by Jennifer Powell, Molecular and Cell Biology
Teaching Effectiveness Award Essay, 2001
The semester I was a GSI for MCB 142, Survey of Genetics, the professors decided that the students would be given a short quiz every other week in their discussion section. The students’ grades on the quizzes were to be based solely on attendance: if a student came to section that day and turned in a quiz, she or he would get full credit on the quiz. While the professors’ intent to encourage students to attend discussion section was good, I hoped that the quizzes would be more than just an attendance incentive. I anticipated that many students would not feel compelled to study for the numerous quizzes if their grade did not depend on it, diminishing the potential benefit of the quizzes as a mechanism for me to assess my students’ progress in the course. Additionally, I suspected that many students would not take the time to examine their corrected quizzes closely, thereby missing the opportunity to identify gaps in their knowledge before the exam. To address my goal of encouraging the students to take the quizzes seriously so they would be useful to everyone as a tool to evaluate their progress in the course, I developed a quiz strategy for my discussion section that was consistent with the course guidelines set by the professors.
My solution to these problems involved correcting the quizzes together in class immediately after the students finished the quiz instead of grading them myself. Rather than just telling them the answers, I asked volunteers to come up to the chalkboard and write their answers for the rest of the class. Students were allowed to ask for help from classmates if necessary, and on particularly tricky questions, I had two students work together at the board so they would feel less intimidated. Taking turns putting their quiz solutions on the board encouraged them to study for the quiz, since they knew they would have to get up in front of their peers. Additionally, they were able to identify gaps in their knowledge of the course material by correcting the quizzes themselves right after taking them. At the end of class, I collected the quizzes so that I could determine which topics were particularly difficult for the class as a whole and spend more time reviewing them with the students. I then returned the quizzes in the following section so the students could use them as study guides.
The effectiveness of this interactive method was confirmed by feedback from the students. As a formal assessment, I requested that the students fill out anonymous written midterm evaluations of the course and discussion section, in which I asked them specifically about the grading format of the quizzes. The students gave their overwhelming support for the method. Several students specifically said it greatly helped them prepare for the exam and admitted that otherwise they probably would not have studied for the quiz and would have recycled their papers without going over the corrections. In addition to the positive written support from the students, I noticed a huge increase in class participation relative to the days where there were no quizzes. As the semester progressed, the students were more confident about asking and answering questions. In comparing notes with other GSIs for the course, it also seemed that my students were more willing to ask questions in section and took their quizzes more seriously than did students in other sections.
The students benefited from this method because they had a strong incentive to study for the quizzes, thereby learning the course material in smaller sections rather than waiting to cram for the exam. They also received immediate feedback on their progress by going over their answers in class after the quiz. I collected the quizzes after the students graded them so I could ascertain whether there were any difficult topics that I needed to spend more time reviewing. Increased class participation made discussion sections more productive and enjoyable for me and for the students. Finally, the method was consistent with the professors’ guidelines since the actual numerical quiz grade was based solely on attendance.