A colleague and I recently engaged our students in a discussion about their most recent quiz and heard some interesting things that inspired me to write this post. We were seeking feedback on why they had not done as well as we had hoped on the quiz and what we might be able to do in order to make it more likely that they would be able to demonstrate their mastery of the material. Not surprisingly, the students had plenty of suggestions! A little context might help to understand/interpret some of their comments. First off, we teach at Loomis Chaffee, a private day/boarding school where the vast majority of our students are highly motivated, enjoy school and are pretty bright. (Not a bad combo!) The class is Molecular Biology, a two term advanced course for seniors and a few juniors that is lab intensive. The two sections have 14 and 15 students, and we use a flipped model predominantly in the class, producing video podcasts for most of the initial content delivery.
Both of us were pleased with the discussion and heard some interesting thoughts from the students, many of which had a common theme; namely, that the students clearly wanted more metacognitive tools at their disposal prior to taking the quiz. Some of the comments included the following:
- “I was not sure exactly what to study?”
- “I did not know what I didn’t know.”
- “It was difficult for me to know if I was truly prepared.”
Most of the comments like these were followed by qualifiers that were a good reminder to us as teachers. The students cited things we had done in the past, either in this course or in Microbiology this fall, that allowed them to better self-assess their level of mastery. More specifically, we have included or done the following things in the past that were particularly helpful for the students:
- included a list of “questions you should be able to answer at this point” into the handouts for a lab or in the video podcasts.
- we used “clickers” (Student response systems) more frequently in the fall as a way for students and us to gauge their level of mastery.
- We have used Google Docs to have students report their progress in an experiment that stretches out over a week or more. This has helped many students keep track of where we are in a longer experiment.
The students clearly were yearning for ways to assess their own level of mastery along the path to the summative assessment and we had not provided quite as many “formal” opportunities as we have in the past. Some of this was intentional as we try to teach them how to become more independent learners and figure out the ways for self-assessment that work best for them. After the students were done giving feedback, we were able to shift the discussion to looking at what their responsibilities are as they work towards mastery of a topic. Their list included:
- being sure to review the plan for the day before coming to class so that if they have questions, they can ask them in class.
- thinking more actively about why we are performing each step in the experiment and not just following the procedure blindly.
- making sure that they read/watch the background material before we begin an experiment and then again after they are done making sure to focus on “what they don’t know or understand.”
- actively thinking about what types of questions we might ask that would require them to demonstrate mastery of the material. At this point, they realize that we rarely ask any regurgitation type questions.
All in all, the discussion was a productive one that will result in a more conscious effort on our part to build in ways for the students to self-assess their progress and the students’ increasing realization that learning is hard work and requires them to be active participants in the process. It was also a good reminder to us that despite how sophisticated and mature our students are, they are still very much novices when it comes to learning.
I welcome and encourage your comments.