Assessment

EnecoLearning Assessment

Assessment runs in two directions: I assess student learning, and request that students and faculty assess my teaching effectiveness.  In terms of the first activity, I gauge students’ learning and performance through bi-weekly, ungraded “Minute Papers” at the end of class to get a sense of how to structure the next day’s activities.  Short, informal writing provides a window into student progress. Formal assignments like projects and presentations naturally receive assessments as well.  These come from a variety of sources: myself, other students, and field experts when possible.  Building a chorus of voices into the assessment process creates a holistic picture of student work and provides a real world experience for students by pushing them to acknowledge multiple perspectives.  Grades and assessments are not equivalent in my mind.  I use grades as a pedagogic tool to reflect and reward student progress.  Assessments, which involve qualitative traits attached to quantitative values on a rubric, can proactively improve performance over the course of a given class.  In short, grades refer back in time whereas assessment reaches forward.

Student-Generated Rubrics

Because I want my students to rely on intrinsic motivations, like the desire to learn a skill, rather than extrinsic motivations, like grades, I often rely on student self-assessments to encourage my classes to define the importance of a learning goal and their progress towards that end in their own terms.  For this reason, I often ask students to help me to create some of the grading rubrics that I will use in our course.  This exercise forces students to determine the criteria that make for successful writing, or research, or presenting, and to outline distinctions between a quality example and a developing one.  I then modify the rubrics to a certain degree, as I have more experience with some of these skills than my students do.  In my Spring 2015 European Modernisms class, this exercise ultimately resulted in a rubric highlighting the importance of clarity and concision.  We then use these rubrics in three different ways:  students use them alone to assess their own essays, students use them in groups for peer editing, and I use them to grade assignments. Students tell me that creating and using these rubrics make them feel as though they have a real stake in their learning.

Participation Assessment 

I have used this Participation Self-Evaluation Form in two classes, “Introduction to Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies” and “European Modernism: Style in Architecture, Literature, and Film.”  In both courses, participation constituted 30% of students’ final grades, a significant percentage.  But many students did not know exactly what “good participation” consisted of.  Many believed that talking a lot, about any topic, sufficed.  By contrast, I considered “good participation” to be a much broader entity, involving attentive listening and preparation for class, in addition to well-timed and well-worded verbal contributions to class discussions.  For this reason, I created a self-assessment form and put it up on Blackboard early in the semester so that students could learn the criteria for participating in time to apply it.  Then, I circulated the form one-third of the way through the course, and again two-thirds of the way through the course.  Because I included a section on the form for teacher comments, this provided an opportunity for me to speak with students who were dominating class discussion as well as those who were not speaking at all, and gave them time to make changes if they chose.  I found this incredibly useful in promoting an engaging and respectful environment in the classroom, as it helped students to understand their own conversational patterns and how those patterns affected their classmates.   This written conversation between the students and I further ensured that there were no surprises regarding the final participation grades.

Blogging Assessment in Intermediate Italian

In my Intermediate Italian class, students write 2 drafts of 4 blog entries over the course of the semester.  This project emphasizes Italian writing skills, and moves them into an online format to facilitate my communication with the students.  Audience remains a key factor, as formal and informal registers require different grammar and vocabulary.  Students also do background research into popular Italian blogs to provide links in their own posts. Characterizations of emerging through exemplary work can be found in my blog post rubric.  Although I give students all assignment instructions in Italian, grading criteria are always available in English to give students a clear sense of learning goals.

Rubric content and use hold equal importance: I make all original rubrics available to students in English on Blackboard at the semester’s start.  By providing early access to assessment standards I clarify how each assignment contributes to skill acquisition and reinforces course learning objectives.  To grade assignments, I attach the filled-out rubric with applicable phrases highlighted, so that students know how to improve their work for the next project.  After two assignments and two group editing sessions in class, my students help me to redesign both the rubric and correction key, an exercise that helps the class to think through what is at stake for them in their writing, and how to meet those challenges with specific techniques.  A mix of qualitative and quantitative feedback assures that students trust the grade’s validity and can act on the comments to improve future assignments.

IMG_9264Project Assessment

Edible/Political culminates in a multimedia project that addresses all key learning goals for the class.   Because this project’s complexity and scale may intimidate students and encourage procrastination, preparatory activities take place in class where I can assess progress and catch potential problems early.  After only one month of class, I direct students to the multimedia project rubric so that they can structure their time to create and meet specific, measurable goals. Students brainstorm, pick a topic and project type, and then work backwards, determining the list of things they’ll need to do to accomplish their goal.  They write project schedules, anticipating academic and personal responsibilities that might come up and how they’ll keep their project on track.  This stage shifts learning responsibility to the student: they must regularly evaluate their progress towards their end goal using this self-created guide.  Class time is spent trouble-shooting in groups, asking advice from peers, and brainstorming solutions.  These sessions provide opportunities for scaffolding: students learn that their peers constitute a useful resource for feedback, and that they can act as teachers. Homework time is spent carrying out those ideas: doing research and communicating with scholars to refine and assess project work.

BlancGroup Presentation Assessment

This activity for Edible/Political gives students the opportunity to work together outside of class hours.  As with blog posts, this work requires that they project their voices into the broader world, and effectively tailor their message to a certain group.  I assess them on originality and how well they engage the class, as well as depth and clarity of research.  These qualities ensure successful transmission of students’ scholarship to the outside world.  Originality and engagement mutually reinforce.  Both are visibly apparent in participants’ forward-leaning posture and active involvement of classmates.  To convince students that presentations do not translate to nap time,  I use the format and rubric for presentations to emphasize the importance of audience involvement.  To control for unequal distribution of presentation preparation among group members, students write a reflection paper prior to the assignment, determining how to approach such a situation. They also write a second reflection paper after the presentation’s completion, assessing how things worked out, and what they would do differently next time.