Recently we have presented a series of posts which aim to explore how reflecting on assessment methods can lead instructors to develop a set of meaningful assignments to engage students and improve course design.
From the student-centered learning model, committed to valuing connectivity of subjects and ideas across disciplines, to a review of Bloom’s Taxonomy discussing the building blocks of effective questioning, to Astin’s I-E-O model which provides a holistic sense of student learning, we’ve tried to offer questions which encourage reflection and careful consideration about practices.
But instructors should not be alone in their reflection. In fact, the more that students learn to reflect on the connections between their subjects, the clarity of the language they use and the ways in which their wider learning environment influences understanding, the more their work on major assessments will improve.
Students who understand these concepts can also offer positive feedback and encouragement for their classmates through the use of peer review strategies. Having students review and evaluate one another’s work can be instrumental in creating a positive and effective learning environment. Notably, encouraging review processes between peers can help students to construct an open and engaged learning community based on mutual respect, consideration and instructive communication. This kind of learning environment, according to Astin’s model can encourage deeper learning and a more thorough understanding of the subject.
By modeling fundamentally sound writing and reliable feedback, students can see a practical guide for evaluating the usage of grammar as an element of their peer reviews. Conversation and dialogue can help individuals to judge the criticism in written work. And as students get consistent practice in providing meaningful responses to the writings of their peers, they will improve in efforts to analyze effective paper structures. Students can provide valuable feedback, they only need a respectable model of revision, open communication about such work, and the opportunity to practice and hone their skills.
While the groundwork may seem daunting, peer-review processes actually relieve teachers of the hefty burden of reviewing and evaluating every nascent piece of student work, while allowing students to explore the complexity of evaluating the work of others. This higher order thinking skill, in Bloom’s Taxonomy, will allow students to not only help one another but also to help themselves identify errors in their own work, improve their communication skills and practice effective instruction methods should they choose to pursue a career in higher education.
The myriad benefits offered by peer-review can improve many classrooms, but only to the extent that instructors and students understand the value of reflection. As teachers reflect and help their students to do the same, learner-centered instruction, Bloom’s taxonomy and holistic views of student learning can encourage meaningful learning for all students. Make no mistake, measuring student performance is an important element in any curriculum, reflecting upon the way you measure to ensure that your practices are accurate, constructive and beneficial to the learning process is crucial to making such measurements effective parts of your classroom.
Posted in Assessment December 15, 2009
One of the main issues with assessment lies in the fact that some educators delay the majority of assessment activities until the very end of academic terms. Such practice leads to several problems that directly and negatively affect learning outcomes:
students do not know on what level they are expected to perform
students are confused and their confusion may lead to misunderstanding and miscommunication
educators lose their ability to communicate high expectations to their students
educators lose an opportunity to help students to become more self-reflective and improve their class performance.
To improve this very common classroom situation, A. Astin (1993) in “Assessment for Excellence. The Philosophy and Practice of Assessment and Evaluation in Higher Education” offers his input-environment-output model of assessment, which provides a very simple yet very practical framework for assessment. The main value of this model is that it reflects what higher education is trying to accomplish: to enhance the educational and personal development of its students and faculty. As Astin argues (1993), “taken together, student input and students’ outcome data are meant to represent student development – changes in the student’s abilities, competence, knowledge, values, aspiration, and self-concept that occur over time. Because the notion of change is so basic to the purpose of higher education, we need to have at least two snapshots of the student taken at different times in order to determine what changes have actually occurred. At the same time, knowing what particular environmental experience each student has had helps us to understand why some students develop differently from others” (p. 21). Additionally, knowing what fosters positive changes in students’ college careers can significantly improve the university’s general quality of provided educational services and, as a consequence, lead to its further success on the educational market.
According to Astin, the input stage of assessment, initial assessment, is crucial for building a successful learning environment because its helps both students and instructors agree about how teaching and learning will happen in the classroom. Instructors can learn what knowledge students bring to class. This allows instructors to customize instruction based on where students are as they begin the semester. Students in their turn, can become familiar with the instructor’s style of assessment and the general expectations for the course.
The environment stage of assessment gives an opportunity to critically evaluate the overall dynamics of the class and the impact of the material being taught on students’ progress. It also helps students better construct their learning process and analyze their progress as they move through the semester.
The output stage of assessment, the most common type of assessment, occurs when instructors look at the general course of students’ progress in knowledge acquisition and skills development. This stage can also be used by instructors to provide students with further directions for improving their knowledge of a particular subject and development of certain skills after the completion of the class. In this case, students will be able to connect their experience obtained in class with additional experience as they progress through college.
How can these ideas be practically implemented in the classroom? Multiple techniques can be used in order to perform this assessment model in the classroom. including:
- short quizzes targeted at students’ general knowledge of the subject, their previous experience with learning, or experience with the subject matter.
- prompt and constructive feedback on assignments which are thematically linked to the final project.
- individual sessions that are designed as a collaborative work between the students and the instructor.
Posted in Assessment December 9, 2009
To begin detailed discussion about measuring student learning, we ought to consider one of the most critical tools to distinguish between superficial understandings, and complete comprehension.
They can run, jump, bounce, and fly, but, when applied to students, verbs do something very different.
Students sit. Students read. Students write. How much more do we ask students to do? When we measure student knowledge we seek to quantify the depth of understanding they have acquired. But limited or inaccurate verbs often curtail the degree to which we push students to develop a deeper understanding of their subject thereby undermining the e
fficacy of our instruction and diminishing a teachers personal satisfaction with their teaching.
Harold Bloom’s Taxonomy of Knowledge provides a quick and dirty system for separating types of knowledge by identifying terminology that differentiates elementary exposure from complex and multi-faceted understanding. While each form of knowledge is worth having, the degree to which we value one can unintentionally come at the expense of another.
The hierarchical structure of the taxonomy suggests that while these forms of knowledge are separate, they relate to and build upon one another. Thus using the taxonomy pictured below as a developmental guide in formative assessments can guide the construction of knowledge and encourage deep learning.
For example, a class can begin with a question that invites students to recall or define a concept from that day’s reading assignment (e.g. “What happened in the election of 1876?” or “What is osmosis?”). The next step will be to build upon that knowledge for a deeper understanding by applying the basic information to higher order skills (e.g. “illustrate the process of osmosis in these cells”) and then using your understanding to analyze the situation (“contrast the disputed election of Hayes to the 1824 election of John Quincy Adams”). This all attempts to reach a point where students construct their own personal methods of relating to the text and making critical evaluations (“evaluate the role Grant played in guiding (or failing to guide) the election”) or creating deeper meaning (“design a laboratory experiment to demonstrate the effects of osmosis”). But when a student sits, and reads, and writes test after test after test, if the questions never move beyond naming the candidates of a given election or matching the term to its definition, then all the discussion, all the effort, all the applying, analyzing, evaluating and creating seems pointless. All we have left is a few random memories, rather than complete knowledge of the subject.
In discussions, projects and final exams, the verbs we use to elicit answers can determine the degree to which students express their understanding. Implementing Bloom’s taxonomy in the construction of measurements can play a vital role in ensuring that students truly comprehend the concepts that educators feel matter most. Re-evaluating the ways we measure student learning does not necessarily require sweeping changes; careful consideration of assessment methods? can finish, accomplish, or simply do the job.
For more information regarding Bloom’s Taxonomy and Assessment, explore the following links:
Posted in Assessment ,Learning Outcomes November 23, 2009
Recently, the BGSU community has been introduced to a conceptual learning model, designed by BGSU’s Connecting the Undergraduate Experience (CUE), Faculty Senate Committee. The learning model combines the major elements of the teaching and learning process, such as the subject matter, the instructional methodology, optimization of learning context, and recognition and measurement of the learning process itself.
Among the many questions raised at the CUE workshops in early November, the issue of how to measure such learning experiences seemed to be among the most common. Educators want to discuss alternative ways to recognize and measure students’ learning. Ultimately, we are all asking: how do we know that students are learning?
The main problem seems to be that many educators think of examinations when they think of measuring or evaluating. They believe the purpose of evaluation is to assign a final grade. In the learner-centered classroom that CUE seeks to promote, both the methods and the purpose of measurement are broader in their scope. Moreover, evaluation must be directly connected to course objectives and learning outcomes.
A primary purpose of evaluation is to help students develop broad knowledge of the subject and, more importantly, the skills to apply this knowledge effectively and efficiently. Evaluation exists to help students construct knowledge and set goals for further achievements.
To develop a broad knowledge of the subject, students need continuous feedback on their work in progress, which might include self-assessment and peer review. Evidence shows that student performance improves with this type of evaluation, which allows students to track their own progress, thus increasing their motivation to learn. Additionally, assessment does not necessarily have to be one way – from teacher to students. It is also important for students to have a chance to give their feedback on their learning experiences to their teachers. This practice allows students to use critical thinking and reflective skills that are necessary to their achievement of the University Learning Outcomes.
There are many ways for educators to measure students’ knowledge and skill development. The Chronicle of Higher Education offers a list of assignments that can be implemented in a learner-centered classroom (http://chronicle.com/article/Chart-More-Faculty-members/48848).
As the CUE committee’s learning model is discussed and debated, we hope to continue the dialogue about measuring student learning that will inform our curricula, instruction, construction of productive learning environments and the learning process itself. In the coming weeks this blog will present a number of new ways to think about measuring learning. We hope that you will join us for a frank and fruitful discussion about how we know when students are learning.
Posted in Higher Education November 16, 2009
As this semester winds down we wanted to consider how our use of This I Believe as the common reading assignment could be brought to a close. One option may lie within the BGSU Honors Program, where there has been a concerted effort to bring together a wealth of student perspectives within a special BGSU Believes Book. Dr. Jodi Devine, Associate Director of Academic Affairs for the Honors Program, said that the idea for the book developed from a program-wide effort to keep pushing students further in their interactions with the common reading. Dr. Devine explained that the program wanted to “encourage a sense of pride and a sense of ownership in the writers. This way we do not just publicly acknowledge student contributions, we publicly display them.”
Student essay submissions have already arrived at the department offices and program directors have begun the review and editorial process. Artwork developed by students has also become an integral part of the book with both the cover art and thematic icons growing out of work created by the students.
While the contributions have been piling up, the ultimate goal of this cumulative work is not merely to show off the work of a few, but to engage with ideas of the many. To this end, the program is also soliciting submissions from professors. Given the desire to collaborate and share ideas across campus, it makes sense to provide a forum for both students and faculty to share their ideas, their beliefs and their writing with one another. “This is an important question to ask,” says Dr. Devine, “regardless of whether it’s graded or not”, and certainly regardless of whether you’re a humble freshman or a venerated Ph.D.
One might be tempted to think that the end of a semester allows teachers and students to end our engagement with the curriculum, but truly effective teaching rests on ongoing interaction with materials, questions and each other. Continuing our examination and exploration of beliefs and values in a free exchange of ideas, as the Honors Program has suggested, allows us to do just that.
If you are faculty member interested in contributing to the Honors Program’s publication project, you can contact Jodi Devine or Paul Moore for more information, or e-mail completed essays to firstname.lastname@example.org by January 15th 2010.
Posted in On Campus Learning Events ,Writing November 6, 2009
As we begin to wrap-up our discussion of the Common Reading, the Center for Teaching and Learning is proud to publish the reflections of freshman student Lindsay Watts:
When I begin writing anything I simply do what I love and what I think I do best: I tell a story. I do it less for the reader and more for myself. You see, I like to be able to close my eyes and have a piece of literature read to me. I like to watch what is being said come to life beneath my eyelids and feel whatever is being felt in the piece [as though] it was happening to me personally. I have always thought that reading should be [an] experience that way, very vivid and almost tangible. So, in prewriting, I usually go through a few hand-written drafts of different images or points I try to make. Usually, I will write these down sitting having a coffee, doing homework, [or] in the middle of class when an idea suddenly hits me. Then I will take these hand-written drafts and paste and kind of glue them together into a paper and from there it will only take some tweaks and polishing steps to have a completed final draft.
[W]hen I wrote this particular paper I noticed that I had two stories to tell about two completely different parts of my life but they were drawn together by one simple element. My point in this paper was my passions and how they gave me the peace of mind to do what I needed to in high-pressure situations. My teacher, Amy Rybak, suggested, after looking at my rough draft, [that] I needed a relating topic between my horseback riding and speech and debate experiences–two clearly different things. When she mentioned that I learned something about myself. I learned that my experiences with my horse in childhood prepared me for the “spotlight” of sorts [which] I assumed later in my high school years. My structure was almost completely reworked, as it needed to be, with the helpful suggestion by Mrs. Rybak. She helped me realize something about myself and, in turn, helped better structure the direction of my paper.
[A]fter I…paste together a draft, it usually needs some adjustments and polishing. In this case, even though I loved my vivid introduction paragraph, mostly because I enjoyed writing it, I had to go back and rewrite the entire paragraph to sway the reader into seeing things from the right perspective. That it say, get them to understand my thesis better.
In the end I think it gave me confidence that: a) I can do this college stuff (haha) and b) that there are people who will to help and guide you into doing well. You don’t know how good it feels…to not feel like I’m doing this alone. Plus I’m always excited to go class because Mrs. Rybak is always in a good mood and has a very open mind to anything you want to talk about, discuss, write about, etc.
I’m enjoying this class so far as, honestly, my favorite class at Bowling Green.
Given Lindsay’s process, those who teach using the Common Reading might consider the following question: how visible or tangible are our beliefs? What can be done to help students see, touch and clearly identify their beliefs (in a manner similar to what Lindsay did with her pre-writing collage)?
Comments are welcome in the message board below.
Posted in Student Success ,Writing October 8, 2009
We continue our exploration of the university’s reflection on the year’s Common Reading with the review of exciting experiences in University 1000 and General Studies Writing classes. UNIV 1000 and General Writing instructors shared their perspectives on how the Common Reading can be implemented in the classroom curricula.
There are several types of assignments organized around This I Believe theme, such as essay writing, discussion facilitation, reviews, group presentations, or semester papers. Instructors might have different ideas on what particular topics they want their students to think about such as family relationship, professional growth, learning philosophies, religion, war, art and many others. However, these instructors believe that these assignments will help students to develop important skills in order to be successful in their pursuit of achievements as they enter academic life and go further in their life discoveries.
The desired development of students’ skills are aligned with classes objectives and learning outcomes. Some of them are concentrated on simply enlarging students’ knowledge on societal issues, encouraging students to go deeper in their understanding of consequences of past actions. Others focus on helping their students master analytical skills, as they reflect on how the class discussions of various This I Believe topics changed their perspectives over the semester. Another group of instructors work on improving students’ creative and critical thinking as they invite them to write diagnostic essays on certain events mentioned in the book. Additionally, there are instructors who attempt to develop better communication skills among their students as students are challenged to state and defend their positions, argue and reflect on others’ assertions and assumptions.
Michael Ginsburg, Associate Dean of Students, told us that he wants his students “to look into themselves and start to define who they are as a person in relation to others and the world around them.” Michael’s short statement helps us grasp the scale of the Common Reading’s impact on student’s general growth and development.
Posted in Uncategorized September 29, 2009
Carney’s This I Believe essay can be found here:
I wrote my This I Believe essay in the dead of winter, January 2006, sitting in my office one day prior to the start of the winter term. Over the years I’ve learned that this is a time of year when the warmth of a good heater and some student-free quiet moments often evoke a mood of reflection and meaning-making. My opportunity came in the form of being a parent whose only son, at age 22, had just made a momentous decision on his own to become a U.S. Marine. Part of me wanted to stand up and cheer. At least for now, following a string of dead-end factory jobs, apparently he had found a direction. This was his life and he was going to live it. Another part of me though was gripped by a sense of dread for his choice. Where would this lead him? What other choices would he have to make? Would he regret any of them? Would he come back whole?
This was a helpless feeling for me, a person accustomed to being in control, almost as if something or someone else was in charge of what was happening and I could only watch. That’s how the image of Abraham came to mind. This Patriarch of Hebrew scriptures (Old Testament) was asked by Yaweh (God) to sacrifice his son, Jacob, as a sign of his faith. The scene described in Genesis 22 tells of Abraham, who built an altar on a prescribed mountaintop, and upon arranging wood for a fire, bound and laid his son to be a burnt offering. At the moment he reached for his knife to slay Jacob an angel cried out, “Abraham! Abraham! Do not lay a hand on the boy. Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” I can’t fathom the confusion and terror in Abraham at that moment when ultimate trust placed him in these horrendous circumstances. I sometimes wonder whether he would have carried through on his command had the angel not intervened. The story ended well though (at least for Jacob) with the discovery of a ram caught in a bush, which Abraham then sacrificed instead. Regardless, surely Abraham knew that life at such a moment was beyond his control.
In some ways, so it was in the dark hours of morning the day I hugged, back-slapped (as only men do), gripped, and watched my son, Martin, board the bus heading to the Detroit airport in search of his new life as a marine. Someone else was in control and there was little I could do about it. Driving back along Wooster Street to an office full of unanswered emails, classes to be planned, and meetings to be attended, there was no ram to be had. It was time to let him go and trust that things would turn out okay. That day was my lesson. All parents learn, eventually, that they don’t get to choose what their children do in life, but only whether they support them. For me this was a sure moment of values in conflict. Let me explain more.
I spent my years as a college student (1965-1969), like many then, witnessing the horrors of war and violence on nightly news, as well as, in my case, through letters from a brother who served as a marine medic in Vietnam during the TET offensive. While in the classroom I was surveying the great accomplishments of humankind, in the streets I was learning to stand public in my growing opposition to the choices being made by my government and the destruction left in its wake. It was during this time that I made a fundamental choice to resist war and violence in all its forms. Taking up arms against another was something I would not do, but dying for someone was exactly what I understood I must do. Following graduation and a stint at teaching junior high school, I completed two years of volunteer alternative service to our country as a C.O. (conscientious objector), working in community organizing with a low income family and senior housing program, pursuing goals much like those of Habitat for Humanity today. My position since then has remained the same, if not more resolute, to oppose the use of war and violence as a means to solve disputes in this world. My commitment and experience as a professor has been to up-build the human community rather than destroy it. A correlate of this choice has been my lifelong general resistance to the military and its machinery. So you can imagine the heartbeats skipped when my son nervously announced one night that he had “joined the marines.” Imagine too his anxiousness in sharing with me his decision, having grown-up with a father who had been quite vocal in his thoughts about such issues.
My son’s choice had not been one that I had considered up until then. But values and commitments in life, it seems, are like that; they hardly ever come in neat packages; they almost always involve conflicts of some sort. Trade-offs are inevitable. This is where I found myself when faced with a new dilemma – my commitment to non-violence or my commitment to my son. As complicated as it can be, paradoxically, parenthood has a way of simplifying things. To me there was no choice other than to support my son in the decision he had made. Ultimately, in this case, relationships trumped ideals. With all the fatherly love I could muster, “Go be the best marine you can be!” were my parting words that January day. This was not unlike the experience I had, some thirty-five years earlier, with my oldest sister (ten years my senior) who, as a staunch believer in our country’s Vietnam involvement then, nevertheless wrote a moving letter in support of my application for conscientious objector status. I remember the late night hours at times of heated exchanges we shared across the kitchen table, usually on opposing sides of the debate, where it became clear to me that she and I were in different places on the matter. But mostly, in the end, it was her sibling connection to me that motivated her choice of affirming who I had become and attesting to the sincerity I had expressed in doing so. The generous effect of her response was immeasurable. I have tried very hard to pass that same gift on to my son.
Since writing my This I Believe comments, I have had some second thoughts about its intent and effect. Maybe the tone was more about me than about my son. Maybe it was just a little bit too self-serving. Was I looking for empathy or sympathy? I’m not sure. Would I have written it differently today? Perhaps. It was nonetheless genuine as I recall the moment. Ironically, I have never shared this essay with my son and we have never formally debated our respective choices. I’ve learned to listen much more carefully, though, gleaning from his experiences and stories just where he might be with all this. I have also been unwavering in my support of him and the challenges he has surmounted, making certain that I was there to send him off and there to welcome him back from each of his deployments. My exposure to all this, through his eyes, has not changed my commitment to non-violence, but neither has it changed my relationship to him, except to recognize that perhaps it has grown stronger in the realization that we are both living what calls us, albeit in different directions, at least for the moment.
For the past four years, through my parental eyes, I have been most grateful for the experience he has gained as a marine. In spite of my worries accompanying his two trips to Iraq, it has been comforting to watch him mature in powerful ways (including a little gray hair!) and taste the feeling of being successful for the first time in his life. The immediacy, structure, and physicality of the marines have lined-up well with his preferences for learning, a synergy that totally eluded him through his years of secondary schooling. Rising to the rank of corporal, he is now in charge of training and leading other men whom, I suppose, have faced similar choices. What better experience is there for a dad than to see his son find his own path? In the end, it seems, that is what really counts. Be safe, Martin; I’m with you all the way.
Posted in Uncategorized September 17, 2009
I guess you would have to call me a “common reading junkie.” Every spring when the BGSU common reading for the next academic year is announced, I make a bee line to the bookstore and purchase a copy. I always put the common reading book at the head of my summer reading list. I have found each of them to be fascinating and challenging in their own ways.
I have to say I was rooting for This I Believe to be chosen as the common reading for this year when I heard it was one of the candidates. As an avid National Public Radio (NPR) listener, I always looked forward to hearing the This I Believe essays read by their authors on one of the NPR shows such as Morning Edition or All Things Considered. As good as the essays were when I listened to them on the radio, I think I enjoy reading and re-reading many of these essays even more. They have been well chosen and edited. I am fascinated to ponder the underlying themes authors have described as their personal values and beliefs.
In fact, I have enjoyed and valued the This I Believe essays so much that in addition to reading and rereading the text myself, I have purchased a number of additional copies throughout the summer. I presented the first three copies as a Father’s Day present to each of my three grown children. I have made presents of several others to colleagues who expressed an interest in them.
This fall I decided to begin each of my class sessions in KNS 3400, motor development across the lifespan, by reading one of the selected essays. The learning outcomes for the motor development course focus on students understanding how human movement changes over the lifespan and how practitioners should intervene differently in clients’ learning than is traditionally done. The This I Believe essays provide a remarkable cross section of values and beliefs that actually have many implications for the students in KNS 3400. For example, Gloria Steinem’s essay, “A balance between nature and nurture,” while focused on her own life experiences, addresses one of the central questions raised in the motor development course – why do we change. In several weeks when we study infancy and early childhood we will be reading the essay, “There is no job more important than parenting.” As I investigated how well the essays might relate to general topics as well as course-specific topics, I was indeed surprised to discover all the many obvious and subtle connections.
I do have to admit that I was originally intimidated at the prospect of composing my own “This I Believe” essay as proposed in the appendix for the book. Every time I heard one read on the radio, while I marveled at the author’s well expressed convictions, I had a sense that I didn’t really feel that strongly about anything enough to write a similar essay. Then, this summer, I tried my hand at composing several essays. I surprised myself. It turns out that I just had to start with something not particularly life shattering, but something to which I related, such as humor, and writing, and morning glory flowers. I encourage readers to consider writing your own essay.
Posted in Uncategorized September 10, 2009
The This I Believe program began on the radio, with authors reading their essays about what they believed. While the common reading highlights this project in book form, using various medias in the classroom can help your students understand the material in a more comprehensive way. To assist you, we have included links to a few different kinds of media to help you integrate audio and video into the classroom. If you have used media in the classroom with This I Believe, please share your story with us in the comments section.
First we have an excerpt from an essay by Michelle Gardner-Quinn, as read by celebrities. Though the author was murdered, her statement continues to impact others. This video could be used to discuss a number of topics from grief to legacy to sustainability.
This slideshow with audio features individuals involved with Rhode Island WRNI’s This I Believe program and their associated program “Revealed.” This program highlights the personal backgrounds of those who read This I Believe essays. The producers note that the outcome is community: “Rhode Islanders are meeting Rhode Islanders.” if you want to discuss the broader aspects of the project, this is a great video.
This page, from the This I Believe website, shares the history of the project. Simply click on the play button and allow the audio to load. As an introduction to the project, you could have student s both read and listen to the history.
While we are including links to podcasts of various essays from the book in each of our postings, because today’s post features multimedia, we will include links to three podcasts of essays from the book. If you click on the link it will take you to the page with the essays in written an audio forms. The audio control is at the top of the page.
Josh Rittenberg, “Tomorrow Will Be a Better Day”
Albert Einstein, “An Ideal of Service to Our Fellow Man”
Norman Corwin, “Good Can Be as Communicable as Evil”
Posted in Uncategorized September 4, 2009