CATs Herding – Rounding Up “Classroom Assessment Techniques” Resources

28 Jan

What are CATs?

Pat Cross and Tom Angelo popularized the idea of “classroom assessment techniques” in the 1980s. They originally described 30 ‘low threshold’ approaches to gathering feedback from students, the kinds of feedback that can be used, almost moment by moment, to gauge how a course is doing and to improve its effectiveness….

186781048_d41b264203The goal of any CAT is to give an instructor more insight than students’ faces and homework assignments alone could reveal.  A good CAT can be a time-saver by giving faculty insights into how learning can be improved while wasted effort (student and/or faculty) is reduced.  (TLT Group)

What’s the difference between a CAT and a quiz or homework assignment?

A quiz or homework assignment represents faculty ‘research’ into what students have learned – ‘learning outcomes.’  A CAT is research into the activity or process of learning. A CAT often requires students to think about their own learning. In addition to their other benefits, CATs should be helping students learn how to learn. (TLT Group)

What’s in it for students?

Across many different studies, the great majority of students…see CATs as evidence that instructors are interested in and responsive to their concerns and suggestions. They report feeling more involved, engaged, and interested in class. They tend to rate teachers who use CATs as more effective than those who don’t. And some students feel that CATs help them learn how to learn—as well as to learn course content.

Surprisingly, students rarely identify any disadvantages in using CATs. The few negative comments tend to focus on faculty who either do not respond or respond defensively to feedback, or on the fact that CATs “force” passive students to participate actively.  (Angelo)

What’s in it for teachers?

16736599_a7045c83acThe advantage teachers most often note is that CATs provide a quick and easy way to monitor what and how their students are learning. They also mention the importance of gaining tools and data to reflect on and improve their teaching. Teachers believe that this simple assessment and feedback method raises student involvement and learning quality.  Faculty, like students, report few disadvantages. However, some note the amount of time CATs require and the challenges posed by negative feedback….Both teachers and learners recognize intrinsic (more satisfaction and learning) and extrinsic (higher grades and student evaluations) motivators for using CATs. (Angelo)

What Five Resources Could I Begin Using Today

An Introduction to Classroom Assessment Techniques – short guide for those new to using CATs available here.

  • 5 CATs tested across a range of course topics, sizes, settings
    • Background Knowledge Probe – focused questions about concepts students will need to learn
    • Misconceptions/Preconceptions Check – a variation to pose questions to assess misconeptions
    • Minute (0r Two) Paper – students actively respond to / recognize the day’s learning
    • Documented Problem Solving – students use grammatically correct sentences to describe reasoning/decision-making process
    • Categorizing Grid – students map out key relationships, plot nests/threads/hierarchies of connections

Five Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handy Handbook  short guide available here & is useful for new or “intermediate” users of CATs.

  • Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 13.29.135 suggestions for CATs that both teachers and student find usable, relevant, helpful to learning and learning to learn
    • Minute Paper – student writing may also link today’s learning to preparing for class (home)work
    • Muddiest Point – a chance to name what remains perplexing, seems contradictory
    • One Sentence Summary – the sentence will need to be complex rather than simple to address who, what, why, when, where, how of an idea or concept or skill or activity that was part of a class session
    • Directed Paraphrase – students write about a day’s or topic’s key ideas for a specific audience and purpose
    • Application Cards – students analyse and/or describe a real world application for what they’ve just learned

FLAG – Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide – which lives here on the web, and offers three key sections for those who want to think about integrating CATs more systemically and with course outcomes in mind:

  • Matching Goals to CATs – complete a short survey on learning outcomes for your course to tailor ideas to your context.
  • CATs Section – includes specific steps, variations, limitations-strengths for a collection of well-developed “How to” resources written by faculty for faculty.
  • Tools – includes a Sorted by Discipline category for those who would like to browse for new or starting out ideas.

Classroom Assessment Techniques for assessing… – three categories of learning that are pertinent to learners and teachers alike; click here to learn more about CATs in these areas:

  • Course-Related Knowledge and Skills
  • Learner Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness
  • Learner Reactions to Instruction

Technology-Enhanced Classroom Assessment Techniques – this link invites instructors with online and hybrid courses to read more CATs in those teaching contexts:

  • Ideas for using “backchannels” like Twitter, visualizing tools such as, and the Google suite of tools.
  • For UMinn instructors, ChimeIn is an online tool that can be used to set up the types of CATs suggested in this resource.  This video introduction to ChimeIn is a good starting place – as will be a follow up TILT posting.

Background Resources

Classroom Assessment: Guidelines for Success
by Thomas A. Angelo, The School for New Learning, DePaul University

Flashlight Course Assessment Techniques (CATs)
by TLT [Teaching, Learning & Technology] Group

Cat Herder – for a bit of fun, the Minnesota-created Super Bowl (2000) commercial for Electronic Data Systems that sets out a CATs herding idea that will certainly get you thinking about learning and teaching:  See it here.

Screen Shot 2013-01-28 at 13.29.49


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