134: Assessing Recall



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  1. Focused Listing
    • Purpose:
      • Assessing what students recall in regards to a specific topic
      • Improve students’ focus and recall
    • What It Is: 
      • Students list several ideas that relate to a focus topic
    • Suggestions for Use:
      • Can be used before, during, or after a lesson
      • Simple assessment that can be used in many classes
      • Good for courses that involve a lot of new information
    • Example of Implementation:
      • Physics:
        • Used to assess students’ understanding of vocabulary such as “work” (2 min exercise per list)
        • Divide into 3 piles: mostly current, confused with everyday meanings of words, the rest
        • Includes concepts and student wording into lesson on work – especially when differentiating between everyday and physics definitions of work
      • Finance:
        • List 5-7 fundamental concepts related to “stocks”
        • Briefly define each concept (10 min exercise)
        • Analyzed sheets to see what was present and missing from students’ lists
        • Following class meeting handed out printed sheet with concepts and definitions and reviewed 3 fundamental concepts not found in sheets
        • From then on, prior to lessons – listed few topics to key in on during upcoming lesson
      • Political Science
        • Prior to a lesson on Federalism handed out 3×5 index cards
        • Wrote BEFORE on one side of cards and listed topics related to Federalism
        • Near end of lesson, wrote AFTER on back of cards and listed more topics related Federalism
        • Gathered top 3 topics from each students
        • To respond to wide variation in topics, at start of next lesson showed student visual that included
          • all 23 topics mentioned by students organized into 6 categories – top 5 fundamental ideas and Other
          • Also organized topics in a concept map
    • Step-by-Step Procedure:
      1. Select important topic currently being studied in class.
      2. Write topic at top of a blank answer sheet.
      3. Set time and/or list item number limits.
      4. Following own time limits, create sample focus list.
      5. Revise list, add items as needed.
      6. If list is well defined and worth discussing, run the same exercise with your class.
    • Analysis Tips:
      • Compare students’ lists to your list and divide into piles: Appropriate, Inappropriate Or Related / Unrelated
      • Categorize responses by relationship to the focus topic – examples: definitions, examples, descriptions, illustrations, primary, secondary, tertiary relationships to focus topic
    • Extension Tips:
      • Allow students to work in small groups to develop collective focus lists
      • Make your focused lists available for comparison and discussion in class
      • Have students in small groups create compiled lists that contained best items from their lists and your list
      • Ask students to define terms on their lists
      • Have students convert into paragraph(s) that relates terms to each other and focus topic
      • Use Focus List strategy at regular intervals to increase recall and prioritization of content
      • Follow-up this strategy with Empty Outlines activity – see below
    • Pros:
      • Simple, quick and flexible way to measure student recall
      • Identify terms students recall and don’t
      • Time limits have students list what they perceive to be the key terms, not what they think the teacher wants
      • If used before instruction, can be used to prime the pump, ready the brain for new learning
    • Cons:
      • Basic form only assesses low cognitive skill, recall
      • Some students can product reasonable lists without really understanding terms
      • Focuses on one idea at time – some key knowledge focuses on relationships among several key concepts
    • Caveats:
      • Create your own master focused list to trial key topic prior to assigning focused list.
      • Focus lists on key big ideas (enduring understandings).
      • Pick a topic that is not too broad or too narrow to create a somewhat convergent variety of lists.
      • Add specifics about relationship between focus list words and focus topic – examples, defining words, synonyms, examples, etc
  2. Empty Outlines
    • Purpose:
      • Assess students’ recall and note-taking skills
      • Emphasizes key topics and their sub-topics
    • What It Is:
      • Students complete an empty or partially completed outline – if partially completed, include key headings and empty spaces for sub-topics
    • Suggestions for Use:
      • Good for courses that have a lot of detailed information that are highly structures
    • Examples of Implementation:
      • Nursing Course
        • Provided students with outline with 4 major topics and empty slots for 5-7 subtopics for each major topic
        • Students completed outlines using their notes
        • Teacher compared outlines to her lecture outline
        • Uses disparities in the prioritization in her notes and her students’ notes to learn how to better emphasize key points in future lectures
      • Child Development Course
        • Prior to showing a video to a class, teacher watched the video and created outline of video contents
        • Created empty outline by deleting sub-headings and keeping major headings
        • After students watched the video, gave students 5 minutes to complete the empty outlines in pairs
        • Found that their notes coincided with his notes at the beginning and end of the video and deviated most near the middle of the video
        • In the future, paused video in the middle to give students time to take notes
    • Step-by-Step Procedure:
      1. Create an outline for an upcoming learning activity.
      2. Decide what info you want students to provide – major topics, sub-topics, supporting details etc.  Let that inform empty outline design.
      3. Limit number of blank items for students to complete on empty outlines to less than 10. (if you want them to complete it from memory)
      4. Communicate expectations – time limits and types of things to put in empty outlines
      5. Convey purpose of assignments, when results will be shared, and how results will be used.
    • Analysis Tips:
      • Compare student outlines with your outline and learn from agreements and disagreements
      • Look at range of responses and notice patterns in responses
    • Extension Tips:
      • If students struggle to complete the outline, provide a word/phrase bank.
      • Vary between providing major subtopics and asking for supporting details and providing supporting details and asking for major topics.
      • For advanced students, provide guidelines only
      • Use focused listing activity prior to completing outlines – use focused list items in outlines
      • Do outline as a warmup to see student expectations for a lesson
    • Pros:
      • Repeated use can improve student listening and note taking.
      • Feedback on outlines gives students better models for note taking.
      • Can help students better organize knowledge in their notes and in their brains.
      • Can make organizing ideas of a subject more explicit
    • Cons:
      • May feel constrained by the master empty outline
      • Not all information is best organized in hierarchical structure of outlines
      • Unless students make outlines from scratch, little higher order thinking is required
    • Caveats:
      • Students’ varied readiness levels will lead to variation in their empty outlines
      • Limit amount of info captured in empty outlines (less than 10 points)
  3. Memory Matrix
    • Purpose: 
      • Assess recall and organization of important information
    • What It Is:
      • Students complete a chart that has row and column labels that emphasize key relationships between ideas
    • Suggestions for Use:
      • Works well with subjects with a lot of detailed information that relates to each other
      • Can assess recall of information after a variety of learning activities
      • Can be used as a pre-assessment
    • Example of Implementation:
      • Spanish:
        • Gave students a matrix to complete that had types of verbs (-ar, -er, ir) as the column headings and (regular/irregular) as the row headings
        • Found that students sometimes classified regular verbs as irregular verbs and confused -er and -ir verbs
        • Info help teacher decide to review in upcoming classes
      • Art History:
        • Gave students a matrix with column headings: France, US, and Britain and rowing headings: Neoclassicism, Impressionism, Postimpressionism, Expressionism.
        • Students completed matrix in groups of 5; then transferred responses to a whole class chart
        • Students could categorize artists by country but struggled to separate them by time period
        • Use their misconceptions as a starting point for upcoming lectures
      • Nursing class:
        • Gave students a matrix with column headings: structure, functions, enzymes and row headings: mouth, esophagus, etc (other digestive system organs)
        • Students completed matrix in teams of 5
        • While students watched a video on enzymes he analyzed the students’ matrices.
        • Using model matrix, he reinforced what students got right and discussed what students got wrong.
        • Then gave individuals another blank matrix and had them complete it at class end.
    • Step-by-Step Procedure:
      1. Draw simple matrix with row and column labels that represent key topics in the course.
      2. Create a key based on learning activities.
      3. Revise Memory Matrix if needed – check for fit of row and column labels to key ideas.
      4. Create a blank version of Memory Matrix that only has row and column labels.  Make blank cells large enough to record several ideas.
      5. Give students time to complete the matrix.  Set a lower limit for the number of items in each cell.
      6. Analyze matrices for correctness.
    • Analysis Tips:
      • Analyze correctness of matrices and look for trends in correctness and incorrectness to identify student strengths and gaps.
      • Analyze errors and look for patterns in the errors.  Use this diagnose amount of learning time & type of activities associated to each topic.
    • Extension Tips:
      • Complete Memory Matrix as part of a class discussion.
      • Allow students to work in groups on the matrix.
      • Fill in some of the middle cells and have students guess the rowing headings or column headings.
      • Give students a Work/Phrase Bank and have them create the Memory Matrix (complete with original row and column headings) that organizes the terms in the bank
    • Pros:
      • Assess recall of information and how well students can relate information
      • Simplicity of format makes it easy to analyze
      • Graphic format may appeal to visual learners
      • Can improve memory organization and retrieval
    • Cons:
      • Row and column headings impose organization formats that may hide organizational relationships students are using to relate content
      • Basic format of assessment may not separate prior knowledge and current knowledge well
      • Can obscure flexibility and complexity of the actual relationships among content
    • Caveats:
      • Start with small matrices (2×2) for students unfamiliar with this strategy.
      • May obscure relationships that are flexible / blurred.  Need to point out these nuances in learning activities.
      • Recognize matrices as a convenient simplification of a more complex reality
All 3 of the strategies in this article assess student recall and assess relationships students see among the information items they recall.  Providing feedback on these items can provide opportunities to make priorities and relationships among content more explicit.  Varying the format for the recall assessments can emphasize different relationships.  The Focused List assessment shows how one central idea relates to sub-ideas or supporting evidence.  The Empty Outline can show how several central ideas relate to other pieces of information.  The Memory Matrix shows how 2 groups of ideas (categories) can be used to show relationships between detailed pieces of information.


Preparation Steps
  • Analyze the knowledge and skills in the standards in the upcoming standards.  Look at the key relationships you’d like to teach to students to students among major and supporting ideas.
  • Decide which type of recall assessments best illustrates the relationships you’d like students to use to organize ideas in upcoming learning activities.
  • Prepare samples / keys for the selected strategies you will use.
Early Implementation Steps
  • Ask students to work on assessment(s) individually or in teams.
  • Analyze assessments.  See above for tips.  Try to learn student strengths and gaps and what are the patterns in their strengths and gaps.
  • Use what is learned from assessments to modify instruction.
  • Share results with students and how results will impact upcoming instruction and student learning.
Advanced Implementation Steps
  • After students have had practice with the recall strategies – try extension version of the activities.  See above.
  • Incorporate a recall strategy into classroom routines – pick one that emphasizes skills and organization styles that fit well with your course.

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