Skip to content

Is It Time for “The Talk”?

By Guest Writer: Taimi Olsen

Have you talked to your students lately?  If you have a class of 10 to 30, you probably have a naturally high level of interaction with your students one-on-one or as a small group.  You can tell—even at this early date in the semester—how they are doing and are going to do, who will be challenged by upcoming material and assignments, and where those challenges will occur.

LL classIf you have large groups of students, or a heavy teaching load, the task is inherently more difficult.  How can you tell which students are facing challenges?  At that point, it becomes a question of leveraging your interactions with students in groups; whether face-to-face or online as well as using available technology to help you sort students by their progress with class assessments such as quizzes and tests, homework, and / or class surveys (“formative feedback”).  You may be using clicker technology, polling software, Blackboard or WebAssign quizzes, homework submissions, and Blackboard surveys to aid you in this process.  The assignments, combined with the powers of technology, enable you to identify student successes and student struggles, and, in turn, be ready to find help for those students through, for instance, Advisors and Student Success Center resources.

The challenge in any semester is to balance giving students enough time to work within the course material, yet catching them early enough in the process to get them help to succeed should their work reveal the need.  Students themselves may know before you do that they need help.  But for our young undergraduates—and some graduate students—articulating to us what they need can be difficult.  Sometimes they wait for us to tell them.Help

Consider that waiting to “talk” to them until the middle of the semester may be too late.

Just recently, research professor Vincent Tinto (now retired from Syracuse University), challenged us to think about the many key facets of student success in: Completing College: Rethinking Institutional Action.  With successgraduate degrees in Physics and Mathematics as well as Education and Sociology, Tinto represents broad perspectives of academic thought.  Below is an excerpt of his summary of the current thinking on students, feedback, and motivation.  It identifies many tidbits of advice that TennTLC staff bring to faculty, but I appreciate that in this introduction to chapter four, he brings these pieces together in a way that suggests a clear route for faculty conducting class with an eye toward student success (italics mine):

 “An environment rich in assessment of students’ performance and in feedback of information about student performance [is an] important condition for student success. … In such settings, students become more involved in learning activities, and more effective in self-assessment to improve their learning strategies and study habits. 1. Feedback is particularly helpful when it creates a slight cognitive dissonance between what a person thinks of his or her performance and what a person discovers from feedback, because such dissonance can cause profound changes in behavior (Carroll 1988). This is especially true in the classrooms and during the first year, when students are seeking to adjust their behaviors to the academic and social demands of college life (Angelo and Cross 1993; Huba and Freed 2000). To be effective, assessments must be frequent, early, and formative as well as summative in character. Frequent assignment-based mini-exams and periodic pauses for assessment and feedback within the class improve motivation (Becker and Devine 2007) as well as attention and comprehension (Bligh 2000)… This is also true of those forms of classroom assessment that employ classroom response systems  (Bruff 2009, 2010; Hodges 2010; Kaleta and Joosten 2007; Patry 2009; Roschelle, Penuel and Abrahamson 2004) and those that involve the use of learning portfolios (Barton and Collins 1997; White 2005; Zubizarreta 2009). (Tinto, 2012, p.54.)

Tinto (2012) further notes that in one study (Stetson, 1993); faculty in a four-year trial of using frequent assessments reported improved “grades, final examination scores, and class projects.”  These gains were not impacted by whom the instructor might be, nor by the students’ levels of ability (p. 55).

For those of us who are faced with managing many classes, high numbers of students, or balancing research demands with our teaching responsibilities, frequent, early and varied assessment may be a key component to the success of our students.

How do you do this?  Take a look at our page on formative and summative assessment, with a link to “CATS” (short assessments, adaptable for the Blackboard environment); contact OIT for polling software; or request a TennTLC “Creating Tests” workshop!

Tinto, V. (2012). Completing college: Rethinking institutional action. University of Chicago Press.

The flagship campus of the University of Tennessee System and partner in the Tennessee Transfer Pathway.