Archive for the ‘Assessment’ Category

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Self-Assessment as Final Exam

posted: 4.28.15 by Traci Gardner

This line graph from a student’s final exam shows the progression of forum posts that the student submitted during the term. His goal was to demonstrate his steady progress toward the required number of posts through the entire course.

Just a glance at the graph tells me that the student fulfilled that part of the participation assignment for the course. Naturally, I still spot check the forums, and I keep an eye on students’ forum posts during the term. I ask students, however, to do the work of examining their forum participation and assessing how well they have done by writing a completion report for their final exam. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment, Assignment Idea, Business Writing, Portfolios, Traci Gardner
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Quizzes Work: True or False?

posted: 1.27.15 by Traci Gardner

Last month, I considered the strategy of including quizzes in a writing course. Essentially, while I hated pop quizzes as a student, I thought I might be shortchanging students who do well as test takers. I decided to try quizzes in the online technical writing course during Virginia Tech’s Winter Session.

Now that the course is over, I have to admit that the quizzes seemed useful and effective. Logistically, the system was simple to set up. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment, Business Writing, Learning Styles, Traci Gardner
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Supplementing Your Online Course Evaluation

posted: 11.22.11 by Traci Gardner

4175299981_614e7d9dc5_mIn the next few weeks, we’ll undertake one of the more awkward moments in the college classroom: asking students to complete course evaluations. We need accurate, honest feedback to help us improve our teaching, but students are all quite aware that we haven’t turned in our final grades yet.

The system for course evaluation usually protects students to allay their fears that truthful feedback will affect their grades. Whether it’s on some departmental form or an online questionnaire, course feedback is anonymous and withheld until several weeks after the end of the semester.

The problem for me is that I don’t like to stick to only the official questions. As I discussed last year, the numbers generated from those official forms don’t give me specific suggestions or details. Love? Meh? Hate, Hate, Hate? That kind of response doesn’t really help me much.

To get more robust feedback, I supplement the official evaluation with a written question or two of my own. Last year, I even proposed Ten New Course Evaluation Questions that I hoped would improve the feedback I got by moving beyond the generic questions I had used for years. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment
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Tips for New Teachers #5 – On Responding to Student Writing

posted: 6.2.11 by Andrea Lunsford

The legendary Ross Winterowd, who founded USC’s program in rhetoric, linguistics, and literature, used to say that he would have surely been a hopeless drunk had it not been that he had to spend every evening and weekend responding to and grading student writing:  he didn’t have time to go out and party!  Ross was exaggerating to make a point (and a joke)—but many teachers of writing know exactly what Winterowd is talking about.  Responding to student writing is the kind of work that expands to take up all the time available.  Unless we resist.

I often tell this story when I am working with new teachers, because their desire to give as much as possible to their students often leaves them exhausted after every set of essays comes in.  They need to learn to resist that lure . . . in a reasonable and responsible way.

Here’s how to begin.  First, I’d make a distinction between responding and grading—and put most of my emphasis (and time) on responding.  Grading is just the final act of assessing the state of the draft, comparing it to the criteria you have established for the assignment, and then giving the appropriate grade or the number of points: this part of the process shouldn’t take long at all.  Responding, on the other hand, means engaging with the student’s ideas as well as the structure, syntax, and style of an essay.  This is where all the time goes.  But there are some things you can do to make responding as efficient as possible. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment
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Thinking About End Comments

posted: 1.20.11 by Andrea Lunsford

Karen Lunsford and I have recently been combing through the end comments made by teachers on essays in the large national sample of first-year student writing we collected in 2006.  So far, we can say that teachers today seem to comment in much the same ways they did 25 years ago: many teachers still feel the need to tailor their comments to justify a grade. Many give more criticism than praise; the majority of comments begin with a brief note of praise for some  general writing feature/category (good introduction, good example,  etc). Then they move into specific criticism of features that need to be improved. Some, though only a small percentage, round out the comment with more general praise at the end. The topics teachers write about vary widely, but as might be predicted given the shift to more research-based writing, we saw many comments on organization, on extending the specific evidence for claims and considering counterarguments, and on citation issues. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment
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Portfolio Day: A Brief Ethnography

posted: 12.23.10 by archived

With a late Labor Day and no Reading Day, Portfolio Assessment Day falls this year on the first day of finals. Not as organized as many of my colleagues, I am up at 6 am that morning: printing out student essays e-mailed overnight, fighting with a jammed stapler, labeling the tabs of manila folders, checking that each portfolio contains the requisite four writing samples, and gathering together copies of my assignments and rosters for my three sections. Though by my count this is my fourteenth Portfolio Day, the last-minute details threaten to overwhelm me. Still, I am surprised and pleased, for the most part, with the glimpses I see of the work my students have managed to pull together.

Colleagues drift in, more or less on time, for our 9 am start, congregating in the appointed classroom. There are about eighteen of us, with a full-time to adjunct ratio of about 2 : 1 (though the department-wide ratio is closer to 1 : 4 full time to adjunct). Chairs have been marked with coded labels (HP1, HP2, HP3 for my three sections), with the matching stack of portfolios to be piled on the attached desk. Bagels and a box of coffee, plates of fruit and cookies, and a bag of miniature Snickers bars crowd the teacher’s desk at the front of the room. Sets of master lists and cross-lists have been taped to the chalkboard, showing what portfolio sets each person is assigned to read and which pairs of faculty will read each set. Faculty new to the project stand squinting at the blackboard, walk away for a second, then return to re-examine the charts, looking around for a more experienced person to double-check their understanding. It is a complicated procedure developed over more than ten years of the project’s existence. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment, Holly Pappas, Portfolios
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Video Response to Student Writing: The Greatest Love of All?

posted: 11.8.10 by archived

Isn’t it interesting that, while we ask our students to develop flexibility as they write across literacies, genres, and media, we rarely alter our own style of teaching? So much of what we do is pretty standard and predictable, not to mention print based. The feedback we provide on student papers is the perfect example of our overreliance on print, I think. We write and write and write—in the margins, on the backs of pages, in memos. And maybe, just maybe, some of it gets read.

untitled4So I’ve tried to shake things up and offer students the option of receiving traditional written comments on papers, getting audio feedback, or simply coming to meet with me for direct conversational feedback. For audio feedback, I used to record comments on an old Fisher-Price, battery-powered tape recorder. Since students don’t have tape decks anymore, I can do the same thing easily via MP3s.

My friend Jeff Sommers has collected lots of great advice, research, and even feedback examples on his site devoted to this practice, A Heterotopic Space. Jeff does a good job presenting the reasons audio feedback is effective.

For me, talking through my comments allows me to feel that I can better control the tone of my feedback through my voice, I can better connect with students, and also personalize the process. And it’s important to me to give students a choice, because I think it recognizes that we all learn differently. [read more]

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Categories: Assessment, Jay Dolmage, Teaching with Technology
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Does Effort Count?

posted: 10.6.09 by Traci Gardner

High on the list of phrases that make me cringe you’ll find these: “Does effort count? I worked hard on this.” So many sighs have followed those sentences. They encapsulate one of the hardest concepts in writing instruction. Writing improvement is hard work, and even modest gains can take a long time to appear.

I’d gotten to the point where I simply ignored effort in grading conversations. It just seemed easier. A paper either earned a B, or it didn’t. Whether the student worked hard didn’t matter. It turns out that I was wrong.

I read “The Truth about Grit” in The Boston Globe two months ago, and its conclusions have been nagging at me ever since. The article explains the history and study of what you and I might call effort. According to psychologist Angela Duckworth from the University of Pennsylvania, grit is what makes one person succeed where an equally intelligent person fails. It’s the idea of applying hard work and perseverance to a task. It’s the same notion, the article explains, behind Edison’s axiom “Genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration.”

In fact, grit can actually be a predictor for success. Entering first-year cadets at West Point made it past summer training if they tested high for grit, according to a study by Duckworth. Another study by Duckworth found that students who become finalists in the Scripps National Spelling Bee also tested high for grit. Fifth graders praised for their grit actually did better on IQ tests than students praised for being intelligent, according to a study by Carol S. Dweck from Stanford University.

It’s not grit alone that makes the difference in achievement. Dweck points out that students need to understand that “talent takes time to develop, and requires continuous effort.” They need what she calls a “growth mindset.” In short, students must believe that they develop abilities over time, not that they are born with them.

That notion fits perfectly with what we know about teaching people to write. People are not born great writers. They have to work at it persistently, and the development process can take a long time. In other words, to improve as a writer, you need that same growth mindset. If you believe that you cannot write, that you just weren’t born with the ability, you may never excel. To become a better writer, you have to believe that if you work hard enough and long enough, you can improve your writing.

As I’ve thought about “The Truth about Grit,” I’ve come to realize two things. First, it’s crucial to help students understand that it takes a long time to improve as a writer. They need to cultivate a growth mindset where writing is concerned. Second, it actually matters whether I tell a student that I can tell she’s worked very hard on her paper. Effort, it turns out, counts far more than I ever realized.

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Categories: Assessment, Learning Styles, Writing Process
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5 things I do with grading criteria and rubrics

posted: 9.21.07 by Barclay Barrios

I often find it productive to think of grading not so much in terms of assessment but instead in terms of the goals of the assignment or class. In doing so, I find I can use grading criteria and rubrics to get students to think about what we’re trying to accomplish in the course. Here are some activities I use to do that:

1. Having students create grading criteria
Outside of class or in small groups I ask students to write out a set of grading criteria and, for some assignments, I let them know I will in fact use the criteria they develop. This activity prompts students to think about what’s important in the assignment, what skills we’re trying to develop, and what it takes to succeed. Not only does it help them then complete the assignment with a clear sense of the goals in mind but it also gives me a spot-check on how well we all understand what we’re trying to achieve.

2. Having students grade a draft
I find that if students can understand what’s involved in grading then they can apply that knowledge to their own work. And so I’ll distribute the grading criteria of the course or assignment to the class—this makes assessment more transparent from the get go. Then I have students break into small groups: a group for not passing, for “C” level, for “B” level, and for “A” level. I ask each group to read through the criteria for that grade and determine what they think are the key elements needed to get that particular grade. After groups share their discussion with the class, I distribute a sample paper and we grade it as a class. Surprisingly, students tend to be much harder graders than I am, but the resulting discussion helps them understand what I am looking for when I read their work.

3. Criteria to rubric or vice-versa
At my institution we have both a set of detailed written criteria and a shorter rubric in a tabled format. Asking students to imagine one of these from the other is another way of getting them to focus on the essential elements involved in grading. If you have written criteria, ask your class to design a document that translates this criteria to a tabled format; in doing so they will need to consider not only the crucial aspects of the criteria but also elements of document design (you might, then have them review handbook material on the précis and/or document design). Moving in the opposite direction can be useful as well. Students can expand on shorter criteria to create a more detailed account of grading. Encourage them to use your comments on past assignments to assist in filling out fuller criteria.

4. Arguing for a grade change
Whenever I have students who feel that their grade should be changed, I provide them with the criteria I used and ask them to create a short written statement that argues for the grade they think they should have received. I make it clear that they should use the criteria as a set of claims, tying it to the specific evidence provided by their work. So, for example, if part of getting a “B” involves careful analysis of quotation, I ask them to connect that abstract criteria to the specific parts of their paper where they are doing that. Sometimes, students will make a good argument but even when they do not, this statement helps me to see what they think they are doing so that we can have a conversation about whether or not that works.

5. Checklist for a better grade
Check to see if your handbook has any checklists—for drafting or forming a thesis, for example. For homework or in class, have your students use the grading criteria of the course or the assignment to make this checklist more specific. They can then use this checklist as they draft, for peer revision, or as a final check before they turn their work in.

So these are some ways I use the criteria to help students think about their work and how it will be assessed. Do you ever use grading criteria in class? How?

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Categories: Assessment, Assignment Idea
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Vroom Vroom

posted: 6.28.07 by Barclay Barrios

I’m getting a motorcycle!

I have a friend who’s gonna sell me his 2002 Honda Shadow VLX Deluxe. I’m soooo psyched, even if I am borrowing money from my retirement fund to pay for it! LOL! But, besides the normal financial worries, what was most on my mind when making this decision were issues of fear and risk, as in “Am I willing to live with the risks that come with riding a motorcycle, even with a helmet?” and “OMG yes I took the safety course and yes I have my license, but am I ready to ride a 600cc bike?”

Of course, in the context of this blog, this also has me thinking about risk and fear in terms of both me and my students. I have enough experience teaching now to feel relatively safe taking risks in the classroom, mostly because I can avoid the nastiest consequences. So, for example, sometimes an assignment just bombs but I can work around then in the class and course design to make sure the students don’t have to pay for my risk and, as many posts have considered, I learn and grow from that.

But I wonder about my students. I wonder if I create a classroom atmosphere that allows risk while helping them manage fear. Let’s face it, my students fear a bad grade and that often controls the choices they make and the risks they’re willing to take. I think, in fact, that somewhere out in the criticism there’s work on how students hyperconform. That’s OK to a point, but I think we’ve all witnessed and experienced beautiful growth from risks, both personal and in our writing. So how do I give my students that chance?

One way, I guess is low stakes writing. I don’t use an awful lot of that and maybe I should. More often, I talk with students about diving. In my universe there are two kinds of A papers. The first gets an A because it does nothing wrong; the second might have some faults (maybe even some serious ones) but it attempts to do something so original or authoritative or compelling or ambitious that, despite its faults, the risks taken translate into an A. That I call the “bang wow” A. My challenge now (as always) is to find ways to encourage students towards that kind of A. One thing I do is encourage students to look at the pieces of text we never discussed in class, the parts that everyone seemed to ignore. Often thinking through those pieces leads to whole new areas of argument that set their papers immediately apart. I need to do more.

So what role does risk play in your classes? How do you make it OK for students to take risks, how do you minimize fear, and what do you do when they figuratively take a spill?

Vroom! Vroom!

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Categories: Assessment, Classroom Challenges and Solutions, Teaching Advice
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