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What Are They Thinking? Using the Anonymous Essay Question to Access Student Thought (TLC 2010)

Author: andrew m. koke

Type: conference presentation

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Most history assessment techniques appropriately involve students turning in projects of some sort with their name on the paper. This is necessary, of course, to assess the student’s efforts and abilities in the class, and is the primary means of determining a student’s final grade. But in a class I recently taught I found it helpful to have two anonymous essay assignments due to the subject material, one on the first day of class and one on the last day. While T. A. Angelo and K. P. Cross have suggested several in-class anonymous assessment techniques that are very useful, I suggest that there is also a significant value in a small anonymous essay assignment. The classroom assessment techniques (CAT) of Angelo and Cross are an excellent means to figure out how students are reacting to material in class, while the anonymous short essay provides an indication of how students are using the course material to construct their intellectual world. Thus the anonymous short essay provides the teacher with different material than that supplied by Angelo and Cross’s CATs.

This paper will first discuss the logistics of the anonymous short essay: how to encourage student participation, how to collect the essay in such a manner as to respect student anonymity yet reward student performance, and how to phrase the essay question(s) in order to access the necessary data. The paper will then examine essays collected from my class and indicate examples of student responses. These responses provide access to an unprecedented amount and caliber of student thought, revealing how the students used the class material to answer their own questions, challenge their assumptions, and form their worldview. In short, the anonymous essay question showed how students were thinking, an invaluable form of feedback for the teacher.


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