Book Review: Classroom Assessment Techniques

Thomas Angelo and Patricia Crosss’ book Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers was the third text that we reviewed in AHE 603. I believe that the three texts chosen for this class compliment each other so well. Bain’s book put us in the right mindset of the best teachers. Barkley’s book provided us with techniques for student engagement and Cross and Angelo’s book now provides us tools to assess learning.

Classroom Assessment, defined by the two authors, is a systematic approach to help professors find out what their students are learning and how well they are learning it. The focus is on the students, but the approach is very much teacher-directed. It is also clearly stated that these techniques are focused on formative assessment, “they are almost always never graded and are almost always anonymous” (Angelo & Cross, p.5). In chapter two, the text introduces the Teaching Goals Inventory (TGI), a survey that teachers use to clarify what their goals are for the students to learn in their class. The authors argue that in order to assess instruction, faculty must clarify their intentions for their students. The TGI has 6 clusters of teaching priorities: higher order thinking skills, basic academic success skills, discipline-specific knowledge and skill, liberal arts and academic values, work and career preparing, and personal development. These priorities help teachers link Classroom Assessments efforts to professors teaching goals.

More often than not teachers are assessing their students in a summative manner, at the end of units or sections. These assessments are necessary for documenting grades, but they usually don’t provide an opportunity for real-time inquiry on how students are doing. Sometimes it is too late to provide corrected instruction for the student, and honestly, the student’s confidence would have suffered from mediocre or poor grades. The Classroom Assessment Techniques (CAT)in the book are described as “feedback devices, instruments that faculty can use to find out how much, how well, an even how students are learning and what they are trying to teach. Each CAT is a specific procedure or activity designed to help faculty get immediate and useful answers to very focused questions about student learning” (Angelo & Cross, P. 25).  Before introducing the 50 CAT, the authors provide 12 examples of how the techniques are being used in the field. I resonated with the Documented Problem Solution (CAT 21) used for the calculus instruction. I used the same technique to conquer Calculus 106 in college. The professor had me work out my math problems on the left hand of the page while writing a narrative on the right that included a summary of the decisions that I took to complete the problem. The Productive Study-Time Logs (CAT 37) used for the stats class provided the professor with not only an understanding of his student’s study efforts, but also a class data that was later used for the study of regression.

Regarding the 50 CATS, they are indexed in the text alphabetically, by usefulness in specific disciplines, and by related TGI clusters. Below I will review the CAT that I found most interesting and provide an example of how I would implement it in my discipline of international education:

Techniques for Assessing Course Related Knowledge and Skills

Muddiest Point (CAT 7): This technique is one of the simplest and can be replicated in the large 400-student pre-departure orientations that take place prior to international departures. We already use Poll Everywhere, and this software can be used to ask the students about the “muddiest” point of the pre-trip training. We could reaffirm UA’s communication strategy during an emergency or reiterate how grades are calculated on study abroad programs. I can see our team implementing the muddiest point technique in next months’ pre-departure orientations.

Techniques for Assessing Learner Attitudes, Values and Self-Awareness

Goal Ranking and Matching (CAT 35):  This is also a simple procedure that can have huge implication for study abroad. This technique can happen the first or second day when a group lands in country and it calls for students to list a few learning goals that they hope to achieve throughout the course. Students usually go to a study abroad knowing what they want to “see” in the country, but sometimes they haven’t thought about what they want to learn. The professor can take these list and first see if they identify with his goals, and secondly try to make sure that most of the learning goals are reached throughout the trip.

Techniques for Assessing Learner Reactions to Instruction

Chain Notes (CAT 41): Faculty oftentimes complain about students preparedness to business tours and visits during a study abroad. It may be that students are just overwhelmed that they are in a different country and are not preparing for the daily visits. It may also be that the faculty member isn’t doing enough prep-work prior to a trip. The easy chain technique could be used on the way to a tour or a company visit by simply passing around an index card on the bus with a question that the professor has developed on the index card. It could be a way for student’s to indicate prior knowledge about a country or it could be used to solicit questions from students for a upcoming visit.

As mentioned before, I appreciate all of the texts that were selected for the course. I hope to keep them in my library as a resource for any training or future classes that I teach.




Book Review: Student Engagement Technique

I am not going to lie … it took me a while to get “engaged” into this book. For some reason, I had an expectation that this book would keep me intrigued from the first chapter as Bain’s book had me. Unfortunately, that was not my experience. I picked it up, put it down, picked it up, put it down, and filled my time with other things than reading the text.  With time dwindling down, and a sense of urgency to push through the book, I was able to see what all of the hype was about.

In Part One, Barkely presented a double helix model defining student engagement as ” a process and a product that is experienced on a continuum and results from the synergistic interaction between motivation and active learning” (Barkely, pg. 9).  Active learning describes how a student’s mind is engaged, and how students are lively participants in their own learning. Learning is not just happening to students through osmosis, but students are aware of it through reflection, and monitoring of the process and results of their learning. Motivation, on the other hand, is a product of expectancy and value. Students should have an expectation that they can succeed in the process and the tasks of learning (either content, or activities) should mean something to them, or have value to them.

My connection with Barkley started on page 45 when we were introduced to teachers practicing student engagement theory in their own classroom. THIS is what I was missing from Bain’s book. While Bain talked about what the best teachers do, Barkley highlighted teachers with relatable frustrations in their classrooms and how the used techniques to turn their students around. Barkley presented examples of success through creative learning activities, personality, course structure, motivation, value, active learning, and a combination of approaches.  My favorite example was that of Barkley herself, giving students control of their grades, offering 4,000 possible class points and only requiring 2,000 for an A.

Part Two of Barkley’s book focuses on fifty strategies and techniques that promote engagement. Some of the highlights of this section for me where:

  • T/S 4 Use praise and criticism effectively: This is a area of growth for me, and I try to really work hard on getting better with words and affirmation, and respectful criticism, in my role as a supervisor. I appreciate the formula that it provided for praise/criticism regarding its timeliness, specificity, and how’s its best if done in private.
  • T/S 18 Activate prior learning: This section suggests using think-pair-share or interviewing classmates in order to activate prior knowledge. As a secondary benefit, I feel like tasks like this builds community and fosters engagement within the classroom.
  • T/S 37 Celebrate community: Last semester I took a Stats class with other Stats rejects, as we called ourselves. People who “had” to take the class, failed it previously, or really didn’t like stats (like me)! Our teacher was a recent PhD graduate and our class was his first ever college course that he taught on his own. He was such an understanding teacher, and was so warm and particular with providing us support as we all struggled through the course. At then end we all excelled and capped it off with a class photo (as mentioned in the book). It was a small activity, but meant a lot to all of us in the class.
  • T/S 42 Use scaffolding to provide assistance for complex learning: I use the “think-out-loud” activity as I work with students to generate their stories for scholarship essays. I love that this idea, of verbalizing a thought process, was included in Barkley’s text.
  • T/S 47 Teach so that students use multiple processing modes: I was fascinated by the pie-chart showing average retention rates from different teaching methods. I hope to use this knowledge as I create my class portfolio.

Part Three of Barkley’s text describes fifty learning activities that teachers have found effective in engaging their students. I am excited about spending some more time on this section but have identified two Student Engagement Techniques (SETs) that I stood out to me the most:

  • SET 21 Class Book: Having a collection of the student’s “best” work and binding it to show future students in the same course is genius. We use the same idea as students share a copy of their photo books when they participate in an exchange abroad. It allows us to more easily market the program for future participants. I also like how this activity can easily be incorporated into a online classroom.
  • SET 48 Crib Cards: This idea is so great! The teacher provides students with a list of essay questions at the beginning of the course and tells them that a subset of questions will be presented in a future exam. The students are then allowed to write down outlines, notes, ideas on a 3×5 card and have that card available for their use for the exam. Even though all of the cards will not be used during the exam, the students have worked with ALL of the material, regardless of the questions they have to answer. It also allows the teacher to have different exams, since no two students have to be assigned the same questions.


I am really excited to have Barkley’s Student Engagement Technique book as a handy resource in my library and have already shared it, and Bain’s text, with my Assistant Director who is teaching a class in the Honors college.

Barkley, E. (2009). Student engagement techniques: A handbook for college faculty. San Francisco:   Bass.


Book Review: What The Best College Teachers Do: Ken Bain

Bain’s book, What The Best College Teachers Do (2004) is a collection of student-centered teaching patterns shared amongst a sampling of the best college teachers.  I have worked at three large public universities in the South, and one of the similarities between the institutions is that the importance teaching is often overlooked. There is a much larger emphasis on the research that is bringing in external funding, or the professor’s contribution to their field through publications. It was refreshing to read this book which provides tangible approaches and strategies to help guide professors to improve their teaching.  I agreed with the main theme of this book which is that the best teachers care. They care about learning, they care about their students, and they care about their performance as teachers.

Care about learning

The best teachers understand that learning is “constructed and not received” (Bain, pg. 26). Additionally, the best teachers recognize students are constructing knowledge using existing mental nodes to interpret new information. With this understanding, the best teachers attempt to challenge their students intellectually. There is also an expectation that their students can learn new facts while simultaneously being able to reason and question the new knowledge. Bain explains this idea in the book by comparing the teaching techniques of two anatomy professors. One professor expects students to commit all facts to memory. The second, and more effective teacher, helps builds students’ understanding of the facts using problem-based learning. Students work out the solutions of true clinical cases and come out with a better grasp of how knowing the fact helped them better understand the problem, or find a solution to the problem. The best teachers also know that learning from mistakes is valuable, so grading is focused on comprehension instead of the expectation that they students get it right the first time. In fact, many of the best teachers provide a mechanism for students to revisit and revise their assessments to demonstrate their mastery of the material.

Along with the knowledge of how students learn, the most effective teachers are interested in what students can “do” intellectually as a result to their learning. In the third chapter, Bain states that “the best teachers plan backward; they begin with the results they hope to foster” (Bain, pg. 50). The expectation is that students come out of the class learning to be critical thinkers in their subject area. This shows me that the best teachers deeply care about their discipline by developing future scholars. Bain uses the example of Chad Richardson who used stories to teach students empathetic and thoughtful comprehension of the Mexican culture in the border region of the Lower Rio Grande Valley. Through the story project, he and his students have been able to publish a collection of their work, but Richardson has also directed students in to graduate studies and administration in the field of Sociology.

Care about their students

In chapters four, five, and six, Bain makes the argument that the best teachers care about their students. These effective teachers appreciate and value each students’ unique contribution that they bring to the learning community. They are also interested in adjusting negative stereotypes and have a high expectation of the achievement of their students. Trust is built “through the rejection of power, and setting standards that represented authentic goals rather than schoolwork” (Bain, pg. 74). I found it interesting that when students are having difficulty in class, the best teachers “looked for problems in their courses first rather than in their students’ preparation or intelligence” (Bain, pg. 78). The best teachers are much more focused on the development of students “intellectually, physically, and emotionally” rather than just simply being able to regurgitate facts.

In chapter five, Bain discusses the principles and techniques that the best teachers use when conducting their classes. The principle of creating a natural critical learning environment was new to me and I am interested in seeing how I can integrate it in my work with study abroad. Essentially a critical learning environment starts with a question, provides a support system for students to engage with the question, makes an argument to answer the question, and then ends with a new question. Some of the techniques that foster a successful learning environment were common knowledge, such as keeping students’ attention, helping students learning outside of class, and conducting teaching in a “multitude of ways” (Bain, pg. 114). I loved the example of the “McEvoy-minute around” which allows each student one minute to provide their initial input to a class discussion. It shows the importance that the best teachers believe that every student has a voice, and that voice needs to be heard. The best teachers are life-long learners. With the continual search of knowledge also comes empathy for their own students’ intellectual journey. I appreciated the story of the math professor who conducted an oral examination of a student’s calculus ability, without the student’s knowledge. He was able to pin point that test anxiety, and not a lack of knowledge or ability, was the true reason why his grades were poor on major exams.

Care about their performance as teachers

My favorite story of the book was that of Derrick Bell, the African American Law professor whose journey took him from a teacher at Harvard, to the Dean at the University of Oregon, to a professor at NYU serving on a series of year-long appointments. He left some of his appointments because he felt others were being marginalized. He not only taught social justice, he lived it. Even at 81, with his teaching career spanning forty years, “he still regularly calls the teaching center to ask for suggestions and comments on his work” (Bain, pg. 148). I can assume that Bell shares the same thought that teacher evaluation and student assessment are connected. “When [the best teachers] evaluate their teaching, they do so in part to test their own efforts to facilitate learning” (Bain, pg. 151). They develop assessments to encourage students to think, to question their knowledge, to provide evidence to support their stance. The best teachers provide feedback, and create an environment where they expect students to turn in timely assignments in order to receive those valuable comments. As mentioned earlier, comprehension is the goal, so students oftentimes have the opportunity to resubmit assignments. Based on the student assignments, the best teachers could ascertain if their students are in fact learning the material. The best teachers also evaluate themselves, considering such questions as “am I helping and encouraging the students to learn,” or causing harm by creating a short-term learning environment (Bain, pg. 164).

In summary, I really appreciated this book as my first dive into identifying the most effective teaching practices for successful college professors. This was not a book full of to-do items, but rather a thoughtful study of common schools of thought that support student engagement with new knowledge. People who “may have expected this book to provide them with a few easy tricks that they could apply in their own classrooms” were probably disappointed. (Bain, pg. 174). My only critique with the book, which was so eloquently explained by Kit, is Bain’s lack of transparency in not only his subjects or types of institutions where his professors are employed. I think providing clarity that a considerable effort was made to find the best teachers, not only diverse in nature, but also diverse in their institution types, can only strengthen the main arguments in the book.

Bain, K. (2004). What the best college teachers do. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Teaching Philosophy

My first official job out of college was teaching at the high school that I had just graduated from four years prior. I taught three periods of Computer Applications with students that were not only mixed grade, but mixed ability level. In my other period, I taught an Oracle Database class. This class was made of seniors, mostly gifted, who by the end of the year would take the Oracle 9i certification test, similar to other professional database administrators in the field. These two classes were extremely different, and I as a computer science major in college I felt like I was not equipped with the pedagogical knowledge to teach them. Don’t get me wrong, learning did occur, and a few of my students did pass the certification exam, but I did the best teaching with the skills that had, which didn’t feel like much at the time.

My official teacher role ended in 2005 and since then I have been educating students in more of an advisory position within the context of international education. I am tackling this teaching philosophy assignment, imagining myself back in the classroom, determining how I would approach my role as a teacher if I was given the opportunity to do it again.  My teaching philosophy is centered around two key ideas, situated learning and motivation. Situated learning’s “main argument is that all knowledge that a learner acquires is somehow situated within activities that are socially, physically or culturally-based” (Pappas, 2015). My goal as a teacher would be to provide instruction in a way that is immersive and similar to the true environment where the skill to be learned occurs naturally. Situated learning has a beautiful application to study abroad. One of University of Alabama’s abroad programs is called Mathematicians of the Renaissance. For three weeks, students spend time studying mathematicians who were also known as astrologers, physicians, and philosophers traversing through some of the same Italian cities that they occupied. Students learn why these mathematicians were motivated by the stars, the landscape, the culture and how it influenced their creation of art, architecture, and other creative mediums. Situated cognition does not have to be taught in a foreign land, in fact, language teaching is a good example where instruction replicates application in real life. Even in online learning, situated learning teaching practices can be used with modeling, moderated chats with subject-matter experts, or exploratory field trips using virtual reality.  Situated learning gives students a reason to invest in the material at hand and provides an instant connection to the applicability of what they are learning.

The second intention of my teaching philosophy is motivation, and how it is integral to student learning. While I believe learning can occur without it, motivation amplifies a student’s investment to the content. As a teacher, I would curate extrinsic motivation while helping the students discover their own intrinsic reasons that keeps them wanting to dig deeper in the lessons. Extrinsic motivation is easily developed through situated learning since it helps answer the question of why we are learning the material. This can be done by creating authentic classroom environments or developing realistic problems that the class would tackle. But the greater type of motivation is the intrinsic kind. Student’s desire to understand how the learning of new material is applicable or beneficial to them. One of my most favorite classes in my master’s program was the Learning and Design Studio. Our professors were facilitators and we were allowed to not only choose the software package we wanted to learn, but to build whatever project we wanted in order to showcase our level of functionality with the software. We were extremely motivated in the Studio class because we had ownership of our learning. Finding the intrinsic motivations of my students would require my flexibility as a teacher to allow students freedom in these types of situations, and to guide and trust their direction in their learning. Teaching practices and assignments that are routed in authentic environments and motivate students by building buy-in, ownership and value, all aid in the learning process.

Pappas, C. (2017, July 20). Instructional Design Models And Theories: The Situated Cognition Theory And The Cognitive Apprenticeship Model. Retrieved January 27, 2018, from