Measuring Student Success
The days when I taught to a common exam (and hoped that I taught the right sections of a humongous textbook) are long gone. These days, I believe strongly in the value of a variety of class appropriate ways to go about measuring student success. This is far more motivating while not making them give up on the class because they did poorly on one large assignment or exam. Thus, here are my tips and tricks for keeping all my assignments at 20% or less of their overall grade.
Exams are not for every class
Students dread exams in any form. What worse feeling is there than doing very well in all aspects of a class and then doing poorly on the exam because you are sick or studied the wrong material? This does not mean that you have to give up on testing but I would rather use smaller test or quizzes that occur more often and are worth between 5-20% of their overall grade. They can be multiple choice, true false or have written answers of 1-2 sentences and still show clearly who understands what you have taught and who does not.
Using a variety of ways to evaluate
All of my classes have a 20% combined attendances and participation grade. However, everything else will depend on the class and skill. Writing classes all have portfolios so that the students and I can review the full scope and progression of their work. Speaking classes have interviews as a component so I can see them talking with each other or have them talk to me one on one about a topic they have studied. Presentations classes involve monthly presentations that become longer and more complicated as the term progresses. Suit the assignment to the skill and it will make things more relevant for the students and yourself when grading them.
Motivating through realistic tasks
My business classes are based around pitching a new product or company. Job skills classes are focused on researching, preparing a cover letter and CV and interviewing for their dream job. Writing topics include persuading their parents to increase their allowance, how to ask a boy or girl out on a date, or arguing why university tuition should not be raised. I try to relate the tasks they are assigned to their interests, experience or things that they will have to accomplish after the class is finished and which they took the class to prepare themselves for.
Reviewing before the test or quiz
I do not always do a formal review for a test or quiz, but – if it is worth 20% of their grade – I will give students this option. If they agree, I always try to make the review harder and more complex than the actual test. I learned this from a sociology Professor who would always give us 100 questions prior to his exams and base the actual test around 10-20 of them. Preparing so many answers was never easy, but I knew that I would do well on the tests as a result.
Dropping hints along the way
If I say that something will ‘probably’ be on the test, it most probably will be. If I mention what a previous student did right or wrong, it is intended to help students do better on their assignments. Students who have studied with me before know to keep their ears open for these tips along the way rather than simply reading and following the exact instructions I have given verbally or in writing.
Making instructions that are less than precise
I provide both written and verbal instructions for all assignments but I try to be vague about some details (exact length, how fancy the cover sheet may need to be and what visuals I expect) because if I give precise and detailed instructions I get the same thing from almost every student. As long as there are some gray areas, some students will always exceed my expectations for a given assignment. In rare cases, I show them examples of previous students work but I try to only do this when I am sure that they are confused or need more than the instructions as given. However, I only show them examples of students who got top grades in these cases.
Varying the skills for greater retention
Writing students still want to talk to their peers and instructors when brainstorming, for example. Speaking class students still need to write notes for their presentations or scripts to prepare for their interviews. Use as many skills as possible and as often as possible to help students remember what they studied for a longer period of time – no matter what the class title may say.
Random reinforcement is best
While I no longer give out cookies, Canada pins or candies randomly to high performing students, I do have a system of bonus points for rule breakers and students who do homework when others did not (or do extra homework without being asked). If someone volunteers who normally does not do so, they may get a bonus point as well. The key is, except for the rule breakers, to be random in when volunteers get points or someone who helped set up or rearrange the desks after class gets a bonus point and let them know what is going on. If you use it properly, you will not have to give out many points to get your students to work harder and volunteer more.