Fostering Motivation and Confidence through Assessment
“I think it is helping those students who otherwise may not have kept up as well stay with the material and keep the focus on it” – Dr. Karen Bourrier
Dr. Karen Bourrier teaches ENGL 445: Early Victorian Literature at the University of Calgary. The course is taken by approximately 40 English majors in their third or fourth year of study. Various readings are required throughout the course, and it is important for students to be continuously caught up and engaged with them. Dr. Bourrier uses several small assessment methods to help students maintain engagement with the course material and to help them reflect and understand what they are reading. She asks her students to reflect and respond to what they are reading using the traditional method of journaling, as well as the more modern medium of Twitter.
Students use Twitter during the course to engage and respond to the readings. Students are asked to post at least six tweets in response to each set of readings. Generally, the readings are done in large enough chunks that there are many interesting points for students to tweet about. Tweets can be quotations, personal reflections, questions, links to relevant material, or responses to other students. Students are free to be creative with their tweets and respond to the readings in any way that they see fit, as long as it is relevant and appropriate. Dr. Bourrier says that she has never had an issue with students abusing the exercise. She uses a tracker to count the number of tweets that each student has sent, and she gives them high marks just for participating. Students tend to enjoy the assignment and say that it helps them stay motivated to finish the readings.
Another activity that helps students remain engaged is journaling. They are asked to complete eight short reading responses throughout the semester, which are posted on d2L. Again, there is a lot of freedom given to students for the assignment. Students who complete the assignment are given 8/10 marks. Works that are particularly insightful are given the last two marks that bring them up to 100%. Journaling is a common assessment method used in English Literature courses. Students are fairly used to reflecting using journals. They enjoy having the extra boost to their grades from doing the assignment, so it is well-received overall.
These assessments are fairly simple in their concepts, but they promote a lot of engagement for students as they are working with the material. Students who put a lot of effort into the smaller assignments almost always do better on the larger assessments. As well, because the smaller assessments are mainly graded for participation, engaged students have higher grades than they would have otherwise. This creates a distinct split in how the final grades in the course look. Students either have a grade that is much higher than average or much lower.
Because there is so much material for students to know, understand, and interpret throughout the course, small, reflective assessments really help them. Both assignments are great ways for students to discuss the readings with one another, and with Dr. Bourrier. They helps her get to know her students better, especially those who do not participate as much in group discussions. Often times, she notes, students that are quiet in class have some really insightful perspectives, but they just prefer not to speak out loud in class. The tweets and journal responses also help Dr. Bourrier guide class discussions around the thoughts that students are having about the material, or gives her the opportunity to consider different perspectives on the texts. Although these strategies are simple and small, they make a big impact on students and their learning.