Check Student Learning

Strategies to Check Student Learning in the Classroom (Classroom Assessment Techniques)

Lee Haugen
[Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching] Iowa State University
February, 1999

What are CATs?

Classroom Assessment Techniques are formative evaluation methods that serve two purposes. They can help you to assess the degree to which your students understand the course content and they can provide you with information about the effectiveness of your teaching methods. Most are designed to be quick and easy to use and each CAT provides different kinds of information.

Formative Evaluations

Formative evaluations provide information that can be used to improve course content, methods of teaching, and, ultimately, student learning. Formative evaluations are most effective when they are done frequently and the information is used to effect immediate adjustments in the day-to-day operations of the course. Some faculty incorporate a CAT into every class session.

How do CATs improve teaching and learning?

When CATS are used frequently, they can have the following impacts: For faculty, CATs can:

  • provide day-to-day feedback that can be applied immediately;
  • provide useful information about what students have learned without the amount of time required for preparing tests, reading papers, etc.;
  • allow you to address student misconceptions or lack of understanding in a timely way;
  • help to foster good working relationships with students and encourage them to understand that teaching and learning are on-going processes that require full participation.

For students, CATs can:

  • help develop self-assessment and learning management skills;
  • reduce feelings of isolation and impotence, especially in large classes;
  • increase understanding and ability to think critically about the course content;
  • foster an attitude that values understanding and long-term retention;
  • show your interest and caring about their success in your classroom.

What kinds of evaluations are CATs designed to perform?

  • Course-related knowledge and skills (including prior knowledge, recall and understanding; analysis and critical thinking skills; synthesis and creative thinking skills; problem solving skills; and application and performance skills)
  • Student attitudes, values, and self-awareness (including students’ awareness of their own values and attitudes; students’ awareness of their own learning processes; and course-related learning and study skills awareness)
  • Reactions to instruction methods (including student and peer reactions to teachers and teaching, class activities, assignments, and materials)

Following is a partial chart of CAT exercises, indicating the kind of evaluation for which each is intended, what each is called, how each is conducted, what to do with the information you collect, and an approximation of the relative amount of time each requires.

Kind of Evaluation Name How It’s Done How to Use Time Needs
Course Knowledge and Skills One-Minute Paper* During last few minutes of class period, ask students to use a half-sheet of paper and write “Most important thing I learned today and what I understood least.” Review before next class meeting and use to clarify, correct, or elaborate. Low
Muddiest Point* Similar to One-Minute Paper but only ask students to describe what they didn’t understand and what they think might help. Same as One-Minute Paper. If many had the same problem, try another approach. Low
Chain Notes* Pass around a large envelope with a question about the class content. Each student writes a short answer, puts it in the envelope, and passes it on. Sort answers by type of answer. At next class meeting, use to discuss ways of understanding. Low
Application Article During last 15 minutes of class, ask students to write a short news article about how a major point applies to a real-world situation. An alternative is to have students write a short article about how the point applies to their major. Sort articles and pick several to read at next class, illustrating range of applications, depth of understanding, and creativity. Medium
Student-generated test questions* Divide the class into groups and assign each group a topic on which they are each to write a question and answer for the next test. Each student should be assured of getting at least one question right on the test. Use as many of the questions as possible, combining those that are
Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness Journals Ask students to keep journals that detail their thoughts about the class. May ask them to be specific, recording only attitudes, values, or self-awareness. Have students turn in the journals several times during the semester so you can chart changes and development. Medium
Reactions to Instruction Methods Exam Evaluations* Select a test that you use regularly and add a few questions at the end which ask students to evaluate how well the test measures their knowledge or skills. Make changes to the test that are reasonable. Track student responses over time. Medium
Student Rep Group Ask students to volunteer to meet as a small group with you on a regular basis to discuss how the course is progressing, what they are learning, and suggestions for improving the course. Some issues will be for your information, some to be addressed in class. High
Suggestion Box Put a box near the classroom door and ask students to leave notes about any class issue. Review and respond at the next class session. Low to Medium
Peer Review Work with a willing colleague, pick a representative class session to be observed, and ask the colleague to take notes about his/her impression of the class, your interactions with students, and your teaching methods. Decide method with the colleague. Discussion is best, but a written report may be more useful in the long term. High
CELT Classroom Observation CELT staff will observe a class session you choose and/or video record a class session. CELT staff will meet with you to review observations and suggest ways of improving your teaching effectiveness. Medium to High
Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID) Trained facilitators, such as CELT staff, spend a class session eliciting responses from your students about what is effective and what is not so effective in helping them learn. You are not present during the session. Facilitators meet with you to explain the data they have collected and give you a written report. High
*Some material in this report is adapted from:
Angelo, Thomas A. and K. Patricia Cross, 1993, Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers, Second Edition, San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers.