By Sandra Simpson, Gonzaga University School of Law
As our semesters are coming to a close and we are starting to think about planning for next semester, I would like to share a daily assessment idea I instituted this year in my Real Estate Transactions class. My Real Estate Transactions class meets three times per week for 50 minutes each time. I also have 40 students. Before you stop reading due to the overwhelming thought of grading a daily assessment for 40 students, let me ease your fears. My system takes only a few minutes per day and has been highly effective in improving readiness for class and participation among my students. It can also be done with or without technology.
To be effective assessment must be directed at gathering information about how well students are meeting course objectives, must be reviewed by the professor to look for common themes, and must be used to improve teaching and student learning. To be true to the purpose of assessment, I wanted to design a system that collected data, did not seem like busy work to the students, and gave me feedback on their learning. I came up with a daily feedback form which allows students to respond the problems we discussed in class. I asked several questions including:
- What problem or case was covered in class?
- Why did this problem/case happen?
- How did the team (chosen at random at the beginning of class) demonstrate that they understood (be specific):
- The relevant legal issues.
- The relevant authority and policy.
- How to achieve the client’s goals (if it was a problem and not a case).
- The best legal arguments.
- The effect this case/problem could have on the clients, the real estate system, and society.
- Different approaches to solving the real estate problem (if it was a problem and not a case).
- Did the team challenge assumptions made by judges, legislatures, attorneys, students, professors, themselves.
- How can you use what you learned while studying this section in your future practice as an attorney?
- What was the most valuable thing you learned while studying this section?
I set up a drop box on the course’s TWEN page for every day (this takes about 1 hour to set up). I assign a total 5 points for each feedback form. The form is due prior to the next time the class meets. You can set TWEN to take forms up until a certain time and to not accept them after that time. To grade the feedback form, if the student turned in a form in the drop box, I assign 5 points to that student. Then I go back and randomly select between 2-4 to grade. I subtract points for incomplete responses and TWEN allows you to provide feedback and send that feedback back to the students. During the first class, I showed them an example of a “good” feedback form and explained what was good about it. I also showed them an incomplete feedback form. When I gave individual feedback on a student’s paper, I was very specific in what I wanted.
The information and learning gained by this paid big dividends. By the end of this semester, the quality and introspectiveness of students’ answers to these questions increased dramatically. After every class, I was able to access immediately what students were learning and what they thought they would use in the future. Those answers surprised me on many occasions. Many days, after reviewing 2 or 3 forms, I noticed a common thread of misunderstanding, which I could clear up either by email or in class. Lastly, the students have commented about their love/hate relationship with the feedback forms. They love it because it makes them review their notes and think about their learning; they hate it because it makes them review their notes and think about their learning, which is hard.
In the end, the combination of the students not knowing who was “on” for any one class period and having to pay attention during class to fill out the feedback form, led to more engaged students. If the team was not prepared and are called on, their team received a low score for their participation points for the day. Also, students are not allowed to file a feedback form if they were absent; thus, that is an automatic zero. These easy-to-implement assessments have dramatically improved class participation, student learning, and student engagement. I am happy to share more details with anyone who wants to set this up. Email me, Sandra Simpson, at email@example.com.