Using Learning Assistants in Oral Assessments

To emphasize sensemaking and reasoning

Why is that? – What does this have to do with what you said earlier? – What does this have to do with what we learned in class? – What does that remind you of? – Can you think of another way of saying that? – If you were trying to explain this someone who didnt understand, what would you say? – Why cant you just ______ here? – How are _____ and ____ related?

Student exam grades were higher for students who attended orals in Calculus I than those who did not. This was true for students at varying levels of preparation.

Karpicke, J.D. and Roediger, H.L. (2008). The critical importance of retrieval for learning,Science,319, 966-968.

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What is the purpose of linearization

Heller, P. and Hollabaugh, M. (1992). Teaching problem solving through cooperative grouping. Part 2: Designing problems and structuring groups,Am. J. Phys,60, 637-644. A good reference on structuring and managing cooperative groups.

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Meet weekly with Learning Assistantsto discuss the class

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In their undergraduate career, students are rarely asked to explain their reasoning or to work in groups. Thus, it is often necessarily to explain to students what will be expected of them in the activity, and to repeat that explanation often. This will both help the students to work productively and make the Learning Assistants job easier.

Process-Oriented Guided Inquiry Learning

Students may attend more than one oral assessment per exam (some attend 3 or 4).

Using Learning Assistants in Oral Assessments

If one student doesnt talk much, direct questions to them directly (having students names on the board makes this easier).

Oral assessments emphasize the reasoning behind answers, providing individualized feedback on student thinking. A major goal of the orals is to help students articulate their thinking, make sense of ideas and make mathematical connections.

Facilitated by instructors, Teaching Assistants and Learning Assistants

Oral assessment questions are focused on mathematical connections and meaning, such as asking students to graph, draw, and explain. They do not ask a student, for example, to find the derivative of a function.

Gibbs, G and Simpson, C. (2004). Conditions under which assessment supports students learning.Learning and Teaching in Higher Educationvol.1 pp.3-31.

Are attended by groups of 5-6 students at a time in a room with chalk- or whiteboard space.

Ask students to draw pictures and graphs

By using oral assessments, instructors, Teaching Assistants and Learning Assistants learn more about how students are thinking about the material and see firsthand the power of active learning.

Learning Assistants have been instrumental in both:

Require students to help one another first, with the facilitator present to help them overcome hurdles that they arent getting past on their own.

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Explain the relationship between the formula for linearization and the graph that you just drew.

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Students from the course sign up to attend one or more oral assessments in the days preceding an exam. Assessments are attended by small groups of 5-6 students, who stand at individual blackboard or whiteboard spaces and answer questions posed by a facilitator using sketches or explanations. They may work together to help each other answer the question, and the facilitator asks prompting questions to help them think about the material. The assessments are ungraded, meant primarily to help students gain a deeper understanding of the material. Oral assessments are a voluntary activity and do not contribute to students grades.

Weekly meetings also allow Learning Assistants a chance to describe challenges that theyve faced so that you can give them tips and strategies, as well as a supportive environment, to provide guidance in their development as teachers. This is also a time for you to collect their observations either verbally or through written field notes and get feedback on what they have observed in the class. Find more information aboutHow to Teach with Learning Assistants.

Orals have logistical challenges, such as arranging for room space and student and facilitator sign-ups

Student comments indicated that they saw benefit to the orals. For example, on student commented that orals helped me understand the hard concepts or helps by allowing me to hear how other students think about some of these things.

Explain why you would use linearization

Creating a supportive learning environment, where students buy in to the activity, can be a challenge.

Are offered during the two days prior to the exam

Provide tips on facilitating student discussion

The orals process (as described by the CU-Boulder Applied Math Department) is as follows:

Developing Strong Writing Assignments

Oral Assessments can take time to create, and facilitator training also takes time

Draw a representation of the linearization of y=sin(x) at x=0

Mathematical and Statistical Models

Prior to the oral, facilitators receive two copies of the scripted questions: One copy that has only the scripted questions, and another with the scripted questions plus additional prompts to ask in the face of particular student difficulties.

Find a quiet room with ample chalkboard and/or whiteboard space for each student and for the group as a whole.

Circulate the room to inspect student work

Any undergraduate course could make use of oral assessments (assuming that appropriate materials exist or can be developed). At the University of Colorado, the introductory Calculus I and Calculus II courses have developed and used oral assessments regularly. Other courses (Calculus III, Matrix Algebra, Mechanical Engineerings Statics and Component Design, and an Aerospace Engineering course) have also begun to use or develop oral assessments.

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Tell students the dates that oral assessments will be available, and remind them several times to sign up. Encourage them to attend, indicating the data suggesting that this can help them on the exams. Provide an easy sign-up process. Students should be encouraged to prepare for the oral examination by studying ahead of time.

What kinds of questions are asked in an oral assessment?

More mathematics example oral questions with embedded facilitator instructions.

Compiled by Stephanie Chasteen, University of Colorado. Based on material from Mary Nelson, Applied Math Department, University of Colorado.

Unlike instructors and Teaching Assistants, Learning Assistants have a fresh memory of what it was like to learn this material. Along with other students in the group, Learning Assistants can share how they made sense of the material. Learning Assistants have been prepared to ask effective guiding questions.

Why Teach with Learning Assistants?

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Laurie Langdon and Cassandra Ly, Dept. of Chemistry and Biochemistry, Univ. of Colorado at Boulder. Work funded by Noyce Foundation, National Science Foundation, and Science Education Initiative.

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Consist of scripted conceptual questions

How to Teach with Learning Assistants

If one student is still struggling with an idea but the others are finished, give them a new problem while you work with the struggling student.

Oral assessments have been shown to improve student conceptual understanding, student grades, and increase the number of students passing the course at the University of Colorado (see Assessment, below). Prior research has also shown that both testing and feedback are crucial to improving learning (Karpicke and Roediger, 2008; Nicole & Macfarlane-Dick, 2006; Gibbs & Simpson, 2004).

Orals provide a much more intimate environment for students to interact with instructors and Learning Assistants and deeply learn the material. Unlike a review session, which is generally taught with an instructor at the blackboard and students following along, oral assessments require students to be actively engaged in answering questions and justifying their reasoning.

Nicol, D, J. & Macfarlane-Dick (2006), Formative assessment and self-regulated learning: A model and seven principles of good feedback practice,Studies in Higher Education,31(2), 199-218.

A pedagogy course will prepare Learning Assistants to facilitate student interaction, but they will need some tips on the promoting student discussion during oral assessments.Tips on facilitationinclude:

Oral assessments page for CU-Boulder Applied Math: Includes sample questions, tips for facilitation, and guidelines for students.

Oral assessments have had positive impacts on student learning in Calculus I and II, even taking motivation and preparation into account:

Ask questions that probe deep understanding.

Ask questions to help students understand, but dont dwell too long on a single problem. If a student is really stuck, help them through a step and then ask them to do it on their own on the next problem.

The course failure rate decreased significantly in both Calculus I and II with the implementation of orals

Facilitator asks the first question and directs students to write the question on their board.

Students are directed to think about the idea and to feel free to draw pictures, talk about the problem with others, or write anything on the board that you think will help you move forward

As students work, facilitator encourage students to discuss it amongst themselves, and re-poses student questions to the group as a whole. Students are asked to check with one another to ensure that they all truly understand the main ideas.

Undergraduate Learning Assistants — prepared to work productively with students — have been used to facilitate ungraded, voluntary oral assessments offered prior to exams. Oral assessments last one hour, and are offered prior to the three course exams. Orals are geared to improve student understanding and allow instructors to work with students on an individual basis to address misunderstandings. Students attend oral assessments in groups of 5-6 and work at a board to answer scripted, conceptual questions. The facilitator asks the initial scripted questions as well as follow-up probing questions and encourages students to work together.

This same data could be collected in your own courses to assess the impact of orals.

This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of theSERC Pedagogic Service ProjectSummary

Students write their name on their whiteboard or chalkboard space

Oral assessments are by nature student-centered, active-engagement activities. Additionally, oral assessments have improved course attendance. During the assessment students learn to help each other by asking questions and other active techniques rather than working problems for one another.

What is the process of running an oral assessment?

At CU-Boulder, Learning Assistants assisting with oral assessments generally have already participated in oral assessments themselves.

Prepare facilitators (including Learning Assistants)

Recruit students to attend the orals

If one student is doing all the talking, ask him to help other students who are still struggling, or to give them a chance to speak

Facilitators receive a 2-hour training in the first two weeks of class, including the research behind the orals, assessment data on their effectiveness, a mock oral using student volunteers, and a discussion/debriefing about the mock oral. Check the CU-Boulder Applied Mathematicsoral assessments websitefor a training video and facilitators guide to be posted.

To learn more about student thinking

See Heller and Hollabaugh (1992) for more information on managing productive groups, and see also theTips & Strategies sheet(Acrobat (PDF) 107kB Jul27 10)for a document with ideas on probing student thinking.

Relate the questions to prior knowledge and concepts

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