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We’ve reached the final blog post in the “Successful Start: Designing Your First Week of Class” series. Today’s post follows up on the workbook’s descriptions of various types of student self-assessment activities, the goals of these activities, and how to approach creating one. If you’re just joining us now, here’s the free 60+ page Successful Start workbook which you can use to create your materials for the first week of class. At this point, we’ve covered the syllabus, course schedule, icebreakers, and major class assignments and their instruction sheets. Complimentary YouTube videos for this whole series are also available, with the final video touching upon the benefits of having students complete a self-assessment during week one.

It can also help them become more aware of their own strengths and limitations when it comes to certain course topics or skills. #assessment #teaching Click To Tweet

Decide on Your Student Self-Assessment Goal(s)

Basically, a student self-assessment is an activity that requires students to assess something about themselves. This activity usually helps students become more aware of their own perceptions of the topics included in your class. It can also help them become more aware of their own strengths and limitations when it comes to certain course topics or skills. Finally, it helps instructors understand what ideas, skills, and values students are entering their classroom with. This understanding can help improve the instructor’s lesson plans, as they now have student data to work with when deciding on smaller (but pivotal) details like in-class activities, homework assignments, and instructor-made student resources.

A lot of important information can be gathered via a student self-assessment. But, you’re not required to include such a wide range of questions in your assessment activity. Finding out about student expectations, prior experiences, AND prior knowledge requires the creation of a detailed and multi-faceted self-assessment activity. In other words, an activity that will take a lot of time to complete. If you don’t have enough time to devote to this activity in class during week one, and you don’t want to assign it for homework, then you need to decide on which goal matters to you most.

[Of course, you can also assign this activity during week two or create a two-part activity that takes place at home and in class. There are definitely ways to deal with not having time in class during week one.]

If week one is all you’re willing to use for this type of activity, then it’s up to you to figure out which of the following goals matter most to you. BTW, these are the goals I usually have with my self-assessment activities. That doesn’t mean there are no other potential goals for this type of activity. I just only have experience with these three.

  • Finding out basic information about your students and what expectations they have about you and your class
  • Finding out basic information about students and what prior knowledge and experience they have in connection to your class subject(s)
  • Finding out how much their prior knowledge includes a strong grasp of the skills they’ll be using or learning in your class

The first activity type can take less than 10 minutes, if necessary. The second takes a bit more time, especially if you’re asking students to tell you about their prior knowledge and experience in short answer form rather than via multiple choice questions. The final activity takes the most time, as it involves students completing an activity that requires practical use of their prior knowledge. In my case, reading a short story and writing a literary analysis of it. In your case, perhaps solving math problems, defining jargon, or successfully completing a research-based task in a limited amount of time.

In this video, I talk a bit more about what I gained as an instructor by having students complete these types of self-assessment activities. And in turn, what my students gained from my new knowledge of them.

Finding out about student expectations, prior experiences, AND prior knowledge requires the creation of a detailed and multi-faceted self-assessment activity. #edutwitter Click To Tweet

Decide on the Medium You’ll Use for the Self-Assessment

Once you know what your self-assessment goal is, I suggest picking your medium next, rather than getting started on creating the questions. Are you in a computer lab classroom? Why waste paper when you can create a digital self-assessment using your LMS site tools? I use the “Test & Quizzes” tool in my LMS platform, but there are other options, as well. You can post the activity as a Word doc, have students download and fill it out, then resubmit it to your site. I try to keep all my class activities as digital as possible, so I’m not using so much paper. Paying to print out copies of class activities is not high on my list of tasks I want to take on myself.

If you’re not in a computer lab, then having paper copies might be the easiest option. You might be able to book a computer lab for the one class period, but that requires more work for you and your students. In this case, check in with your department and ask about their printing and/or copying policy. For grad students are ISU, we can print 250 pages a semester for free. But, if we print out one copy of a class activity and submit it to the department, they’ll make as many copies as we need for free as long as they get 24 hour notice. So, we need to plan ahead, but this option saves us so much money. What’s your department’s policy?

If you’re okay with having students complete the self-assessment for homework, then once again a digital activity is a great option. Even if students don’t have a laptop or computer of their own, the campus library should have plenty. Personally, though, I prefer to have self-assessments take place in class, so I can answer any questions and make sure that students are completing the activity on their own and not with external assistance.

Create the Questions and/or Practical Activity

Once you have your goal and medium, the next step is to actually create the self-assessment activity. I include a list of sample questions in the workbook, but this step really varies depending on the goal and the amount of time you have designated for the activity. Student self-assessments are a pretty common activity, too, so you can search online to get ideas of what to ask your students.

On the off chance that you teach children’s literature and your goal is to access students’ literary analysis writing skills, I recommend “The Purple Jar” by Maria Edgeworth as the short story to assign your students to write about. It’s shorter than most fairy tales without being so short that students will struggle with finding anything to write about. I let students know it was published in England in 1801 and written by a woman, so they have a bit of context to consider for their analysis.

Analyze the Student Data

Once students have completed the self-assessment activity, read through their answers and look for patterns. Take notes on these patterns so you can use this information when tweaking or creating your lesson plans. For example, did 21 of your 30 students state that they’ve never had to use a skill that’s central to your course? Note that down and consider creating an extra resource for your students when that skill is introduced in your class. Did only 7 of 30 students state they expect to enjoy your class because it relates to topics they are interested in? Keep that in mind so you can focus on creating activities that require a lot of engagement from students. Lecturing to uninterested students is a major struggle. Having students participate in an in-class activity to learn the same material will help keep students attention on the subject at hand.

Like I mention in the workbook and video, my first ENG 170 students showed me that they needed more help than I anticipated when working on their literary analysis writing skills. By having students complete the mini analysis of “The Purple Jar,” I knew that I needed to create a much more prescriptive resource than I originally planned. I’ve talked all about this approach to teaching literary analysis writing, but it’s thanks to this student self-assessment activity that I knew this approach was necessary. In later semesters, I didn’t assign this practical element of the self-assessment. I had enough data from the first couple semesters to know this way of teaching literary analysis should be a staple of teaching ENG 170.

Discuss the Data with Your Students

The final step is to discuss what you’ve learned with your students. Not the specifics, like “John already knows this” and “Lynn thinks this about this topic.” Rather, discuss the patterns you saw in their answers and explain how those patterns will influence or not influence how you teach the course. For example, you might tell your students that the majority of them expected to learn about X topic in your course, but that actually that topic is covered in the next course in the sequence. Or, you could tell them that only a few of them knew the definition of a certain term, and since that term is central to the course, you were going to assign a specific reading for the following week that explains that term in a lot of detail. They should read that reading carefully and be prepared to discuss it in class.

Keep in mind: Just because the majority of students might want something from your class doesn’t mean you need to give it to them. The majority might prefer listening to lectures rather than doing small in-class activities, but creating engaging learning activities might be your teaching style. DON’T try to completely change your style to make your students like you or your class more. Just consider where compromises can be made without compromising your professional ethics or your students’ learning.

Discussing your students’ overall responses during the beginning of week two can help students feel heard by you. If you just collect the assessments and then never bring them up again, students are much less likely to realize that you’re taking their responses into consideration. You might be tweaking a lot of your lesson plans for them, but students won’t know that unless you tell them.

Other than this week one student self-assessment, I also recommend doing a Midterm Chat midway through the semester and a course assessment at the end of the semester. With these three assessments, you’ll have so much data available to improve your teaching practices and your students’ learning experiences.

Final Thoughts

We’ve reached the end of the Successful Start series! I hope you’ve found a lot of valuable information to integrate into your own teaching practices throughout these past five weeks. The fall semester begins in a couple of weeks, so there is still time to download the workbook, read through any posts you’ve missed, and watch the supplementary YouTube video series. Feel free to ask me any related questions in the comments section of the five blog posts or YT videos.

Here's a 20-page ebook with my top ten tips for new college instructors.

If you’re looking for more tips on preparing to teach your first college course, I suggest reading my “10 Teaching Tips for the New College Instructor” blog post. You can access the ebook version of this post via my resource library.

I’m returning to my usual posting schedule of every-other Friday on this blog, but I’m going to try to keep to an every Friday posting schedule on my Ever Educating YouTube channel. I suggest subscribing to the channel if you don’t want to miss my future video resources. [FYI: My next video is on planner and bullet journal options, followed by a two-part series on balancing grad school, teaching, and life outside of academia.]

If you have any suggestions on what topics you’d like me to cover in future blog posts, here’s a survey you can fill out.

Comment Below: What ONE question would you definitely ask in your student self-assessment?

Want to find out what students expect from your class? What prior knowledge and skills they already have? Something else? Create a self-assessment activity for the first week of class. #highered #teaching