I’ve been thinking about assessments a lot in my Topology class this trimester. For the first few problem sets, I just copied the ones the previous teacher created…and they were a b**** to grade. They took me ages, and most of the questions we’d already gone over in class. Probably the worst part about grade these problem sets was that I didn’t care that much about the questions, and therefore I didn’t enjoy reading over students’ answers at all. I wasn’t learning enough about their thought process to keep me interested.
I came to my senses and revised the third problem set to just ask the questions that I thought were good ones–ones the students hadn’t already seen, that pushed them to think about new ideas, or about applying old ideas in new ways.
When it came time to do their last problem set, I realized I didn’t really have many good questions to ask students. The content of the chapters we’d gone over wasn’t as meaty as previous sections in the text. I didn’t want to ask the same numeric questions and just substitute different numbers into the problems. Not my style. So, I asked myself what I wanted the students to get out of the material.
And this was it:
I just finished grading their papers. And it was a breeze to read through them. I enjoyed myself. I enjoyed myself! I know: I can’t believe it myself.
You can’t hide in a problem like this; you can’t BS your way through; you can’t check your answer in the back of the book. And that’s what made it so enjoyable: I had hand-drawn diagrams that were beautiful, I had students describe spaces from a “Euclidean-eye view,” I had pictures of Pringles potato chips. My students explained their understanding of the material, in ways that were uniquely theirs.