Finding out what students are learning


Excerpted from:

Huba, Mary E. and Freed, Jann E. (2000).  Learner-Centered Assessment on College Campuses: Shifting the Focus from Teaching to Learning, Needham Heights, MA: Allyn and Bacon.


Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) are ways to find out what students are learning.  Observing students while they are learning and collecting frequent feedback from them, tells us what they are learning, more specifically, how they respond to particular teaching practices (Angelo & Cross, 1993). 


One-Sentence Summary

The One-Sentence Summary enables instructors to determine how well or whether students can summarize a large amount of information on a particular assignment.  This CAT assesses comprehension by asking students to respond to the questions: Who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why (WDWWWWHW)?  A particular topic or passage is the focus, and students synthesize their answers into a long summary sentence. The purpose is to find out how well students can identify critical points by focusing on these specific questions.  The technique is quick and easy to administer because students are limited to one sentence.  When this CAT is used consistently, it encourages students to focus on key questions when they read an assignment.


Word Journal

A CAT similar to the One-Sentence Summary is the Word Journal.  First, students summarize an assignment (article, reading, text) in one word.  Then, students write a paragraph or two explaining why they selected that particular summary word.  Like the One-Sentence Summary, this CAT assesses how well students can condense large amounts of information by focusing on the key concept or thought in the assignment.  It also encourages students to seek out the main points when reading an article. Both the Word Journal and the One-Sentence Summary can be used instead of quizzes, or interspersed with quizzes, to evaluate student performance.


Direct Paraphrasing

In fields such as marketing, social work, education, law, and others, successes often depends on how well people can understand specialized and complex information and then effectively communicate this information to others.

In Direct Paraphrasing, students are asked to paraphrase for a particular audience part of a topic, concept, lecture, or article.  This technique assesses how well students understand what they have learned and how well they can use their own words to explain it to individuals with different perspectives.  Students might be told, for example, “Assume you are the director of marketing… Imagine you are a social worker…” in order to direct their paraphrasing to an audience other than faculty and students.  Because their paraphrase is for a specific audience, this CAT is practical and applicable to building skills needed for the future. 

            Direct Paraphrasing results can be analyzed by separating the responses into categories: confused, minimal, adequate, and excellent.  They can also be examined for accuracy, relevance for audience, and effectiveness in satisfying the assignment.  (Huba and Freed’s book, available in Milne 208, contains several sample rubrics for giving student feedback.)