Cumberland Times-News

Maude McDaniel - Living

May 21, 2011

Vital to assess student abilities

In my last column, I suggested that an appraisal of student abilities is perhaps the most important task of a teacher in the early stages of a class.

This questionnaire is analogous to the forms for visiting a new doctor where you report on your allergies to medicine, previous surgeries, afflictions such as diabetes, asthma or high blood pressure and medications one is currently taking.

It is unlikely that all students in a class will study or learn with the same strategies, have the same experiences in previous courses, have the same amount of time to study outside of class and have the same levels of basic skills (reading, quantitative reasoning, written expression).

Some students will likely have to make a considerable transition in approaching a course while others will be quite able to handle the new concepts and assignments. The questionnaires should be done anonymously (no names) so students will be more likely to respond honestly.

Reading should have several questions, including the typical number of minutes spent per day spent reading printed material of a general nature (newspapers, magazines, novels, non-fiction books) that are not directly related to school classes.

Another question should determine the typical number of minutes spent per day reading electronic media such as blogs, newspapers on line, websites on celebrities, e-books, etc. Again, such material is not to be class related.

Questions involving writing would be useful, especially in regards to dairies, personal journals, letters, progress reports but NOT texting.    

There should be a question where students can demonstrate some quantitative thinking. An example would be: If there are six people in a room with equal numbers of males and females, how many different couples can there be?

A question regarding each student’s outlook towards math can be quite revealing. Is their math negativity due to one bad experience or a series of failures with a number of different teachers and classes?    

It is important to determine what approaches have been most efficient in learning (learning/time) for each student. I would limit the options to those that could be used in a given class instead of elaborate field trips.

Choices might include group projects, ordinary instructor presentations with questions allowed, student presentations in class, an individual student devising content games, student debates, etc. I would emphasize learning efficiency (amount of learning in terms of time) rather than the amount of learning itself.

A phobia question would also be in order. Issues for many students include memorizing formulae, answering questions orally during class or stress during a test (causing some students to reverse key concepts!).

How do students structure their out of class study time? Do they tend to do a moderate amount of study time each day or exert herculean efforts a few days before a test or the due date on a report?

The information gleaned from such a survey might be very helpful in determining what strategies may be most effective for a given class. An example might be forming small groups that would include students with different kinds of strengths so that they would complement each other.

If you just let the students form their own groups, the less able students tend to bunch together while the more able students will naturally cluster. In this way, the lower functioning groups will lag while the higher groups get bored, waiting for the other groups to catch up.

In the next few mornings, you can spot the moon in the early daylight hours high in the southern sky. The moon will resemble a reversed letter D.

Binoculars held steadily will allow you to see the larger craters along the moon’s straighter edge. This is where the sun is setting on that part of the moon. A week from now, the moon will be a crescent, passing over a number of planets low in the eastern dawn.

  The Frostburg State Planetarium will resume its Sunday programs after Labor Day in September. Any leaders desiring a special group program can email me at rdoyle@frostburg.edu .

You can also contact me through ordinary mail at Robert Doyle, Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532.

Bob Doyle invites any readers comments and questions. He is available as a speaker on his column topics.

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Maude McDaniel - Living
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