Guest Contributor: Maggi Miller, Manager, Cengage Learning TeamUP Faculty Programs.

Grab a piece of paper and number it from 1 through 10. Done?

Now read my mind as I think the first question and try to answer whether it’s true or false. OK, now read my mind as I think of 2-10. Want the answers? I-True, 2-False, 3-False, 4-False, 5-True, 6-True, 7-False, 8-True, 9-False and 10-False. How did you do?

Even though this test is silly, you may feel unhappy if your “score” was low. Conversely, you may feel oddly successful if you scored well. People don’t usually feel neutral about assessments. The phrase “test anxiety” is familiarand we hardly ever hear that someone enjoys taking a test. Yet, assessment is an important tool for determining whether learning is taking place.

We assess so we can give corrective feedback, assign grades, and give recognition of what we value and what is important. But Marilla D. Svinicki and Wilbert McKeachie remind us that “Learning is more important than grading” (Svinicki and McKeachie, 83).

Most instructors know how to assess course-related knowledge and skills. But invaluable responses result when they ask students to explain how they know something or how they feel about the learning experiences that prepared them. If you inquire about these, you may be able to alter your teaching and improve your success.

Several famous no-prep activities for this sort of assessment include the “Minute Paper,” where students report on anything important they just learned as well as anything that seems a bit unclear, the “Paused Lecture,” where students write for several minutes on their recall and understanding of a half-completed lesson, and “Approximate Analogies” where you give them two related key concepts to use to create an analogy.

One other, the “Strong Line,” asks students to share which sentence in a reading stood out to them. It might be memorable or confusing, or it might make them laugh or cry. After students select their sentences, they share them and explain their choices. An alert instructor can learn whether students are engaged in the text and making sense of it with this impromptu activity. Now, that’s assessment!

Reference: McKeachie, Wilbert J. and Svinicki, Marilla. 2014.  McKeachie’s Teaching Tips, Fourteenth Edition. Belmont: Wadsworth, Cengage Learning.

Have you tried any of these ideas? Do you have any to add to the list? Discuss your ideas and experiences below, or send them to [email protected].

Maggi Miller is a Manager for Cengage Learning’s TeamUP Faculty Programs. Previously, she was a Professor of Reading & Study Skills and the Director of the Learning Communities program at Austin Community College. She served on the Editorial Advisory Board for the Journal of Adolescent and Adult Literacy and on the Media Advisory Board for CRLA. She is currently directing a year-long faculty development project for Texas educators teaching integrated reading and writing. She has been training educators for over 30 years. See some of Maggi’s other projects at //