 

Less homework. Less group work/projects. More in class explanation/examples/etc.

These responses harmonize with what I said about – the time in class is extremely valuable. Homework was taking too long or didn’t seem to really advance what they were learning in class (I disagreed on that point but acknowledged that the exercises were long). They wanted class to have more time dedicated to review and to me explaining what might be on the quiz – group work and projects were taking time away from me lecturing and “giving” examples – in general I saw a preference for vertical, summative assessment oriented learning – a “traditional” classroom.

I had wanted the students to create examples for themselves and teach each other but some of their responses have been largely not in favor of the student-centered activities I’ve enacted this semester (not all of course – many liked the group work but were not as vocal as those who were not fans).

So now I open it up to you, Mapping class – should I try to balance my lessons more – and how? How can I use my time in class more effectively? I want to keep the student-centered activities but they are taking up a lot of class time…


  1. Hey Irene,

    Thanks for sharing these results! What kind of homework do you give each week? Do your students generally do it? Also, what are they mainly supposed to know? Are terms the most important objective or are there others?

    I’m wondering if you should send them home with low stakes work that specifically reinforces the material you want (or need) them to know. Perhaps, giving them weekly writing assignments centered around creative methods (ie: writing that incorporates dialogue between two characters where they have to use and explain the terminology, ask them to write a tweet or a “facebook post” using and explaining some of the terms– let them say whatever they want, just as long as they get at the heart of the meaning you want them to remember, ask them to go back in time and recreate a scene, fight, war, story, romance, etc. in which they have to use the concepts taught in class, maybe ask them, at the end of class, to reflect on what ideas they definitely understand which they do not. Have them write out how they understand the concept or term and then explain why their missing the others, then you could have them exchange papers and respond to the reflection. Sometimes, I find this can offer students clarity about an idea that is too complex to grasp right away. Or you could have them go home and look up videos or google these ideas to get a basic understanding. A friend of mine is bringing post-it notes to class and having students draw a scene from the book they’re reading. She wants each student to analyze and interpret the drawing and leave the post next to the picture (which will be taped to the wall).

    I hope I was able to help in some way. Tell me more about the class–it might help me understand what kind of ideas are practical.

  2. Hi Michelle-

    I’ve tried my best at answering your questions below. Thank you for asking! We should talk more on Tuesday too!

    What kind of homework do you give each week?
    Exercises from the textbook (What is the literal meaning of “magnify”?) and projects (Do some research on your own and find 15 of your favorite phobias – what are the roots of each?).

    Do your students generally do it? Yes, quite a few late and a small handful not at all. There is a certain section in every chapter called “sentence completion” and these questions go directly on the quizzes…all the students do these it seems.Project homework is far more popular than textbook homework because it is fun…but it’s often less directly related to the actual material in the textbook because of the choice aspect of their assignments – I encourage them to look beyond the textbook for examples. So while these activities are fun and lets them practice finding roots they don’t really prepare the students directly for the vocab on the quizzes.

    Also, what are they mainly supposed to know?
    How to find the roots and the Latin and Greek words that are the roots (found in the textbook).

    Are terms the most important objective or are there others?
    Yes, It’s mostly these terms.

    Love the idea of a creative take-home assignment. In fact, many of the “projects” are this: write a short story using some words from the chapter, a “song” project coming up where we look for roots in their favorite lyrics, etc. As a homework assignment these activities are well received, but I would like to go over them in class (to share answers, let them ask questions, start a discussion) and that’s where these student-centered projects end up (in their opinion it seems) taking up time better spent on a more direct approach to the material. I am 100% behind all of your activities but since there is a technical aspect to the material (finding the roots is sort of like doing a math problem) you could see the tensions that would arise if you tried some of these ideas in a math/science course which is traditional vertical learning — these activities work well at home (better that the textbook homework) but based on the survey not well in class.

    Thanks again for your insights and ideas!

  3. I see what you mean… Hmm. Does the textbook look like this?
    and are these the type of roots they have to memorize? What if they came up with their own roots dictionary. Perhaps each week, when new words or roots were introduced they would have to do something similar to the website I linked, with sentences they construct on their own that not only include the word, but define the word too. Students could exchange copies of their weekly dictionaries and compile a study dictionary for each quiz.

    Or: I just remembered. When I was studying for the GRE I taped index cards with roots and suffixes all over my house, at eye level. So, there’d be like 3 index cards taped to my bathroom mirrow, 1 on my coffee cabinet door, 1 on my snack cabinet, 3 on the back splash by the sink, etc. I’d stare at these cards whule brushing my teeth, making coffee, doing dishes… I’d switch them out weekly and add new ones when I felt ready.

    Another study tip I remember was when I was learning French at Hunter. I had to remember how all these verbs were conjugated so I wrote like 6 verbs and their conjugations in my folder pocket of my notebook. Whenever I needed a quick refresher I would peek at my folder. One of my professors thought I was insane when she saw my structure, but it helped. I began to remember more and more verbs.

    I think, the more they write it down, see it and use it, the longer it lasts in their minds– the repetition might be something to think about when trying to glue these terms to their brains.

    I’d love to talk more on Tuesday!

  4. Hi Irene, This is a very thoughtful summary. Thank you. Student-centered learning/teaching is also about listening when the students have anxiety about student-centered learning and teaching! One thing I often find is that a mix is good–and think/pair/share almost always works to bring out issues and problems, and is less stressful than an actual group project.

    Probably the single item corporations spend the most consulting money on for their employees is “learning how to work productively in teams.” It’s hard! Most students don’t like it at first, especially when they have come out of years and years of being ranked against one another. It is a crucial life skill that does not come “naturally” in our society, especially in formal education. No surprise they resist! Often, there is a kind of exhaustion that comes from having to learn all kinds of new skills and habits on top of mastering challenging course material. I have a lot of empathy for students . . . then again, I know in the real world these challenges are constant. It often helps to remind student that the point is not just the course or the course grade but preparation for what comes after.

    And it is still hard. For all of us. At any point in life. It is clear your students worked hard and that you are a truly inspiring teacher. Thank you for this thoughtful concluding summary post.

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