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CATS, CATS, and More CATS

1 Feb Initial Image BioChemistr

This time of year reminds me of cats in two ways.

There’s my still favourite Super Bowl commercial – “Cat Herders” – to review with its story of cats and cowboys doing the sort of wrangling the particular digital management firm is promising its clients:

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And there’s my yearly promise to find or invent new ways of making use of the CATs that are Classroom Assessment Techniques that allow me and my students to see learning at work – and to discover some of the reasons why it gets stuck in particular places.  To that end, this post will follow up a brief review of Classroom Assessment Techniques with one CAT example developed by a UMinn BioChemistry professor, and with two sets of great resources drawn from recent CAT-related posts. 

What’s a CAT?

186781048_d41b264203In the 1980s, Pat Cross and Tom Angelo described 30 ‘low threshold’ approaches to gathering student feedback on learning to help teachers gauge in what ways students were (or were not) moving toward learning goals; from the data gathered, student could see gaps as well as gains in learning, and teachers could determine what to address in next class session, and plan for next teaching/learning strategies to advance student learning.

The goal of any CAT is to give an instructor more insight than students’ faces and homework assignments alone could reveal.  A good CAT can be a time-saver by giving faculty insights into how learning can be improved while wasted effort (student and/or faculty) is reduced.  (TLT Group)

Knowledge Probe
by way of a single image, writing & word clouds

Initial Image BioChemistrDeveloped by a UMinn BioChemistry professor who wanted to informally gauge student learning over the course of a semester, this Visual Background Knowledge Probe could also be adapted for use at several points in a term: beginning and end of a course, at the start of each unit in a course, as core concepts are introduced and built upon in a course.

On viewing the image, the BioChemistry students were prompted  to list as many words as they could in response to a diagram.  As a follow up, the instructor created word clouds with their responses – at the start of the term, and again as students re-viewed and responded anew in writing to the image.

Word Cloud Start of Term Word Cloud End of Term

This Background Knowledge probe offered a course grain way to see that students were more sophisticated in their descriptions (and hopefully understanding) by the end of the semester. Many instructors could adapt/adopt this process with textual passages, images, diagrams, graphs or charts relevant to their course and discipline.

CATs Herding
Five Resources to Use Today

  1. An Introduction to Classroom Assessment Techniques serves as a guide for those new to using CATs, and is available here.
  2. Five Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handy Handbook, available here, is useful for new or “intermediate” users of CATs.
  3. FLAG: Field-Tested Learning Assessment Guide - which lives here on the web features resources that help teachers matching learning goals to specific CATs, and to learn more about how experienced teachers have integrated CATs – including step-by-step processes, suggested variations, and acknowledgement of limitations-strengths for particular contexts.
  4. Classroom Assessment Techniques for assessing… learning in three specific categories – Course-Related Knowledge and Skills, Learner Attitudes, Values, and Self-Awareness, and Learner Reactions to Instruction – offers brief explanations for use here.
  5. Technology-Enhanced Classroom Assessment Techniques this link invites instructors with online and hybrid courses to discover ways of adapting CATs to those teaching contexts:

 Classroom Assessment Techniques
New Directions for Students & Teachers

At the close of a 2014 post, we note one new-directions resources:

Edutopia’s 53 Ways to Check for Understanding, which breaks new ground in building on the CAT concept, with strategies more aware of the broad range of learners in college classrooms, and the emergence of media-rich learning contexts.  Here’s a glimpse, by way of the first and last 5 ideas:

  • Summary Poem build from 10 key words in assigned text.
  • Invent the Quiz with 10 higher-order text/content items; answer 2.
  • Provide the 411 – what’s the author’s objective?
  • Opinion Chart: list opinions about text on left; support them on right.
  • So What? Journal – what’s the day’s main idea? why’s this important?
  • Color Cards. Red=Stop, I need help. Yellow=A little confused. Green=Got it.
  • Quickwrite – without stopping, write what confuses you.
  • Debrief.  Reflect together immediately, brieftly on activity just ended.
  • Exit Slip.  A single sentence conveys idea learned in session just completed.
  • Misconception Check.  Note a common misconception: student explains how & why she agrees or disagrees.
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