Mid-Term Assessment: Ideas for Right Now!

5 Oct

We’ve linked to and re-capped three posts below: a first setting out a strategy for gathering midterm teaching feedback from students; a second focused on a set of teaching and learning “change ups” that can spark new energy; and a third more specifically addressing ways to “up” the reading and discussion engagement as students now move into next levels of thinking and learning.

To supplement the original blog posts, we share here a  Mid-Term Evaluation template built on the What Works / What Could Work Better that’s integral to the Student Feedback through Consensus, which uses guided discussion and consensus to generate clear, prioritized, and confidential student feedback on classroom instruction or curriculum.While instructors can often set up these through their local teaching centers, it is also possible for instructors to survey their students by making use of the basic What Works / What Could Work Better questions linked to this technique.  Instructors who take this approach should make every effort to

  1. collect responses during a class session – setting aside 10 or so minutes at the end of a session for students to write out brief, first-order responses;
  2. plan for reviewing responses anonymously – this can be achieved, for example, by setting up a Google Form that does not require students to share their personal log in information, or by arranging for a staff member or trusted colleague to type up responses students write out during class time (then safely recycling or shredding written responses);
  3. identify themes within this qualitative data, in part via conversation with a teaching peer or consultant to understand patterns in the responses, and develop a plan for making modifications;
  4. discuss the survey data, proposed/immediate changes with students in a next class session, taking time to address also the what and why of changes you will not be making. 

“What Works?  What Could Work Better?”

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Mid-semester assessment of teaching and learning that’s based on the two basic questions – What Works? and What Could Work Better? – can serve as a reminder to students that as teachers we are, indeed, interested in how they are learning, as well as in how we are teaching.  Making use of this type of midterm assessment survey and follow up discussion, not surprisingly, makes way for students to meaningfully engage the required end-of-term evaluations of teaching.

The bit of preparation, class time, with data entry and analysis to ground a follow up conversation with students needn’t total more than two hours time: 15 minutes in class for students to individually complete th feedback survey, an hour compile and analyse data, 30 minutes to talk about the ideas with a colleague or co-teacher, and 15 minutes for a follow up discussion with students.  The small investment of time engaged in asking, listening, synthesizing and responding can bring big rewards in the form of enhancing the classroom climate, illuminating learning practices that work, and moving ahead with learning.

Mid-Term Change Ups for Learning and Teaching

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At midterm, the higher stakes papers, projects, exams and other performance-based activities are either taking shape or being completed.  With midterm due dates and exam sessions,  the energy level in a classroom often drops off.  As students are meeting deadlines for a number of courses – not just your class – they slump.  Perhaps disinterest, more likely over stimulation.  Perhaps low motivation, more likely over-whelmedness.  Perhaps boredom, more likely not knowing how to make the transition from one aspect of course learning to the next.  So, what are some ways for navigating out of the slump with our students?

In this earlier post, Jane O’Brien and Bill Rozaitis explore

  • formative assessment techniques to learn about student learning,
  • test review sessions & sparking new learning strategies,
  • synthesizing techniques for deepening learning, and
  • peer instruction.

Drawing on the mix of  “High Impact – Low Prep” in shaping activities,  Jane and Bill suggest a variety of teaching strategies teachers have found valuable in moving student learning out of the slump.

Keeping Up with the Readings

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One persistent problem teachers report around midterm is keeping students engaged with and accountable for regularly completing core course readings.  We know that actively responding to readings – whether the content is explicitly discussed in class or not – provides students with opportunities to explore new ideas, to practice ways of connecting readings to in class activities, to make room for integrating other students’ insights, to practically link ideas within the course to places beyond the classroom.  Low stakes writing prompts that engage students in rehearsing skills of thinking, responding and communicating in a particular field of study before the start of class can have a dynamic effect on their learning and our teaching during shared class sessions.

In the post highlighted here, Bill Rozaitis discusses ways of using short writing prompts in an online discussion forum to guide student responses to readings, building his suggestions from five factors that underpin success:

  • requiring the assignment,
  • stressing its low stakes nature,
  • using it every week,
  • choosing clear and compelling questions that scaffold class assignments, and
  • using student writing as an entry point for in-class activities.

And, as Peter Elbow points out in Specific Uses and Benefits of Low Stakes Writing, these approaches can be applied in classrooms of all sizes, with the aid – for example – of 3×5 index cards at the start of class, or via Moodle discussion forums which students and teachers engage ahead of class.

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