What Are Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)?

Decorative: A series of cat silhouettes

 

"Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATS)" (post) introduces CATs and outlines basic steps for implements CATs.

See "Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs)" (doc) for more information on CATs, why you should use them, how to use CATs, and an introduction to five, common, easy-to-use CATs:

  • Background Knowledge Probe
  • Minute Paper
  • Muddiest Point
  • What's the Principle
  • Defining feature Matrix

A. What Are CATs?

Classroom Assessment Techiques "are designed to allow the classroom instructor to find out in a relatively short time what students are learning and to use that information to make changes in the delivery method used or in the assignments required."

"[A] CAT has the following characteristics":

1. "It is learner-centered." 

  • It "should ... focus on gathering information from observation and using that information to improve student learning, rather than on observing and improving the instructor's teaching."

2. "It is teacher-directed."

  • "[T]he individual teacher decides what to assess, how to assess, and how to respond to the information gained through the assessment."
  • "This information can be used only by the instructor and need not be shared with anyone else."

3. "It should be mutually beneficial to both students and instructor."

a. "Classroom Assessment requires the active participation of students."

  • "By cooperating in assessment, students reinforce their grasp of the course content and strengthen their own skills at self-assessment."
  • "Their motivation is increased when they realize that faculty are interested and invested in their success as learners."

b. "An instructor can also improve teaching by asking these three questions":

  • "What are the essential skills and knowledge I am trying to teach?"
  • "How can I find out whether students are learning them?"
  • "How can I help students learn better?"
  • "As teachers gather information from students and answer these questions, they improve their teaching and better understand the learning process."

4. "It is formative in nature."

  • "The purpose ... is to improve student learning - not to grade student's work."
  • It "should focus ... on finding out how to improve activities so that all students (or at least most of the students) have a better learning experience."

5. "It is context-specific."

  • "Classroom assessments are designed to address the specific needs of a specific class."
  • The instructor's "personality, methodology, and time available will all have some impact on the CAT that is chosen and how much information is given." 
  • "[W]hat works well in one class will not necessarily work in another."

6. "It should be ongoing."

  • "Instructors who use a variety of CATS over time and use that feedback to make appropriate changes will find that students begin to participate more actively in the assessment process and in the class."
  • "After the first assessment and implementation of feedback, the instructor can use the same (or different) assessment again to check on the efficacy of the new/revised activity." 

7. "It is rooted in good teaching practices." 

  • "Using ... CATS ... provides a way to integrate assessment systematically and seamlessly into the traditional classroom teaching and learning process." 

B. How to Use a CAT?

1. "Start simple!"

  • "[S]tart with one simple technique and then follow up on that feedback with another.

2. Follow "these three steps":

a. Selecting 

  • "Select one, and only one, of your classes in which to try out the classroom assessment." 
  • "Decide on the class meeting, and select a Classroom Assessment Technique."
  • "Choose a simple and quick one."

b. Implementing

  • "Make sure the students know what you are doing and that they clearly understand the procedure."
  • "Collect the (usually anonymous) responses and analyze them as soon as possible."

c. Responding

  • "Make sure that your students know what type of information you received and how you will use that information."
  • "This can be done in an informal way: 'About half of you seems confused by this point and another third by this point. Let's talk about these two points.'"
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