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Pedagogy 5.1 (2005) 108-111

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Instant Assessment:

Using One-Minute Papers in Lower-Level Classes

[Works Cited for From the Classroom]

I have to admit that when I was handed a copy of Richard Light's book Making the Most of College: Students Speak Their Minds, I was prepared to find it a dry tome filled with countless survey results and pie charts. But I was pleasantly surprised. Light interviewed college students about their experiences and then presented his findings in a very approachable manner, filled with quotations by student respondents. In several instances, what he reported justified what I attempt in my own courses, even though my reasons for doing so are largely intuitive. For instance, Light (2001: 55) found when analyzing students' level of engagement with specific courses that the relationship between the amount of writing required of students in a course and their engagement with that course is "stronger than the relationship between students' engagement and any other course characteristic." All teachers toiling over a stack of papers should take heart from that one.

But I also took from the book some teaching tips based on what students told him. The one that most intrigued—and terrified—me was the concept of the one-minute paper written by students at the end of class as an immediate assessment of how well they grasped what the professor was striving to communicate in the class. Light's idea is to give the students a couple of minutes at the end of class to write, anonymously, answers to two questions:

  1. What is the big point, the main idea that you learned in class today?
  2. What is the main unanswered question you leave class with today? What is the muddiest point?

The thought of actually finding out after class what the students got out of that day's class did indeed cause a shiver to run down my spine, particularly when I recollected those days where I could be accused of caring more about entertaining than educating, but I decided that I wanted to try the method to gain a better sense of what my students were taking from my classes.

At the time, I was teaching two courses, a junior-level course in American women writers and Introduction to Literature. The first was composed [End Page 108] of English majors and other self-selecting individuals, many of whom had taken other classes from me. It was a very comfortable atmosphere, and the students were a very bright and highly motivated group. The other course was composed of incoming first-year students, none of whom were English majors and all of whom were there only because the course is a university requirement. Combine their newness to my classroom, the university, and the course with the fact that the class met at 8:10 in the morning, and one can readily understand why they were not a very talkative group.

After a couple of attempts at getting information from the junior-level class by way of the one-minute paper, I realized that most of what I was reading after class I had already heard expressed in class. The format did not offer that much insight into the day's work, since those students were very willing to express themselves and/or ask questions during the class period, so after a few times, I stopped employing it.

But the results from the introductory class were quite another story. Even though it was a small class, this group was reticent to answer my questions unless I called on specific individuals. Moreover, given their general insecurity, they rarely asked a question of me and almost never asked me for clarification of a point or concept. But they were willing to ask those questions on the one-minute papers. A common comment from the start of the semester was, "I am still struggling with how to figure out the theme of a story." On almost any day that we introduced a new literary term or concept—types of irony in...


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