Thursday, January 8, 2015

Using Haiku to Assess Student Learning

Yesterday there was more hustle and bustle at work than I usually experience in the weeks before students are on campus--a wide variety of hustle and bustle.

I was not in my usual calm and collected place when I showed up at 2:00 to conduct a faculty development workshop on using haiku to assess student learning.  It didn't help that the computer that I needed was not connecting to the Internet.  Happily, my colleagues are a wonderful support network:  one of them texted our IT expert, who showed up and got us connected.

I asked my colleagues to pretend we were taking a class on the solar system and that today's lecture was on the moons of Saturn.  I asked them to turn off their devices.  I told them they could take notes on what seemed significant in the lecture, and I said, "Or you can just watch the video and let yourself be overcome by the awe and wonder that the universe can inspire."  I had not had a morning that left me full of awe and wonder.

I showed this TED video.  When it was done, I asked them to stay silent and then to write their impressions onto the paper.  Then I told them they could work alone or in groups. 

I stressed that we were not in a poetry class, so I used the term "haiku" very loosely and not at all like the classic Japanese form.  I asked them to write haiku to show what was most important about the video they just saw.  I said the first line should be 5 syllables, the second line 7 syllable, and the third line 5 syllables.

As I expected, some struggled, while others wrote a multitude of haikus.  I then had them write their haikus into a Word document that was projected onto the flat screen TVs.  We had a wonderful variety.

We talked about whether or not this activity would be better for assessing student learning than anything more typical, like a quiz.  We talked about how to assess it or assign points.  We talked about how to tweak the assignment:  perhaps adding visual images or having students do the activity across several class periods and then have them create a larger project.

I envisioned the activity as something done at the end of class to see what concepts the students thought to be most important--that way, if their view and my class objective for the day turned out to be radically different, I could correct.  I think it would also be interesting to do it at the following class, to see what they retained from the previous class.

I had a great time leading the workshop and my colleagues seemed to enjoy it.  I was surprised that very few of my colleagues seemed irritated or zoned out.  Some are required to go to these sessions, but I couldn't tell from their behavior if they were there under duress or not.  In short, although I didn't have an audience composed solely of people there because they truly wanted to be there, everyone acted like they were of their own free will.

I returned to my office restored and refreshed.  My afternoon productivity skyrocketed, as did my mood.  I do still love teaching, and yesterday was the best kind:  a class full of smart and interesting people, a good hour of engaging material, and no grading to do.

I'm hoping that the good feelings from yesterday's session lingers today.

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