April 9, 2013
Peer and self-evaluation of participation in discussion
We often focus on presentation skills as oral communication skills, but students more frequently need to either lead or contribute to productive group discussions. Small group discussions can easily go off the rails when students indulge in off-topic talking, inadequate listening, and disrespectful behavior. The dynamic quality of class discussion presents challenges to faculty who would like to hold students accountable for the quality of their participation in these discussions.
Multhaup (2008) describes how to prepare students for substantive class discussions and suggests two strategies for evaluating student contributions to class discussion. Many of these strategies can be adapted for the online environment.
Establish ground rules for effective class discussion(first week of class)
Establish expectations for class discussions by facilitating a think-pair-share activity during the first week of the term.
Use the comments from the group discussion to identify some ground rules and expectations for individual participation in class discussion during the remainder of the term.
Adaptation for eLearning: Create a threaded discussion based on questions such as
Peer evaluation of the quality of participation in discussion
Require students to complete a Participation Survey 3 or 4 times during the term. Each student must complete the following three evaluation elements for every student in the class, including themselves:
Compile the collective (anonymous) feedback for individual students and distribute this feedback to each student. If necessary, edit comments or add your own comments.
Adaptation for eLearning: Create a drop box assignment or survey in eLearning in which students answer these questions. You can make completion of the feedback a graded assignment (completed/not completed), compile the feedback information for individual students, and distribute this feedback through the course email function or provide it as feedback in the dropbox.
If you ask students to facilitate discussion, gather peer feedback about this skill
After each facilitated discussion, members of a discussion group complete a peer feedback survey for the discussion leader. The peer feedback answers the following questions:
Provide feedback several times during the term to enable students to improve their participation and discussion skills over time.
Multhaup, K. S. (2008, Spring). Using class discussions to improve oral communication skills. Teaching Tips (APA Division 20 – Adult Development and Aging).
April 2, 2013
Identify bottlenecks to student learning to develop improved learning strategies
Faculty are experts in their disciplines. The cognitive skills that comprise expertise can also create barriers to instruction. Experts internalize disciplinary cognitive skills and procedures through extensive practice and repetition to the point where they can execute these skills without deliberate thought. The automation of these skills (developing skilled disciplinary habits of thought) enables experts to devote their attention to areas that are difficult. However, this automation can also make it more difficult for experts to clearly articulate and explain how they carry out skilled behaviors. A solution that appears to simply “pop into the head” of an expert may actually be based on a complex series of cognitive steps that play out rapidly in the mind of the expert. When explaining the solution to a novice, the expert might omit one or more intermediary steps.
From a student’s perspective, experts solve problems through processes that seem mysterious and hidden. Students might not know all the intermediate steps hidden below the surface of the fluid performance of an expert. The “curse of expertise” sometimes prevents experts from accurately anticipating the obstacles that impair the learning of novices (Hinds, 1999). The detailed steps experts follow when they solve a problem become less obvious after years of practice enable experts to execute these steps automatically. Experts tend to represent and describe their knowledge in abstract language that interferes with clear communication with novices (Hinds, Patterson, & Pfeffer, 2001; Nickerson, 1999). The challenge facing experts who teach is to articulate their implicit knowledge so that it is explicit and accessible to students.
Researchers at Indiana University have been exploring ways to make implicit expert knowledge explicit through a process called Decoding the Disciplines. They identify three types of bottlenecks or obstacles to learning.
The Decoding the Disciplines process helps expert faculty identify conceptual bottlenecks and discover strategies to help make implicit expert strategies explicit and devise learning activities that will help students develop these skills. The process involves the following steps:
Interested faculty can learn more about Decoding the Disciplines and read about specific disciplinary examples by visiting the Decoding the Disciplines web site.
Diaz, A., Middendorf, J., Pace, D., & Shopkow, L. (2008). The History Learning Project: A department “decodes” its students. The Journal of American History, 94, 1211-1224. doi: 10.2307/25095328
Hinds, P. J. (1999). The curse of expertise: The effects of expertise and debiasing methods on predictions of novice performance. Journal of Experimental Psychology: Applied, 5, 205-221. doi: 10.1037/1076-898X.5.2.205
Hinds, P. J., Patterson, M., & Pfeffer, J. (2001). Bothered by abstraction: The effect of expertise on knowledge transfer and subsequent novice performance. Journal of Applied Psychology, 86, 1232-1243. doi: 10.1037/0021-9010.86.6.1232
Middendorf, J., & Pace, D. (2004). Decoding the disciplines: A model for helping students learn disciplinary ways of thinking. New Directions for Teaching and Learning, 2004, 1-12. doi: 10.1002/tl.142
Nickerson, R. S. (1999). How we know – and sometimes misjudge – what others know: Imputing one’s own knowledge to others. Psychological Bulletin, 125, 737-759. doi: 10.1037/0033-2909.125.6.737
October 9, 2012
Resources for teaching strategies (ASKe site at Oxford Brookes University)
Oxford Brookes University Business School (UK) established the Assessment Standards Knowledge exchange (ASKe), which is currently associated with the Pedagogy Research Centre. ASKe publishes brochures (called the 1, 2, 3, leaflets) that describe practical and effective evidence-based strategies that faculty can implement to improve students' learning. All of the suggestions are based on research evidence and can be implemented in a few steps. The brochures are short (2-8 pages) and can be downloaded as PDF files.
The URL for the ASKe index of current titles is:
Current titles include:
How to make your feedback work in three easy steps
Using generic feedback effectively
Making peer feedback work in three easy steps
Getting the most from Groupwork Assessment
Cultivating community: Why it's worth doing and three ways of getting there
Reduce the risk of plagiarism in just 30 mins
January 31, 2012
Grading the mechanics of writing quickly while helping students learn mechanics
When you make the assignment, tell your students that you will be grading them on mechanics by choosing one page (but you don't tell them which page) from the assignment to note instances of errors in the mechanics of language. On that page, you will only put a check in the left (or right) margin in line with each mechanical error. Do not identify what the error is or correct the error yourself.
Set the standard for how many errors on the page will affect the grade for the overall assignment and in what ways (e.g., 0-5 errors = 20 points gained for mechanics, 5-10 errors = 15 points gained, 10-15 errors = 10 points, 15-20 errors = 5 points, more than 20 errors = 0 points).
After returning the graded assignment to your students, make a required follow-up assignment in which students identify and correct all the mechanical errors made on that page (or as many as students possibly can) to gain back points they lost. Students get credit only for accurate corrections. To motivate students to get the mechanics right the first time, award only half the value of the points they lost for each correction they make on the second assignment.
Tell the students to make their corrections on the actual page of the paper in a different color ink (or pencil) than black or the color that you used in making your notations. Give students references to one or more sources of English-language/writing handbooks. (The web has a variety of resources on mechanic of writing.) Of course, you really don't care who or what they consult to identify and correct their errors. Give students three to four days to complete this follow-up assignment.
When you collect these corrected pages, you need only look at the number of checkmarks you made in the margin and the number of correct corrections made to grade the assignment. Students will remember the errors they looked up and corrected and will be motivated to avoid repeating these errors in future papers.
On the next paper, select a different page in the submissions for this feedback procedure. Chances are that you won't see a student repeating the same errors. This second (and the third and the fourth) time around, you will catch new errors, and your students will teach themselves additional mechanics lessons.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Linda B. Nilson, Ph.D., Director, Office of Teaching Effectiveness and Innovation, Clemson University. (www.clemson.edu/OTEI).
January 24, 2012
Grading that functions as useful feedback to students
Grading is generally one of the least favorite parts of teaching. Grading can feel stressful when students challenge their grades, attempt to cheat or plagiarize, or focus on earning grades rather than acquiring skills or learning. When grading only serves to sort students into categories of achievement, instructors feel uncomfortable playing the role of judge, preferring the role of coach and mentor. Clear and fair grading are hard to formulate. Student performance that fails to meet our expectations sometimes makes us doubt our effectiveness as teachers.
How can we make grading less aversive to ourselves?
Resources on the CUTLA web site
Examples of rubrics:
You can download a Word document template for a rubric that you can use to begin constructing your own template from the CUTLA web site:
Walvoord, B. E., & Anderson, V. J. (2010). Effective grading: A tool for learning and assessment in college (2nd ed). San Francisco, CA: Wiley.
This book is in the CULTA library and available for check out.
This tip is based on a teaching strategy suggested by Carolyn Oxenford, Director, Center for Teaching and Learning, Marymount University. (http://www.marymount.edu/academics/ctl/faculty)
February 22, 2011
Provide students with feedback early and often in their learning. Teach them how to give themselves feedback so they can become independent learners.
Students need regular feedback to direct their attention and energies toward activities that will help them improve their performance, avoid major errors and dead ends, and avoid developing bad habits or learning things they later will have to unlearn (sometimes at great cost). Constructive feedback identifies problems and suggests strategies that will produce better outcomes in future performance. The interaction between teachers and learners engaged in constructive feedback can be an effective source of motivation for learners.
Provide feedback selectively for key examples to create opportunities for students to observe and reflect on their own performance. Practice with self-observation creates opportunities for students to internalize the voice of the "teacher/coach." When students develop the ability to monitor and identify errors in their own performance and reflect on strategies that might improve performance, they are on the way toward becoming independent learners.
Don't assume that students understand new concepts you’ve explained. Ask students to briefly explain a new concept or write about the "muddiest point" in a particular reading, lab exercise, or lecture. Respond to the most common areas of confusion in the next class meeting. Find out what students are actually doing with the feedback you currently provide. Do they read and use the comments you write on papers and exams? You can model how you make use of the feedback you get on your work. Few students are aware of or understand the revise-and-resubmit practices common in academic publishing.
Create opportunities for students to use your comments to improve their work. When assignments are structured to provide multiple opportunities to practice and improve work based on feedback, students will be motivated to make good use of the feedback you provide on their early work.
Angelo, T. A. (1993). A “teacher’s dozen”: Fourteen general, research-based principles for improving higher learning in our classrooms. AAHE Bulletin, April, 3-13.
Ericsson, K. A. (2008). Deliberate practice and acquisition of expert performance: A general overview. Academic Emergency Medicine, 15, 988-994.
The Topical Archive of Get Engaged Teaching Tips includes several tips on providing feedback to students and using peer review assignments:
September 14, 2010
Use a rubric to evaluate class participation
George Kuh (2008) and Carol Twigg (2003) propose that if a given activity or study strategy is known to be effective and we want to encourage our students to use it, we should find a way to make the activity mandatory. This usually entails grading the activity in some way.
Students who prepare for class and actively participate in discussion are more engaged and learn more, but grading these activities can be a challenge. Many instructors include class participation as a graded element but have difficulty evaluating student participation. Simply recording attendance or how frequently students ask questions or make comments during class feels superficial and sometimes encourages students to make uninformed or off-topic contributions for the sake of “participating.”
A rubric that describes appropriate preparation and participation behavior will enable instructors to provide clear guidelines to students about participation expectations. The rubric also gives students effective formative feedback about their participation if you provide feedback with the rubric periodically throughout the term. Finally, scores based on the participation rubric serve as an unambiguous method for determining a participation grade.
An example of a rubric (PDF) that I developed and used in a small seminar is posted to the CUTLA web. The rubric includes evaluation of the quality of the student’s preparation for class discussion, the substance of contributions made to discussion, and aspects of general class citizenship (listening skills, responding to other students with respect, promoting on-topic discussion).
I shared this rubric with students during the first week of the class and provided feedback to them about once a month during the term, with a final evaluation at the end of the term. This strategy allowed me to give regular feedback based on a period of observation that I could recall accurately. When I provided feedback early in the term, the students initiated a useful discussion about my expectations for participation. I noted an improvement in the quality of discussion following this initial feedback that persisted through the remainder of the term. Students appreciated the opportunity to make corrections and improve the quality of their participation across the term.
Examples of rubrics, including rubrics for class participation, are posted on the CUTLA web site.
Kuh, G. (2008). What matters to student success: Lessons from high performing institutions (PDF). Workshop on Assessing Student and Institutional Performance, University of West Florida, Pensacola, FL.
Twigg, C. A. (2003, July). Build it, but will they come? Learning Market Space. Electronic newsletter published by the National Center for Academic Transformation.
August 31, 2010
Information Literacy: Create assignments that encourage students to use feedback to improve their work
Faculty are often frustrated when they discover that the student papers from the previous term that they spent considerable time writing comments on are still languishing in the department office, unread by the students who wrote these papers and who might never come to retrieve them. Feedback is useful only if it is received in a timely manner and the person who receives the feedback has an opportunity to act on the feedback and correct problems.
How can faculty motivate students to read and use the feedback written on their work? If you expect students to learn from formative feedback on their work, provide them an opportunity in your course to practice using feedback to improve their work. You can do this in two ways:
March 30, 2010
Use effective grading strategies to help survive the demands of grading during finals week
Thanks to Sally L. Kuhlenschmidt, Ph.D., Director, Faculty Center for Excellence in Teaching (FaCET), Western Kentucky University, for contributions to this teaching tip.
March 23, 2010
Improving student learning by helping students understand the value of errors for improvement of self-regulated learning
Self-regulated learning involves acquiring skills such as setting goals, monitoring progress during study, and evaluating and modifying study strategies to improve performance on a learning task.
Two problems plague student learning:
Barry Zimmerman (CUNY) argues that students can be coached to evaluate their study strategies and monitor their learning progress realistically to improve learning and overall skill in learning new material.
Effective coaching requires that instructors provide accurate feedback about learning so that students can assess strengths and weaknesses in their study strategies. When students make mistakes, they need coaching to help them reflect accurately on what went wrong. It isn’t enough to simply provide accurate feedback to students. Ensure that students process this feedback by requiring them to demonstrate that they understand the feedback they receive.
One way to encourage students to reflect on feedback is to ask them to respond to the following questions after getting feedback on exam performance:
This approach is particularly effective when it is connected with specific content because the strategy that will work when solving one type of problem might differ from the strategy that will be effective when attempting to solve a different type of problem.
Barry Zimmerman (Ed. Psych, CUNY) runs a self-regulated learning project at CUNY. This tip is based on an article on Dr. Zimmerman’s project published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, February 12, 2010.
February 16, 2010
Providing useful feedback to students about their writing
Developing students’ skill in writing requires that they write frequently, get meaningful feedback about their writing, and revise their writing in response to this feedback. The process of revising determines the quality of writing in the final document, but unskilled writers tend to primarily correct superficial errors in their revisions (Levy & Ransdell, 1995).
Joanne Frattaroli finds that her students improve their writing when they are given feedback on an early submission, especially if the feedback provides global information about writing issues (e.g., a comment that there are many missing commas and direction to a campus resource where students can get a refresher on comma rules) instead of copyediting that identifies all the missing commas.
Providing students with feedback about their writing before they submit a writing assignment for evaluation can be a challenge. Reading rough drafts a few days before reading the same work as final papers doubles the reading workload of instructors. Keep your workload manageable by giving students an early deadline for an optional pre-submission of “near complete” drafts for review and feedback. Make the pre-submission deadline 5-7 days before the final paper is due. Accept and review only those drafts that are “near complete” and do not accept any drafts submitted after the deadline for pre-submissions. The early deadline gives you enough time to make comments, gives students enough time to revise their work in response to feedback, and, combined with the requirement that drafts be “submission-ready,” prevents a flood of papers for review.
Create a learning benefit for all students in the class by making a list of common mistakes or issues seen in the pre-submission drafts you review and give this handout to all students in the class. Encourage students to use this handout to self-evaluate their writing and revise their paper before submission.
Based on a suggestion from:
Joanne Frattaroli, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology and Social Behavior
University of California, Irvine
Levy, C. M., & Ransdell, S. (1995). Is writing as difficult as it seems? Memory & Cognition, 23, 767-779. doi: 1996-22510-001
February 2, 2010
Improve student learning by evaluating what students retain from a lecture
Ever wonder how well your students understand and remember that lecture you worked so hard to prepare? It seemed clear. Students seemed to follow your line of reasoning. What do they actually remember?
The Focused Listing activity takes only a few minutes to complete at the end of class and can provide useful information about how much students recall from the class meeting.
This activity can help instructors determine whether the main points they intended to make during class were actually perceived by students as important.
The activity can promote student learning by helping students:
Angelo, T. A. & Cross, K. P. (1993) Classroom assessment techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Based on a tip provided by:
University of Kentucky
January 19, 2010
Evaluating students on class participation
Want to include class participation in your grading but find it difficult to grade participation fairly?
Develop a rubric to evaluate student participation. Suggested criteria for a rubric include:
Share your participation rubric with students in the first week of the class. Invite student comments and suggestions for revisions (within acceptable boundaries). This strategy will clearly communicate your expectations for effective participation and promote student acceptance of these criteria.
Evaluating participation in every class session can become burdensome and encourage student participation merely for the sake of earning points that day. Instead, use the rubric to grade student participation once a month. This strategy will allow you to base your evaluation of participation for intervals of time that will be manageable for your ability to recall student behavior. It will also provide students with feedback about their early participation and allow them to make corrections and improve participation across the term.
This tip is based in part on a contribution by JoAnne Majors of Immaculata University to the web site of the Teaching and Learning Center, University of the Sciences in Philadelphia.
September 22, 2009
Teach students to write by teaching them to use feedback about writing quality
Faculty mentoring upper level students and graduate students may be disappointed in the quality of students writing. How can we develop student skill with writing?
As professionals in our disciplines, we have learned to revise our writing in response to the comments and requests for revision provided by editors and reviewers. In contrast, students seldom get much practice revising their writing in response to feedback. It is easy to forget that we once needed guidance about this aspect of writing. Students need to learn how to use the feedback provided by a reviewer (in this case, their instructor). Moreover, too much feedback at once (related to spelling, punctuation, grammar, organization, supporting ideas with evidence, and other issues) can leave a student feeling overwhelmed.
An effective way to improve student skill with revision of their writing is to provide feedback on only one type of problem at a time. For example, early feedback might ignore technical problems and focus on a single large issue such as organizing ideas in a logical sequence or supporting assertions with evidence. When providing limited feedback, clearly indicate that the feedback deliberately focuses on only one type of problem and that other writing or content issues will be addressed in later drafts. For detailed feedback on mechanics (e.g., grammar, editorial style, spelling), limit feedback to only one or two pages of a draft. This strategy eliminates the temptation for students to treat comments on mechanics as copy editing and will encourage them to use the feedback to correct the entire draft and guide future writing.
This technique is most effective when working with a single student on a large project like a thesis, in which the student expects to submit multiple drafts before completing the project. However, a variation of this technique can be used in classes in which students write several short essays. On the first assignment, students receive feedback on a writing issue without penalty. Subsequent writing assignments should reflect learning from this feedback and will be penalized for errors related to this writing issue. Grading across a series of essays might take the following form:
In this system students are given feedback in doses that don't overwhelm them. Although initial feedback carries no penalties for the student, the instructor attaches consequences to the feedback on future assignments so that the student will attend to the feedback in future writing.
Thanks to Dr. Ken Steele, Department of Psychology, Appalachian State University for this suggestion.
April 21, 2009
NOTE: This week’s tip is intended to help faculty plan future courses.
When students are at risk of failing the course
The first exam or major graded assignment in the term delivers a loud message to a certain number of students in a course: You are not performing well enough to succeed in this course. What can faculty do to help students who are “on the edge” pull back from the brink of disaster and succeed in the course?
February 17, 2009
Use exam feedback to help students reflect on the effectiveness of their study strategies
Ask students to think about the study strategies they used to prepare for an exam after they receive their grade on the exam. Did they perform as well as they hoped they would? Invite students who are satisfied with their performance to describe the strategies that seemed to help them the most. Students who are not satisfied with their performance should consider adopting effective strategies suggested by fellow students when studying in the future.
Adapted from Bette LaSere Erickson, University of Rhode Island, Helping first-year students study. Essays on Teaching Excellence (Toward the Best in the Academy).
January 13, 2009
Provide feedback early in the term to improve student success
Frequent, informative, and timely feedback is important for successful student learning and improves student engagement (Cambridge, 2005). Students are frequently overconfident about how well they understand material. When they receive formal feedback from a graded quiz, assignment, or exam, they get a valuable “reality check” on how they are doing. Feedback delivered early in the term can motivate students to seek tutoring and enable them to recover from a less-than-graceful beginning. First and second year undergraduate students, in particular, can benefit from the feedback about performance when this is delivered within the first 3 or 4 weeks of the course. Moreover, instructors who assign graded work early in the term can provide concrete information about student performance to Academic Advising and student success programs that implement early warning systems. In this way, instructors can help these programs identify struggling students and refer them to appropriate support services before these students fall too far behind to recover.
Cambridge, B. L. (2005). Promoting student success: What new faculty need to know (Occasional Paper No. 12). Bloomington, Indiana: Indiana University Center for Postsecondary Research.
September 23, 2008
Use Feedback on Technical Aspects of Writing to Develop Editing Skill
Writing assignments are effective activities to improve student engagement. Writing is a skill that improves only with repeated practice guided by appropriate feedback. Students need practice within their major to develop skill with discipline-specific conventions for writing that supplements general-purpose writing skills. Student writing improves best when students receive feedback on their writing that will inform future revisions and/or writing projects. If student writing consists only of papers due at the end of the term, it is unlikely that students will ever use the instructor comments provided to improve subsequent work.
How can we provide our students with feedback on their writing and create opportunities to revise their work based on this feedback?
Coaches understand that too much feedback can be harmful to acquisition of skilled behavior. Resist the urge to copy edit the entire paper. Students tend to respond to comprehensive copy edit feedback by simply making the changes you suggest without learning to detect their own errors and edit their work. Instead, encourage students to copy edit their own work by providing “minimal feedback” on an early draft (Haswell, 1983).
Ask students to submit the first 2-3 pages of an early draft of their work. Identify problem areas by making a check in the margin next to lines that contain errors in spelling, punctuation, capitalization, and other grammatical errors. Students must find the problem in the line and make the appropriate correction. Provide a handout that describes common errors to help students identify their problems. If you believe the student will benefit from an example of improved sentence fluency with editing, revise no more than one or two sentences in the sample. Expect students to review their entire paper and make appropriate changes before submitting the completed assignment.
Bean, J. C. (2001). Engaging ideas: The professor’s guide to integrating writing, critical thinking, and active learning in the classroom. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Haswell, R. H. (1983). Minimal marking. College English, 45, 600-604.
May 20, 2008
One of the seven principles of good practice suggested by Chickering and Gamson (1987) is to give students prompt feedback. Students benefit from multiple opportunities to perform new skills, especially when they receive prompt feedback about their performance with suggestions for improvement. This practice is well-supported by research on metacognitive skill. Stanovich (1999) reported that 77% of participants were overconfident about their accuracy in answering questions on a test of general knowledge. This overconfidence can lead students to terminate study before they have adequately learned the material they intended to learn. Frequent feedback about performance can reduce this bias to overestimate one’s learning. Renner and Renner (2001) administered multiple quizzes across a term and provided students with immediate feedback on the accuracy of their responses. Student performance improved with this feedback. In addition, these students became more accurate in estimating the quality of their learning on subsequent quizzes.
Chickering, A. W., & Gamson, Z. F. (1987). Seven principles for good practice in undergraduate education. AAHE Bulletin, 39, 3 – 7.
Full-text PDF file available through ERIC (Educational Resources Information Center)
detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=ED282491& ERICExtSearch_SearchType_ 0=no&accno=ED282491
Renner, C. H., & Renner, M. J. (2001). But I thought I knew that: Using confidence estimation as a debiasing technique to improve classroom performance. Applied Cognitive Psychology, 15, 23-32.
Stanovich, K. E. (1999). Who is rational? Studies of individual differences in reasoning. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
October 30, 2007
Students appreciate prompt feedback on assignments and exams. If later assignments build on skills learned from earlier assignments, prompt feedback enables students to make good use of your comments to improve their work. Return graded work as quickly as possible.
Updated 04/09/13 cdw
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