Anatomy’s Assessment of Assessment

Last Tuesday’s in-class discussion of assessment strategies really got my juices flowing. How was I going to get my 35 Anatomy students to participate in this first topic of “Mapping The Future…”? How to present it? What to present? Where to start?

Well, I thought that perhaps my students might be just as uninformed as I was about the different forms that assessment can take. So I decided to start with a mini powerpoint presentation (only 6 slides) on summative v. formative assessment, what they are, how they differ, and what would be examples of each. Then I used a paraphrased version of Maria’s garden metaphor: summative assessment could be compared to measuring a plant’s growth every six months whereas formative assessment would be more like checking on a plant’s growth while being watered each week. The ensuing conversation zeroed in on key characteristics of formative assessment such as feedback, dialogue, and ongoing evaluation. We were off to a great start. Everyone seemed to immediately grasp the concepts and their interest was piqued.

Next I offered a twist on Think, Pair, Share in that I handed out index cards and students were asked to not write their names on the cards to protect anonymity.  I then posed 6 questions:

1) Do you think that this course is mostly summative, mostly formative, or a reasonable balance of both?

2) What do you think could be done differently to improve the assessment process of this course?

3) How does the assessment process of this course compare to the assessment process in other classes in this department?

4) Do you think that weekly worksheets and quizzes that count toward your grade are basically summative or formative?

5) What do you think about a process in which you are given the questions and answers before taking the quiz?

6) Do you think that you’re learning? Why or why not?

After all answers were written, the students were alotted 15 seconds to pass the index cards around the room. When I called “time”, everyone held a card that did not belong to them with almost no possibility of knowing whose card they had. This added a further anonymous element to the exercise and allowed for a free sharing of ideas in that anyone sharing what was on the card before them was expressing the opinion of an unknown classmate.

Before telling you how this all played out, I should let you know that grades in this particular are assessed using a combination of weekly quizzes, a midterm, and a final exam. The two lowest of ten quizzes are dropped. (In the interest of full disclosure, for their participation in the “Mapping The Futures” class, students will have their lowest quiz grade (after the two dropped quizzes) changed to a 100%). The weekly quizzes and exams are drawn verbatim from a weekly worksheet (with answers) that the students are given. So yes, for every quiz and every exam the students have the questions and the answers. But the amount of material is substantial if not massive. Worksheet questions consist of multiple choice, fill in the blank, and picture identification tasks. In addition, the midterm and final exams include essay/short answer questions that are supplied two weeks before the exam is given. Answers to those essay questions are not supplied.

So, a recap of the class’s answers to the 6 questions (31 of 35 students were in class):

1) Do you think that this course is mostly summative, mostly formative, or a reasonable balance of both?

22 of 31 thought the class was a reasonable balance of both summative and formative assessment. 5 of 31 thought the class was mostly formative, while 4 of 31 thought it was mostly summative.

2) What do you think could be done differently to improve the assessment process of this course?

20 of 31 thought that hands-on projects, group activities, and videos would improve the class. 7 of 31 said they liked it the way it was. 4 of 31 thought that the large amount of questions was onerous.

3) How does the assessment process of this course compare to the assessment process in other classes in this department?

Though students varied on whether this course appeared to be more formative or more summative in assessment strategies than other classes, all 31 thought that process was clearer, more fair, and more straight forward than the other classes they were taking. Many students commented that the weekly worksheets and quizzes were powerful self-evaluation tools.

4) Do you think that weekly worksheets and quizzes that count toward your grade are basically summative or formative?

17 of 31 thought that the weekly worksheets and quizzes were mostly formative. 12 of 31 though that they were a combination of both formative and summative. 2 of 31 thought that the weekly worksheets and quizzes were mostly summative.

5) What do you think about a process in which you are given the questions and answers before taking the quiz?

31 of 31 responded with some version of “like it”, “love it”, “great”, “brilliant”, “genius”, and “awesome”. Many of the comments referred to reduced stress, no panic, lots of learning, less mystery, and a general sense of relief that they were able to learn so much material with so little drama. In other words, fear, a formidable presence in many science courses, had been removed from the equation.

6) Do you think that you’re learning? Why or why not?

28 of 31 replied that they were confident they were learning a lot and that they understood the material well. Most commented that they were learning so much because they weren’t worried or scared. 2 of 31 wrote that though they thought they were learning a lot, they expressed concern as to whether the methodology would allow them to retain the information over the long term. One of those students felt that the weekly quizzes added too much pressure. That student also commented that topics were not connected, explained well, or built upon one another. 1 of 31 students did not respond to the question.

My general summary:

Wow! I had absolutely no idea what to expect from this exercise, but I am awed by the responses and the honesty of the students. Though a vast majority of the students feel that there are significant formative aspects to the assessment strategy, a strong majority would prefer group projects and hands-on activities. That really gives me something to think about as we move through the semester.

The exercise turned out to be a great opportunity for the students to express how they felt about assessment in general as well as how it specifically related to this course. I’m particularly gratified that so many students are actively involved in an ongoing self-evaluation and assessment of where they stand in terms of mastery of the material. On a personal note, this exercise turned into a terrific evaluative tool for myself as I really wasn’t sure about how the structure of the class was being received by the students. Overall, it looks like we’ve established a pretty winning combination of summative and formative assessment, though there is always room for improvement. Perhaps I can reconsider the organization of the second half of the semester and incorporate some sort of group project with a peer-teaching element. Exciting stuff!

Think, Pair, Share on Friday the 13th!

I have to admit that I was a bit reticent about trying a Think, Pair, Share exercise on a Friday morning Speech Anatomy class, but I think that it turned out to be quite a success. Index cards were handed out to 35 students and three questions were posed: (90 seconds to answer!)

  • Was there something in particular from last week’s lesson that stood out as particularly interesting to you?
  • What do you think was your most successful strategy for studying this past week?
  • What strategy have you been employing that might not be working very well for you or might require some tweaking?

Students jotted a couple of notes as answers to the three questions and were then encouraged to pair with another student, preferably one they did not know well. Then they had 90 seconds to learn each other’s names and to exchange thoughts about their three answers.

You cannot believe how loud and animated this class of anatomy students got! It was really fascinating and fun to watch.

We then went around the room and each student said their own name and the name of their partner or partners ( a couple of groups had 3) and shared their individual answers. The entire process took about 45 minutes, but it was totally worthwhile and an important stepping stone in the process of reinventing the way in which science might be taught.

There were a variety of different things that individual students took away from the week’s lesson, but what was most amazing were the ideas about successful v. unsuccessful study strategies. The exchange got everyone interested in and excited about what their fellow students were doing, like the use of handmade color-coded flash cards. Suddenly, we had the makings of a team…..a class of co-learners and collaborators who were going to learn from one another.

Following the exercise was a lecture with dialogue and discussion on the physiology of respiration. The energy in the room was vibrant and energized all the way to the end, when I introduced the Futures Initiative website and invited all to join in and start blogging.

Looking forward to next Friday!