How do we know they are learning?

Recently, I set up a class session where the class worked in small groups developing visual representations of the key concepts for the day. I checked in with the groups and everyone seemed engaged by the assignment. I asked for a group to volunteer to transfer their visual representation to the dry erase board and together we noted the major aspects of the concept to include. I did not collect the class work.

Throughout the class, I found myself sitting or pacing around wondering if they were really learning the concept. I felt so uncomfortable, like I wasn’t teaching. I always feel more like I’m teaching when I stand up and lecture, pointing out colorful examples using PowerPoint slides.

Where should learning occur? How do we know that learning is occurring?

Most of my class sessions are “flipped” this semester. I assign readings, videos and other materials for them to work on on their own. Then, in class, they often work in small groups or pairs to answer questions or develop outlines, concept maps and other visualizations. I feel so uncertain that the learning I hope for is taking place. ¬†I get the impression that my students are also uncertain. They, like I, seem more comfortable having me stand up and “go over” the concepts, model for them how to integrate the ideas and work with the concepts. But….how effective is that? Many studies in the pedagogical literature support the “flipped” idea and other types of active learning. But students often complain that “the teacher isn’t teaching” or that they “hate” working in groups because their fellow students “don’t know anything.” How do we convince ourselves and our students that they are, in fact, learning?

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Here are some measures I am incorporating:

  1. Collect some of the in-class work (but not all of it). But, it could be that, while the group arrives at a pretty good understanding of the task at hand, the individuals in the group may have only a superficial understanding of the concept.
  2. Ask students to come to class with an exam question from the previous class session, and to answer it. Collect and review these.
  3. Either begin or end the class session with a test-style question and collect them for ungraded feedback on how well they understand the concept.
  4. Give them a practice test. Later, you can either post the answers for them to self-review and self-grade, or you could actually collect and read through the answers. This could be for a homework grade.

What ideas do you have?

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