Taking Baby Steps with CATs

Baby StepsLast week I introduced CATs or Classroom Assessment Techniques. If you have never tried these formative assessments (assessments that are done to gain feedback on the progress of learning), I want to encourage you to do so. However, I want you to have a great experience, so I’m going to give you a few small pointers from Angelo and Cross’s 1993 book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers.

First, if you want to start using formative assessments, you will want to start small. Don’t completely overhaul your course and embed formative assessments into every class you teach. You will become overwhelmed and will vow not to use them again. Angelo and Cross have provided a three-step process to help you get started.

The first step to take is to start by planning which CAT to utilize and when. Select one assessment technique that you would like to try with a class that you feel very comfortable with. It should be a class that is going well and in which the students are successful. You want to minimize the risks while you develop the confidence and skill needed to administer the CAT successfully. Some easy CATs to begin with are the Minute Paper (students respond to 2 questions at the end of class – most important thing learned and questions remaining), the Muddiest Point (students respond at the end of class – what are you unclear about?), and the One Sentence Summary (students respond at the end of class summarizing the information from the day’s lesson in 1 sentence).

The next step is to implement the technique. First, let the students know what you are doing and why you are doing it. Also, make sure that the directions are clear and that they know what to do. Once you collect the information from the students, you will want to analyze the information. This doesn’t have to be done with a box and whisker plot. For most assessments, you will simply read the responses of the students and note inconsistencies, erroneous information, or items to address in the next class. In some cases, you can simply sort the responses into three piles: those with correct or complete information, those with somewhat correct or complete information, and those with incorrect or incomplete information. Don’t let this step scare you; you will get better and quicker at this the more you practice these techniques.

Finally, the third step is responding to the feedback. This is what is known as “closing the loop.” Let the students know what you learned from the CAT and what changes you hope to make as a result of it.

Starting next week, I will be offering workshops on various CATs.
• September 23 and 24 – Assessing Students’ Awareness of their Attitudes and Values
• September 30 and October 1 – Assessing Skill in Synthesis and Creative Thinking
• October 7 and 8 – Assessing Learner Reactions: Class Activities, Assignments, and Materials
• October 14 and 15 – Assessing Students’ Self-Awareness as Learners
• October 21 and 22 – Assessing Course-Related Learning and Study Skills, Strategies, and Behaviors

I encourage you to attend one (or more) of these workshops if you are interested in utilizing CATs in these areas.

As described above, part of the assessment process is closing the loop. I asked for feedback about CAPE’s blog last week, and I would like to thank all of those who participated and left us a comment. We appreciate your feedback and will use it to guide us as we move forward with future CAPE endeavors. And, as promised, congratulations to Isabel Van Dyke and Debbie Janysek! You are the winners of Angelo and Cross’s book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers!

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