Making the assessment connection

One of my favorite blogs is MIT’s Tomorrow’s Professor, and I particularly appreciate the essay on Explaining the Reasons for Criticisms of Students’ Academic Performance. Barbara Walvoord spends some times discussing both student and (end of year) teacher assessment. It seems to me that the question of how to make feedback connect and count with the student is central to the exercise of teaching. In the past year, I have experimented with breaking my final assessment feedback on an assignment down into four categories: engagement, understanding, writing, and scholarly support.

I think this works well, though it can be difficult to ascertain in the course evaluations. While the majority of students assess the completeness of the syllabus and my feedback as relatively high (one student likened the point-based system and frequently e-mailed assessment reports as being “like a science”) I still do have the infrequent evaluation where this is not the case. It is a puzzle to me how student could say my syllabus was not complete, or why after I give feedback on one assignment they repeat the same mistakes in the next assignment. So this semester I’m going to try two more experiments: a quiz and self-evaluation. I plan to give a quiz on the actual syllabus (e.g., how many freebie absences are students allowed, do medical notes count against those freebies?) and as part of the first assignment ask students to evaluate what they are submitting in term of the four categories. I’m very interested to see the results.

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