Teachers usually have their own set of ways to teach their students and make sure that the students are actually learning. Most teachers usually don’t challenge the traditional way of teaching, which can leave some students overwhelmed and confused. When I first started teaching, without even thinking, I constructed courses that looked the same as how they looked when I was in school. Step one: Teach a unit; Step two: Give an in-class exam; Step three: Teach a unit; Step four: Give an in-class exam. Etc. My observation is that a lot of teachers do the same thing. In my own research, however, in-class exams are poor alternatives to something called learner-centered assessments.
An article that I wrote with three of my students in 2014, called Learner-Centered Assessment Strategies for Greater Student Retention examined other methods for testing students. In general, I suggest that in-class examinations test what the student has learned in your class, and nothing more. Other ways of assessment can show what the student has learned while teaching them something else in the process. The goal is for students to learn while they are completing their assessment.
Here are some assessment-based recommendations that you can use today:
- Make sure the students read the work. They can’t learn anything if they don’t! Also, there is voluminous evidence that people can learn more about a topic with which they are already familiar than if the topic is novel. Using homeworks, or pop quizzes, to encourage students to read the material you are going to teach before you teach it, can facilitate your students’ understanding of that material. Instead of having to interpret what you are saying, while also trying to comprehend the bigger picture of your lesson, students may recognize what you are saying, and be able to integrate your way of teaching the material to what they have already learned from their prior reading.
- Give out take-home tests. These tests help students remember information longer. When students take tests home, they study a lot harder and sometimes they may even pair up with their classmates and study as a group. The process of turning in a take-home test can help students remember the material more than if they were preparing for an in-class assessment. Take-home tests shouldn’t be viewed as “freebies”, but as learning opportunities. These tests give students ample time to do their best and therefore help students avoid test anxiety.
In one study of mine, the results showed that students remembered more information when assessed with a take-home test than an in-class test. When I asked one student about the results, she commented, “If you do poorly on an in-class test, you can make all sorts of excuses. But if you do poorly on a take-home test, you’re just a chump.” (Rich, 2011).
- Give out short-answer tests. These tests cover more material and give students a chance to explain things at a deeper level (Tamir, 1990). Short-answer tests can also lessen guessing. Short-answer questions force students to go into detail. Short-answer questions are the questions that can tell you what the student really learned and remembered.
- Go over old tests in class. After your students finish their short-answer and take-home test, it’s a good idea to review these tests with the students in class. This opens up an opportunity for students to ask questions and give you some good feedback. This can also tell you what the students understood and what was confusing to them. Incorporating this feedback can improve your skills and quality, as you fine-tune how you present material in a way that students report understanding. This kind of feedback can also improve communication within the classroom and give students time to correct their errors (Wininger, 2005).
- Let students evaluate what they’ve learned. This strategy increases participation. Pay close attention to the evaluations your students complete to show what they’ve learned. This evaluation can give you feedback to help better your teaching skills and make changes to some things that don’t seem to be working in the class. Dallimore, Hertestein and Platt (2012) suggested that teachers make ways for students to give anonymous feedback. For example, you could have suggestion boxes and keep them at the back of the classroom. If students don’t want to speak out in class, they can always drop a suggestion or question in the class suggestion box.
- Know how your students learn. All students learn differently. They can learn by seeing, hearing, or by doing hands-on work. To see how your students learn have them go to this website and find out: engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.phpl (Solomon and Felder, 1993). If there are some kids in the class that just don’t ever get the lesson, it may be because they’re being taught in a way that’s not their style. A student who learns through seeing might not be able to learn as much from a teacher who never draws or writes on the board. Once you identify how your students learn, you can attempt to teach students with all different styles of learning.
If you are a teacher trying to improve your teaching skills and the depth of your students’ learning, these six ideas for creating learner centered assessments can be very helpful, both to your sense of accomplishment as a teacher, and also to the goal of increased student retention. What strategies do you use in your teaching?
- Dallimore E, Hertenstein J, Platt M (2010). Class participation in accounting courses: factors that affect student comfort and learning. Issues in Accounting Education, 25:613-629.
- Rich, J., Colon, A., Mines, D. and Jivers, K. (2014). Creating learner-centered assessment strategies for promoting greater student retention and class participation. Frontiers in Psychology, 5.3.
- Rich, J. (2011). An experimental study of differences in study habits and long-term retention rates between take-home and in-class examinations. International journal of university teaching and faculty development, 2, 1-10.
- Soloman B, Felder R (1993). Index of learning styles questionnaire. Retrieved from http://www.engr.ncsu.edu/learningstyles/ilsweb.phpl
- Tamir P (1990). Justifying the selection of answers in multiple choice items. International Journal of Science Education, 12:563-573.
- Wininger SR (2005). Using your test to teach: formative summative assessment. Teaching of Psychology, 32:164-166.