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!

62 thoughts on “Anatomy’s Assessment of Assessment”

  1. This exercise was enjoyable in that we got the chance to tell the professor what we thought of his method of teaching. Overall I am very content with having the weekly worksheet and answers in order to prepare for the quizzes. It would clearly be impossible to truly comprehend the material if all you do is memorize the answers to the questions. One question may build on another for instance and therefore the knowledge of the entire concept is necessary. I feel that if you are lost in this course you may be guilty of this particular crime (just memorizing answers). The Power Point lectures and worksheets are clear and understanding which allows me to focus my attention on the material that is truly significant and retain the rest of the information read in the assigned text as secondary/supportive information. This process also (as mentioned above) takes away most of the test taking anxiety which has made me black out on many exams in my past despite the fact that I know the material well. Prof Lissemore is also very mindful of how daunting so much terminology can be. He constantly looks for feedback to make sure we are grasping the information covered in the lecture and will not continue until we’ve got it. Questions are always welcome and answered to our satisfaction. I feel more classes should be taught this way, especially those with so much material to cover.

    1. Thanks for your comments Nancy. This particular teaching method was adapted from my high school chemistry teacher, Brother Edward Lopez, an Irish Christian brother teaching at Bergen Catholic High School in Oradell, NJ. I particularly appreciate your thoughtful analysis of the methodology and how it’s operating in the classroom. keep the comments coming…

    2. I totally agree with you. It felt real good to be able to express our ideas on not only if his method of teaching is effective for us but what can we do to make it even better. He makes everything as clear as possible.

  2. I really enjoyed the mini PowerPoint presentation on summative vs. formative assessment. I felt like as students, our voices and opinions really mattered on the overall perception of how our class is being taught.

    The anonymous element of this assignment, using nameless index cards was a brilliant idea! It was fun to read many other index cards and learn different ideas that never crossed my mind about this course. It was also interesting to see how some people viewed our class as more summative than formative. I believe this is the most formative science class I’ve ever been in.

    While we were working on this exercise, I was EXTREMELY shocked to hear that people actually wanted to partake in group work/activities and presentations. Usually, students dread this type of work but I guess it can be beneficial for a few people in our class.

    However, I hate group work. I just don’t like to depend on anyone else for my school work/grade. Personally, I’d rather do a presentation by myself instead of group work. Even though, its more work for myself, it’s worth it because it’s less stressful than relying on people in your group to get work done too.

    Nonetheless, now I find myself looking forward for Friday afternoons after class; just to see what new topics Dr.Lissemore or other fellow students are blogging about!

    Quick advice for fellow bloggers and classmates: Don’t underestimate blogging! BLOGGING IS FUN! You will be surprised how much you can learn about our class by simply replying to posts/blogs =) .

  3. The activity we did in class was really great; I enjoyed it a lot. The way you teach is very helpful. Before taking this class, I was a little worry about my progress and questioned myself “how will I do that?” This subject contains a huge amount of information but you’ve made it interesting and easier to understand. The power point presentations you show in class are well organized and easy to grasp. I like the way you go every slide and make sure your students learned and understood the material. If we don’t understand something, you give us other examples and make sure we all fully understand. The way you care about your students helps us, especially me, focus on the topic carefully with my full attention. Giving out weekly worksheets is a great opportunity for us to be successful in this class because it encourages us to review the relevant material for the quizzes and tests. It helps me a lot and gives me a strong grasp at the topic. My anxiety about A&P is going away. Professors should use this method to teach I think students will focus more and will do better in this class and other classes.

  4. I’m super excited that I’m in this class. I love the way that Prof. Lissmore have the class interact with each other. This is my second semester as a transfer student and I have never had a professor have the class interact in this way. The sharing of study techniques was very helpful because I can apply what other students are doing and it help me. I have learned a lot so far and because of this my studying habits have changed, I can now focus on learning and not just memorizing.

    1. Good afternoon N. Haywood,
      I agree with you, the sharing of studying techniques was really helpful because I had a hard time studying the first 2 weeks. By listening to techniques my classmates are using to help them study helped me modify my studying techniques. I’ve been doing better on my quizzes and now I’m doing a lot more learning instead of trying to memorize all the information. Prof. Lissemore does a great job at presenting the information and explaining it, not a lot of professors are able to do that. As of now the only thing that I’m anxious about is the midterm, just because there is going to be so much information on it, including the long answer questions.

  5. I think the exercise not only helped us to understand the nature of summative learning versus formative learning, I think it also gives the student some confidence as to how seriously the class is being taken not only by the students, but by the professor as well. Asking for feedback made me feel as if the lesson planning and effort put into teaching is more of a “two way street” rather than a “I talk, you listen” type of environment. I think it encourages us to work a little harder and to invest more time into the course because it actually feels as if we’re all in it together. Great exercise! 🙂

  6. I really liked this exercise because I feel that it helped me re-access my learning of the course material. I also liked that Professor Lissemore asked for the students’ feedback on the course structure in this exercise. Usually most professors organize the course on their own and don’t ask for student feedback. I really appreciate that Professor Lissemore asked for our feedback on the structure of the course, and considered creating group project for the class based on our responses.

  7. This activity was interesting; It was a good way to hear opinions and views from other classmates. This is also the first time a professor ask for our opinion or views on the class which I believe is important, to make sure everyone is on the same page and understands what is going on. Also learned something new the summative v. formative assessment and realized that most of my classes are formative. I believe there should be a balance of both that way the student has an understanding of the material. Something I think professors should really start to consider or incorporate in their classes. This was a cool ice breaker, makes class more interesting and ready to learn more.

  8. I really enjoyed this activity it was a way for everyone to share and express their feelings toward the class and the study methods they are using. I like the way this class is structured its makes studying easy because you know exactly what to study and what is expected from you. When everyone went around and shared their study methods I found this very helpful to see the different techniques other people are using. I like the worksheet and the answers so you know exactly what you will be quizzed on and it makes it very easy and without it I think this class would be even more challenging.

  9. It was very interesting to hear what the other students thought about the process in which we are learning. I think the weekly quizzes are very effective because it breaks up the midterm and final into 5 quizzes each, which encourages us to study in small bits. Science was never my favorite subject, but Professor Lissemore doesn’t just teach. He teaches in a way that is very entertaining, and makes learning about subjects such as the larynx more enjoyable. I also like the fact that the midterm is about 300 questions, so it gives us a chance to pass, even if we miss a few questions. Cant wait for the next class!

  10. Hi Class,

    This class has introduced a new way of learning to me. The back and forth interaction between Professor Lissemore and the class has been very helpful to me. When I am studying at home, I understand the different aspects of the lesson in greater detail because Professor Lissemore stops and explains the different topics in a way which allows me to retain the information.

    I enjoyed being able to give feedback during class on what is working for me and what isn’t. The interaction helps allow me to stay present in the moment, shake off the tiredness of the morning and be able to absorb the information!

    I am also realizing, as a result of this course, that I am very much a visual learner. Anatomy zone has been very crucial in my understanding of anatomy and physiology. However, similar to some of my other classmates, I also don’t enjoy group work. I feel that in a class as important as this one, we should each be responsible for our own grades.

    I am also a little nervous about the midterm as well. Each of the worksheets have so many questions as it is, so hopefully everyone signs up for this blog so we can reduce the amount of questions to review ( as stated in the professor’s last email)!

    Have a wonderful week everyone. See you Friday!

  11. Hey everyone.. I think im doing this right now! I loved this. I felt it was good to hear how we all thought such similar thoughts when it came to our opinion on the class.. Thanks for listening to our opinions. Looking forward to next class. Also can you just let me know that I am doing this correctly.

  12. helllo All !
    I think in my many years of school I have never ever said ” I lOVE THIS CLASS ! ” I enjoy the clarity everything is explained the pictures and the patients the professor has when a student does not understand and he has to repeat what he just said or describe in other words. I can really see he tries his best for all his students to understand the material.
    Changing the subject with the index card exercise done in class was an amazing technique for students to give feedback of the class to other students and the professor. I was actually surprised that the professor actually read all of them, but I am happy he read them because it shows that he cares what his students opinion and suggestions are. I was actually one of the students who suggested projects etc. It gives us a break from the same old routine all semester long of the quizzes. There was a blogger before who stated she doesn’t like group project because she does not like relying her grades on other people and yea I agree with her BUT if everyone has a specific “job” to do and they don’t do it then the group should not affected. ( professor should be involved in situation like this)

  13. Hi everyone! I must agree with you all that this experience with Anatomy and Physiology has been unique. I have never been very good at studying the Sciences, and assumed that this class would be a serious struggle for me. However, to my surprise and relief, not only have I been performing better than I expected on quizzes, but I actually enjoy learning the material. Professor Lissemore’s teaching methods have resonated with me. I am not afraid of the subject matter and feel encouraged that I am in a class with a professor who wants me to succeed. No tricks, or convoluted and confusing material, I am really learning the content well through having the worksheets and answers in advance. I am also grateful that the information from the textbook is simplified. I found the assessment exercise to be helpful as I got to hear how others study for the course. It definitely made me reassess and modify how I should be preparing for the quizzes. Speaking of quizzes, I am going to study now. Good luck everybody and see you Friday!

  14. This event was fun. I love having fun. Learning is important of course. However, if we are only doing learning all the time, it is actually no fun. During the event, I could see that everyone was really enjoyed. It was great to see that. The most important is that we did learn something while we were having fun.

  15. Hi everyone,
    I’ll start by saying I agree with everyone who says that they enjoy this class because I am enjoying it too. The professor is so straight forward and I love that because it lets us know what to expect. I’ve taken a medical terminology class before and there barely any pictures, let alone diagrams. So this class is refreshing compared to that. Good luck studying everyone & see you Friday!

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