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Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)

One way to enhance your teaching practices is to collect student feedback using Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs).  CATs are a vital addition to your teaching arsenal, because they let you know what is working and what can be improved upon from the perspective of the learners themselves.  CATs can be administered at any time during the semester, and as many times as you would like to give them, but they are often very useful as a way to take stock of the course at the midterm.  We have included some advice for acquiring mid-semester feedback below.

CATs can also be just as effective for individual class meetings, assignments, etc. as well.  One popular CAT that is ubiquitous in the field of teaching and learning is called the “minute paper.”  This activity simply asks students to spend some time at the end of class reflecting on the most important point they have taken from the day’s class, asking a question that remains for them about the material, providing an assessment of the project they have just completed, or writing anything else that will provide you with immediate feedback.

In his recent book Teaching for Critical Thinking (2011), Stephen D. Brookfield describes what he calls a “Critical Incident Questionnaire,” which is “a five-item instrument that asks students to review their learning in class for any particular week…” (54).

Another useful CAT is called a Small Group Instructional Diagnosis, or SGID, which we outline in more detail here.

As you can see, the options are many, and the benefits of student feedback for developing an effective teaching and learning environment are substantial.

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Seeking Useful Feedback

Treat all feedback seriously.

Show that you act on student feedback.

Solicit feedback regularly. You can easily do this by asking students to respond to a set of questions, to write a question they have, or to comment on what they like and don’t like about the class.

Gather mid-semester feedback and consider possible course corrections.

Ask for input on each major assignment – give them a point or two for answering a few questions about the assignment as part of the work they submit.

Model useful feedback in what you provide for the students.

Mid-Semester Feedback

Mid-semester feedback, like all student feedback, can be a valuable tool to find out how students are learning in your class and what you might do to increase their likelihood of success. An excellent tool for fine-tuning your teaching to a particular class, it can help you to understand what’s working well and what you might do differently to better meet your teaching goals and students’ needs.

Seeking this feedback does not have to take a lot of time or resources; you can decide how structured or extensive you would like this feedback to be. These decisions often depend on your class size and your own evaluation of how well your class(es) are going. For example, if you have a large class or if your expectations for student learning are being met, you might choose a less structured assessment. On the other hand, more structured feedback can be useful to identify specifics aspects of the learning experience that you want to monitor more closely.

Students are typically happy to provide this information; often they see it as an indicator of your interest in their learning. You can choose whether it is anonymous or not. While not necessary, you might consider offering participation points as an incentive for more structured assessments. Do remember if you seek mid-semester feedback students will expect you to respond to it in a meaningful way.

Less structured feedback typically involves students answering a version of the following three questions in writing:

What aspect(s) of this course most helps you to learn?
What aspect(s) of this course are most challenging for you?
Do you have any suggestions to help you better learn?

Mid-Semester Feedback: A Quantitative Approach

Quantitative approaches to this kind of feedback can require less tailoring to a specific course. The following example provides a few of the categories you might want to address in your assessment, but you can always add more and/or revise the categories below. Introductory large courses are ideal for this type of approach. And, you can always choose to ask for both quantitative and qualitative feedback.

How is the pace of the course for you? Too slow 1 2 Fine 3 4 Too fast 5
How is the course’s level of challenge for you? Too easy 1 2 Fine 3 4 Too hard 5
Do the lectures help you better understand the material? No 1 2 Some 3 4 A lot 5
Do the assignments help you better understand the material? No 1 2 Some 3 4 A lot 5
Do the discussions help you better understand the material? No 1 2 Some 3 4 A lot 5
Is the text useful to your understanding of the course material? No 1 2 Some 3 4 A lot 5
Does our class group work help you better understand the material? No 1 2 Some 3 4 A lot 5
Do the online resources for this class help you better understand the material? No 1 2 Some 3 4 A lot 5


Mid-Semester Feedback: A Qualitative Approach

Qualitative approaches to this kind of feedback must be tailored to a specific course. In the following example, the mid-semester feedback is embedded in a student self-assessment of their learning. In a case like this, you will want to offer points for this assignment. Synthesis courses might be especially appropriate for this type of assessment.

Example Assignment:

The midterm self-assessment is a reflection on and assessment of your development and learning at the halfway point. This is useful to identify your strengths and what is going well for you, in addition to examining what is not working and what you can do differently. In this paper you should draw connections and highlight your growth in a coherent analysis.

As we have discussed in our course, it is critical to identify and acknowledge the sources that are contributing to your learning. For this essay you should refer to a minimum of three course texts that have facilitated your growth and development. Make sure to provide evidence for your analysis by using concrete examples, details, and evidence to support and illustrate key points. You will need to include a bibliography as well, either a Works Cited page (if using MLA format) or a References page (if using APA format).

You may want to consider the following questions while brainstorming your essay:

  • What ideas, theories, and learning experiences are most compelling to you thus far?
  • What connections are you discovering among these ideas, theories, and learning experiences within the course?
  • What connections have you identified between what you are learning in this class and other courses? Between this class and your major? Between this class and your learning experiences outside the classroom?
  • How well are you meeting the goals that you set for yourself as a student in this course? What is going well for you? Are there goals you want to revise or add?
  • What is most challenging for you about this course?
  • What can you do differently to meet your goals for yourself and what suggestions do you have for this course?

Your essay should be a minimum of 4 full pages, but do not feel restricted by this length requirement.  You are asked to turn in your draft, your comments from our peer review session, and your revision. The final version is worth 100 points, or 10% of your final grade.

Midterm Self-Assessment Evaluation Criteria:

  • Effective introduction; draws the reader in, creates interest, states main argument(s).
  • Demonstrates complexity – learning and ideas are articulated clearly and with detail.
  • Incorporates specific examples from the texts and life experiences to illustrate/support key points and build arguments.
  • Demonstrates evidence of integrative thinking; author is making connections across texts and other learning experiences.
  • Provides evidence of significant engagement in course ideas.
  • Paper is well structured and organized; smooth transitions and flow; concludes strongly.
  • Shows attention to writing style (e.g., clarity in writing; evidence of having edited and proofread the work, examples/evidence appropriately integrated and cited; bibliography follows APA/MLA format).
  • Meets assignment guidelines (e.g., incorporates 3 course texts, bibliography is included, essay is at least 4 pp in length).