Assessment Blues

Baby Blues Panel #1 11/20/09 - Teacher asks if everyone understands the chapter: "Yes!"

Is this assessment? Click the panel to see the rest of the panel.

I came across this Baby Blues comic one Sunday morning last fall and it made me think about how we assess our students.  The first panel, above, shows a teacher asking her class a pretty typical question: Does everyone understand this chapter?  And the class gives an emphatic YES! in response.  This is great, right?  Click the link or on the panel to read the whole thing.  Go ahead.  I can wait.

Did you read it?  It didn’t turn out the way we expect when we ask this question as teachers.  I think this comic struck a nerve with me because I have looked out at classroom-fulls of students and seen blank facial expressions that can be difficult to interpret.  Is a student totally lost, unsure of how to connect new information to old?  Or are we moving too slowly causing the student to become bored and tune out?  The same blank stare can hide either reaction to my teaching.  And, as this comic points out, our first reaction, asking if everyone understands, may not clarify the situation.

There are technical innovations such as clickers that might allow students to provide honest, anonymous feedback.  (I envision students turning dials as if watching candidates making election speeches and causing a pointer to draw a line somewhere between “I get it – teach faster” and “I don’t get it – slow down”.)  While this might be valuable, and maybe even accurate, feedback, I’m not sure it’s a practical solution.  But it would be nice to know if the instincts we use to pace our teaching are accurate, at least in the students’ opinion.

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