A Behemoth of an Assessment Book

Classroom Assessment Techniques was the most dense and detailed text that we have read this semester, and seems to be potentially the most directly applicable to teachers in the classroom. I was immediately struck by the fact that Angelo and Cross echo a version of, “No teaching occurs without learning,” which both Bain and Barkley stated in their respective texts. This would be a good mantra for anyone who is teaching or aspires to teach someday to keep in mind, and also is an excellently succinct way to summarize classroom assessment.

My first impression of the text was that Angelo and Cross did not write it for “beginner teachers”. My perception of the intended audience for their book is comprised of seasoned instructors who have been teaching for a while and who are searching for a way to ascertain whether their current approaches to their classes are effective. Being someone who has never taught in a college classroom, I felt a bit alienated from the text at times. However, my perception could be chalked up more to my feeling daunted by the degree of details shared by Angelo and Cross in this book. Having read Classroom Assessment Techniques, I believe it is a valuable tool for current teachers who are seeking to perfect their craft in the classroom. In the remainder of my review, I will share reactions to parts of the text particularly those parts that piqued my curiosity and made me ask questions.

In Chapter One, I felt that Angelo and Cross offered a good definition of classroom assessment, specifically how they break the definition down into characteristics of classroom assessment and explain each one. The “learner-centered” characteristic description seems to put most of the onus on students to improve learning and not for teachers to adjust teaching. Angelo and Cross appear to walk this assertion back in later chapters, but I was immediately bothered by this statement (located on page 4 under the “leaner-centered” paragraph if you would like to read it again). This assertion differs dramatically from messages conveyed by Bain and Barkley who place most of the responsibility for student learning on the teachers. I admittedly could be making more out of this statement made by Angelo and Cross early in the book, but it stuck with me weeks after reading it. I look forward to reading my classmates’ takes on this part and discussing it in class.

Angelo and Cross address that certain techniques only work within certain contexts fairly early in Chapter One. This was a provision not made at all by Bain and barely made my Barkley. I appreciated that Angelo and Cross make this statement early in their book and repeat it often as they offer their expertise throughout the remainder of the text. This book does not pose the same risk as other texts that we have read this semester as alienating teachers from other disciplines in the university context.

Chapter Two fulfilled a void that the previous two texts created in that Angelo and Cross provide extensive information on the methodologies of the Teaching Goals Inventory (TGI). I complained about both Bain’s and Barkley’s lack of methodologies sections in their respective books, and was pleasantly surprised when I turned the page to Chapter Two in Angelo and Cross. I like that Angelo and Cross signal the readers to skip the TGI background information if they are already familiar with it. While background information can be a dry read, it was helpful to me to understand the basis for utilizing the Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs). Throughout this extremely detailed book, Angelo and Cross seem to keep the reader in mind and make every effort to enhance the applicability and accessibility of the text for college teachers. The TGI gives teachers immediate assessment concerning desired goals for specific courses and helps teachers keep in mind differences in goals ranked as “essential” across disciplines.

Being someone who values organization at all costs, I felt that Chapter Three was the most appropriate way to proceed in this discussion. Instead of throwing a bunch of techniques at the reader, Angelo and Cross give a roadmap to implementation and a starting point. Without these items, one would easily become bogged down in all the details and different directions one could go regarding classroom assessment. I liked that Angelo and Cross included criteria for choosing the CATs featured in the text. Some CATs are flexible, being ready to adapt to different classrooms and disciplines. Again, Angelo and Cross recognize up front that not all techniques will work for all teachers or for all disciplines. They present logical steps for starting small with classroom assessment, share helpful tips, and give next steps for incrementally increasing assessment activities.

Chapters Four and Five dangerously approached information overload for me. I realize why Dr. Major told us that both books by Barkley and Angelo and Cross were not necessarily meant to be read cover-to-cover. The Classroom Assessment Project Cycle builds upon the three simple steps for implementing classroom assessment in the previous chapter. I like that Angelo and Cross place importance upon teachers’ sharing results with students and including them in the assessment project as equal actors.

I was intrigued by Angelo and Cross advising teachers to first assess items they feel they teach well, instead of beginning with problems so that teachers avoid becoming discouraged with negative results at the start. This makes perfect sense but was in conflict with my original logic. Not being very knowledgeable about classroom assessment, or teaching whatsoever for that matter, I assumed that teachers would want to assess and troubleshoot their problem areas.

Angelo and Cross provide contingency plans and examples tied directly to their advice, such as beginning with goals or questions about student learning. Some of the examples of teachers reinforced gender stereotypes in disciplines and should probably be revised by the authors for future editions. Angelo and Cross provide multiple examples in Chapter Four and even more case studies in Chapter five which were helpful and highlighted the advice and information relayed by the authors earlier in the book. However, I became bogged down in so many examples to the point that the excessive proliferation of examples decreased their effectiveness.

My biggest take-away from this portion of the book was that it makes so much sense to plan and implement assessment before students receive graded evaluation so that adjustments to teaching and learning can be made before the class is over. Some examples demonstrate how not to apply Angelo and Cross’s advice by explaining unsuccessful attempts of other teachers. Angelo and Cross are honest with their readers regarding the time commitment to these activities. Steps are incredibly detailed and offer many different hypothetical scenarios including potential pitfalls; Angelo and Cross are attempting to address everything that could derail implementation.

I admittedly did not have the chance to read each and every CAT outlined by Angelo and Cross throughout the remainder of the book. As I flipped through this section, I recognized many more of the CATs than I expected to because previous instructions had deployed some version of the CAT in some of my past classes, such as the “Minute Paper” and “Pro and Con Grid”. I just did not know that these activities had a name or such a defined purpose. I do not recall ever being told by an instructor that he or she was assessing learning in the classroom or any of them sharing the results of any such assessment as Angelo and Cross instruct their readers to do with their respective classes. Angelo and Cross do a masterful job of organizing each CAT by defining them, sharing the purpose and related teaching goals, suggestions for use, and examples that are applicable to multiple disciplines and classroom settings.

Overall, this text may have been the most difficult read for me this semester, but I appreciate its value and am glad to add it to my arsenal of tools should I ever take advantage of an opportunity to teach. I look forward to reading my classmates’ reviews of this book who are veteran teachers.

Lyrics and Women – Going “Undercover” as an Undergraduate Student

Happy Saturday, friends! In order to preserve the anonymity of my colleague who graciously permitted me to observe their class, I will not be posting my class observation publicly. I have emailed the observation to Dr. Major. However, I will leave you all with a 10 second video demonstrating how I felt attempting to blend in with the students in this classroom as I observed my colleague’s teaching.

Barkley Thoughts

When I first flipped through Student Engagement Techniques, I was honestly overwhelmed by the quantity of information this handbook contains.  Barkley’s comprehensive handbook holds so many theories, stories from the field, tips and strategies, and student engagement techniques (SETs) that I could not imagine how I would read the entire book and be able to craft a semi-intelligent review.  Thankfully we were not expected to read the entire book cover-to-cover in order to share our thoughts with the class.  However, when I began reading I found that I, like Darryl, did not want to put the handbook down.  My AHE 603 colleagues have deftly summarized and reviewed Barkley and my review will not rehash what has already been covered sufficiently by my classmates.  My review will instead emphasize my major takeaways from and reactions to Barkley and attempt to extend the vibrant conversation my classmates began with last week’s review posts.

Barkley managed to cover myriad theories regarding student learning and engagement in the first five chapters of the handbook and relayed dense information in an easy-to-understand, engaging manner.  Some portions of these first five chapters were slow reads for me, but my mind disconnects when there is an extended theory discussion without breaking it up with examples or practical applications.  The background Barkley included on neuroscience and cognitive psychology was intriguing, although at first I questioned why so much of this specific information was being covered.  It became clear to me that neuroscience and cognitive psychology form the foundation of learning, and I felt slightly thick for not realizing that the first time I read through this section.

While I read through Part I of Barkley’s handbook, I could not help but recall courses I had taken as an undergraduate and as a graduate student that I had not thought of in years.  The handbook covers the concept of metacognition and I became aware of the fact that the book was increasing my own metacognition even when I was doing other things after having read the Part I.  For example, in Chapter 2 – Engagement and Motivation, I was particularly struck by the portion covering the expectancy x value model.  During this model discussion Barkley introduces “dissembling” which occurs when a student disengages from a task because they are not confident that they can accomplish the task even if they value the task.  I have dissembled from a course task as recent as last semester.  Thankfully I became fully engaged once more in the task and the course after getting guidance from my professor.  However, I procrastinated an assignment almost beyond the point of no return all because I was not completely sure how to begin and I felt like a moron for not knowing and for needing more help.  If I ever have the opportunity to teach college students, I hope that I will remember how it feels to dissemble from a course or an assignment, and that I will have empathy for students struggling through a task that they have no confidence in completing adequately.

Although I enjoyed Part I, I mentioned earlier that some parts were slower reads than others.  This was not the case when I reached Chapter 6 – From Theory to Practice.  At this point in my read, I found it extremely difficult to put down Barkley’s handbook.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading the strategies of real-life college professors for increasing student engagement in their courses.  Reading their stories also made me recall details about some of my undergraduate courses that I had forgotten.  For instance, I enrolled in an upper-level lecture course that boasts a 300+ student enrollment that met twice a week from 5 – 6:15 p.m.  Our professor made all of his lecture notes and class materials available online in Blackboard and class attendance was not mandatory.  Out of 300 students, approximately 30 of us actually showed up to class each time (my Type A personality would have never allowed me to enjoy missing a class, even if the professor permitted it).  Each class meeting included in-depth class discussions and numerous entertaining stories our professor shared from his long career in the automotive industry.  I’m not certain how well my classmates who took advantage of the non-mandatory class attendance policy performed on their exams, but the tightly-knit group of us who came to class every Tuesday and Thursday evening all did exceptionally well in the course.  They never knew what they were missing.

Chapter 6 tied up Part I with a nice little bow because Barkley provided diverse practical applications for the numerous theories she discussed in the previous chapters.  Without Chapter 6, there would have been a clumsy transition from Part I to Parts II & III of the handbook.  Both the Tips and Strategies and the SETs sections seemed extremely interested, but even flipping through these sections caused me to feel the same as when I initially thumbed through the book.  Perhaps this is because I have never taught a class before and all the information feels a tad overwhelming.  I would not even know where to begin if I were tasked with teaching a college course tomorrow.  During our next class meeting, I would love to hear from our veteran teachers in the class regarding with tips, strategies, or SETs they either have used in the past or plan to use in the future.  Barkley’s handbook offers a plethora of strategies for constructing an engaging class environment while also acknowledging the diversity of student frames of reference and does not pretend to be a one-size-fits-all handbook.  I am confident that this book will remain on my office bookshelf for the duration of my career.

Bloom’s Taxonomy

Happy Saturday, everyone!

I’ve uploaded my video (or vlog? Is that the way use of that term?) on Bloom’s Taxonomy and I hope you all find it instructive and that you don’t mind a few corny jokes and memes sprinkled throughout. Like Charlie mentioned in his blog post, it was harder than I thought it would be to keep the video within the time constraint. I revised my script multiple times to keep it concise.

For those of you who will share your video next week, don’t put this one off. You’ll need plenty of time to rehearse and edit. I can’t wait to watch everyone’s videos! Screencast-O-matic was a great tool for me and I cannot recommend it highly enough.

Teaching Only Occurs When Learning Takes Place

Bain’s What the Best College Teachers Do proved a more compelling read than I expected.  A book offering advice for college teachers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom could easily read like a computer instruction manual.  Bain managed to share his study’s findings in well-organized, engaging prose that mostly captivated my attention and challenged my assumptions.  I travel a lot for my job and my thoughts wandered back to Bain’s book frequently while driving to different destinations.  Bain asserts that the best teachers guide their students to think about their own learning.  His text consequently inspired me to think deeply about my own learning and to reflect upon previous learning experiences.  Below I will briefly summarize what I found to be key concepts and conclude with my overall critique of the text.  I look forward to reading all the other reviews and to discussing Bain’s book with you all in the comments section.

Bain provides a useful roadmap for the remainder of the book in the introductory chapter and also describes his study.  The story with which he begins the chapter caught my attention immediately.  I would have preferred reading more about his study methodologies, but I understand that the writing style for a book is different than that of a peer-reviewed journal article.  Bain does share more information about the study in the appendix, but I did not want to interrupt the flow of reading the book by pausing to read the appendix after finishing Chapter 1.

The next two chapters, Chapters 2 and 3, address the mental and active preparations that the best teachers make before stepping in front of students in their classrooms.  Bain covers foundational concepts in Chapter 2 concerning what the best teachers know about how we learn.  The best teachers understand that students do not receive knowledge passively; they construct knowledge using their existing mental models to interpret new encounters.  Bain claims that the best teachers foster intrinsic motivation in their students in the place of students “performing” for a certain grade.  Bain also introduces the concept of the natural critical learning environment that he expounds upon in a later chapter.  Chapter 3 explores how the best teachers actively prepare for their students, including constructing learning outcomes, devising strategies for challenging students’ current mental models, reconciling the questions the teacher seeks to answer in the course with those raised by the students, and moving students towards deeper understanding through the course’s progression.

Bain shares findings in Chapters 4 and 5 involving the best teachers’ expectations for their students and their classrooms.  My biggest take-away from Chapter 4 is that the best teachers set high expectations for their students and observe the students meet these expectations by treating their students with respect, being genuinely invested in their students’ lives and well-being, and sincerely communicating fair in their students’ abilities.  The interconnected lattice of attitudes and tendencies of the best teachers Bain sets forth in Chapter 4 connects directly to his explanation in Chapter 5 of how these teachers conduct class.  The best teachers create a judgment-free learning environment where students are not afraid to try and to fail; they create the natural critical learning environment Bain introduced in Chapter 2.  The best teachers invite exchanges with students using an approachable conversation style.

In organizing his findings for the book, Bain could have positioned Chapter 6 after Chapter 4, in that both chapters focus on how the best teachers treat their students.  Bain reiterates assertions made in Chapter 4 regarding the best teachers treating their students with respect and as individuals.  He expands upon these assertions by giving examples of some teachers he studied who shared their backgrounds with their students.  These teachers communicated clearly to the students that they were all learning together and that the teachers did not always have all the answers.  The teachers Bain studied showed humility and inspired their students to ask questions they had not even raised.

I found the most interesting aspect of Chapter 7 to be that Bain focused more on teachers’ assessments of their teaching than of student learning assessments.  Bain remains faithful to the main claims of the book and places responsibility for student learning squarely on the shoulders of the teachers.  A quote from this chapter that remains with me is that, “Every act centers around and ultimately springs from a concern for student learning” (Bain, 2004, p. 163).  Bain also proposed a revolutionary approach to evaluating college teaching in Chapter 7.

Bain delivers another compelling quote in the epilogue: “. . . teaching occurs only when learning takes place” (Bain, 2004, p. 173).  This quote is an excellent summary of the book’s premise.  Overall, the book was an enjoyable and thought-provoking read.  The strength of the text lies in the study examples related to claims about the behaviors of the best teachers.  Some chapters lagged a bit when there was a drought of relatable, real-world examples connected to the concepts.  Bain not only instructs teachers regarding how to be better teachers, but also assists anyone who reads his book how to be better learners.  Although some of the practices showcased by the teachers studied seems like common sense, all of the attitudes, behaviors, and strategies Bain sets forth comprise an intricate scaffolding that supports student learning.  Bain writes the book from a naïve perspective at times.  I certainly believe in trusting students and treating them like adults, but only as long as my trust is not proven faulty.  I also wondered how likely his proposed system of evaluating college teachers would be to implement in higher education, an entity not usually known for embracing change.  However, Bain’s sincerity and optimism are contagious and refreshing.  In conclusion, it is impossible to read What the Best College Teachers Do and not take at least one new concept away to improve one’s ability to foster learning.

 

Bain, K.  (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

The Teaching Philosophy for the On-the-fence Teacher

In my nearly seven cumulative years as a college student of some variety, I have come to the conclusion that many college students abhor group projects.  I include myself in this category most of the time.  Although I have been held captive in dysfunctional group projects for various classes in the past, I have enjoyed the rare experience of participating in a group project that was not only downright enjoyable, but my participation in the group project also transformed my conception of deep learning in a college context.  My experiences in this course remained with me ever since and have subconsciously shaped my teaching philosophy upon which I will expound later.

 

I must introduce a caveat to my teaching philosophy statement: I never expected to be writing a personal teaching philosophy.  Teaching has never been my goal and I do not believe that I would be a very good teacher.  I am an adequate public speaker on my best days and my default setting is most definitely more on the introverted end of the personality spectrum.  I enrolled in a course addressing teaching and learning because I wanted to learn more about teaching in order to understand more deeply the faculty role in higher education and to improve my own learning as I learned more about teaching.   However, as I listen to my friends and colleagues share their experiences impacting student learning in their own classrooms, I am drawn to the idea of trying my hand at teaching.

 

The group project I mentioned earlier took place in a world literature course at my community college.  Negative perceptions of community colleges abound in our culture, but my community college debunked most of them.  I had the privilege of studying in a community college that had the feel of a small liberal arts college for the first two years of my college career.  My world literature class included 14 students and our professor had a reputation for being tough.  However, she made every effort to get to know each of us and she treated us as individuals.  Her expectations were high, but she inspired us all to strive to meet those expectations.  She provided us with the resources we needed in order to complete our assignments, including being accessible to us outside of class and always eagerly answering our questions.

 

In this class we covered world literature from the 1500s to more modern literature selections.  Part of each class session included groups of three to four students leading class discussion of our readings for the week.  Each group had full control over how we presented the readings.  Her one requirement was that each group assist their classmates in learning the material by delving into rich discussions.  A group failed to accomplish this if their activities did not generate meaningful class discussions.  My group’s reading was Tartuffe and we elected to dress in period costumes while we taught the material to our classmates.  Some of our class struggled with the arcane language of works from this era of literature, therefore we reenacted in melodramatic fashion a pivotal scene from the play using a modern spin on the language.  Not only did we invoke raucous laughter from our classmates, our classmates had nearly perfect scores on a pop quiz we administered on the scene afterwards.  It didn’t hurt that our pop quiz was administered in the format of the popular show at the time, “Are You Smarter than a Fifth Grader?”

 

Although I enrolled in this class over a decade ago, I recall more from this class than I can for most any other class I have taken since then.  At times I still marvel over the learning community my professor created that no other professor has ever replicated.  Reflecting on my time in this course makes me want to explore whether I could create a version of my professor’s learning community.  Through reflecting on this course as well as other less engaging courses, my teaching philosophy is composed of three assertions:

 

  1. To engage students and foster learning you must treat them with respect as individuals.

Although my professor had clear expectations for how students could be successful in her class, she treated each of us as capable, intelligent adults who did not require micromanaging.  Her syllabus was detailed enough to assist us in meeting deadlines and completing assignments, but she also gave us creative agency over how we executed our group projects and final papers.  She engaged with us outside of class and showed a genuine interest in our lives.  It is no coincidence that of the world literature classes in session during that term, our class boasted the higher average course grade.

  1. Creating a learning community within your classroom leads to deeper learning for your students.

My professor was successful in creating a learning community partly because she invited students to take ownership of their own learning.  The group projects accomplished this goal as I explained earlier, but also the class discussions played a role in students actively engaging with the course content, the professor, and with one another.  She stepped back and allowed the students to drive discussions and only stepped in to keep us grounded if conversation strayed too far from the topic at hand.  She listened to each students’ opinions and reflections of the readings as if she were listening to a fellow faculty colleague.  Instead of criticizing an opinion she would ask questions and invite the student expressing the opinion, as well as the rest of the class, to consider the question raised more deeply.  The learning community she built within our class was always respectful and collegial.

  1. Taking your students’ feedback seriously helps you to better reflect upon your teaching’s effectiveness.

At the close of each class, my professor would ask us each to take out a blank sheet of paper and anonymously give her brief feedback regarding the class and material covered in addition to any questions lingering that were not adequately answered.  She wanted to know what worked and what did not so that she could tweak class meetings in the future to better enhance the learning environment.  She studied each paper and would address concerns in subsequent class meetings.  By inviting our consistent feedback, my professor sincerely expressed a desire to make each class meeting as effective as possible regarding each individual student’s learning.  She exemplified a desire to learn regarding her own approaches to teaching and actively strived for teaching excellence.