Tag Archives: instantaneous feedback

Assessment for Quick Feedback

This is a difficult time of year, as exams loom, the work piles up, and students need targeted help more than ever before. This post is to give a quick overview of a style of assessment I have been using lately. As I go along, I intend to write a follow-up describing how well it works.

Premise: students need to write summative assessments (ie: tests)
Problem: tests take a lot of time to grade, so feedback is usually too slow to be effective
Solution: a two-page test that separates easy-to-grade questions (multiple choice, calculate-a-number) from hard-to-grade questions (diagrams, solving problems, writing responses).

A two-page test is, as the name suggests, written on two pages of paper, stapled together. The first page consists of questions where:

(a) the answer can be instantly checked for correctness
(b) incorrect answers are anticipated, and understood to reflect some common, relevant misunderstandings

Critically, the first page needs to be something that can be checked for correctness in about 10 seconds. I design for this by having the students write their answers on blank lines on the right side of the page.

The second page consists of the regular sorts of questions where you need a few minutes to read, figure out what the student was thinking, and so forth.

When the student submits the test, the two pages get pulled apart. I quickly mark the first page. There is usually a 10-20 minute window between my first student handing in their work, and the last straggler wrapping up, so if I can mark while the tests are coming in, I can return the first page to the students about a minute after the last student finishes.

Now, the students get their near-instant feedback, and we have some time to go over the questions that gave most students problems. If I designed the test well, that means our post-test class time is spent directly addressing some of the major conceptual hurdles in the content.

As for the second page… I mark those in the regular way: when I can make time for it.

modphys 29/180: Practicing

I tried a few different approaches to student practice today. First, I had my grade 11 math students create problems with a given answer. They whiteboarded their problems and solution, including a deliberate mistake, and we shared in a group. The deliberate error is useful because it helps to normalize mistakes. By going through the motions of fixing each others’ errors, we accept this process as normal and move pass the emotional charge usually attached to making mistakes.

Next, I had the same class log in to Khan Academy, which I’ve written about before. The website is getting more useful for teachers: I can now recommend exercises for my students, there is a good view to see how students do on individual questions, and the exercises are becoming polished. Today I had the students work on two exercises related to exponent manipulation. Fortunately, the software now runs on mobile devices: it was delightful and strange to see my students pecking away at their cell phones, working through appropriately-challenging problems.

My grade 11 students need a way to pursue individual practice. I have been looking at WebAssign (at least until Stephen lets me use Socratic Brain!), but I’m not particularly impressed. The technology seems quite rudimentary, with limited analytics and a rather poorly categorized set of questions. It is clearly geared toward those big undergraduate physics classes. At USD 10.50 per student, I need to be rather sure of the benefits before paying for student accounts.

What we did during class, however, was to use Kelly O’Shea’s Speed Dating approach to whiteboard problem solving. The students (generally) picked it up easily. It was a pretty good way to get everyone to become familiar with, and more-or-less figure out, a few problems in a short amount of time. The buy-in during our board meeting afterward, when we shared the results, was better than normal.

A common link between these four approaches to practice is instantaneous feedback. There has been some debate about the pedagogical value of instant feedback, especially since the sort of instant feedback that is so trumpeted by Khan Academy and WebAssign is of very little value — being nothing more than “incorrect/correct”. Work during class time, of course, allows for abundant peer and teacher feedback, but this does not obviously extend to homework.