Developing Evaluation Criteria for Quality Student Work—Jorge Perez (2006)
Developing evaluation criteria with students for their oral presentations in an Hispanic culture class results in high quality student work.
Spanish 440, Roundabouts of Culture: Transatlantic Encounters in Hispanic Studies, is a pilot course that my department intends to include in the curriculum. Traditionally, Departments of Spanish and Portuguese have taught two separate courses on Spanish and Latin American Culture. The idea for this new course as a crossover stems from the current trend toward a transatlantic understanding of Hispanic culture in order to overcome old hierarchies and disciplinary boundaries (see course syllabus at right). Since the course covers a wide range of topics, it leads to relying too much on lecturing. I decided to do a teaching project that deals with strategies to make such a lecture-driven course into a more participative and interactive learning environment so that students do not just sit, take notes, and memorize facts for a test. Specifically, I wanted students to develop an oral presentation as an important component of my class.
When I taught a Cultura course before, it had an oral presentation component. Although I thought that this type of student work was valuable, I did not like the results I received. Most of the time, students picked a subject about a well-known facet of Hispanic culture and included no new information. Also, they tended to only use a couple of sources, and those sources always came from the Internet. I am aware now that I was not giving students enough guidance to succeed in that process. I wanted to find a way to make this learning experience more meaningful. I worked on these issues as part of the Best Practices Institute (BPI) that was facilitated by the Center for Teaching Excellence (CTE). During the BPI meetings, I met with fellow University of Kansas faculty members to discuss teaching ideas that we each would apply to a particular course.
I thought that one way of converting lectures into an active learning process could be to have students participate in the lectures by lecturing themselves. The class size was 16 students, so I divided the class into eight teams of two members. Each team had to choose one topic from specified content areas and one class period in which they would be responsible for guiding the class. The dates and topics of the presentations were already marked in the syllabus, so students had time to think about which topic and which date they wanted to do their presentation.
My task in this project was to provide the appropriate project framework by developing, with the students, these different steps of the process. This took place in six basic steps. First, I increased the percentage of points for the oral presentation. Second, I verbally explained my ideas in class. Third, the class worked with me to create assessment criteria, also called a rubric. Fourth, I drafted their ideas. Fifth, we discussed that plan. And sixth, we looked at the steps involved in the oral presentation as delineated by the rubric.
Throughout all six steps in creating the rubric, I felt that students fully understood what I expected from their performance and what skills they were developing, such as research skills, oral communication, and the ability to synthesize information.
After several presentations, the results were very satisfactory. The students took the work seriously, did lots of research, and turned in an outline to the class before the presentation. The oral presentations were very organized and well structured. Students successfully integrated a wide range of materials from different sources and presented them in a very appealing manner through the use of handouts, outlines, visual aids, and PowerPoint presentations. Moreover, they succeeded in engaging the rest of the class in their presentations by raising questions for further discussion, leading a follow-up activity in pairs or groups, or presenting a final quiz to highlight the most important aspects of their presentation. All the presentation elements that we discussed as a class were met, and I thought their work was much better than it would have been without our preparation. I liked the way that the whole process became a collaborative event for the students.
By having the students involved in creating the rubric, they internalized the elements of the presentations. Their participation made them aware of what they needed to do in order to create a successful presentation. If I am going to evaluate them on such a product, it makes a lot of sense to have them involved so that they know what to expect. It was very detailed and took time, but it was really helpful. I am considering using this format for oral presentations in other courses because it was so useful.
Not only did the students benefit, but I did as well. I think using the rubric made my evaluations more objective, fair, and thorough. Plus, it saved me time during that portion of the assessment. It was harder to draw the line regarding assessment in the past, and I liked having this document to help me with that. One concern that I have about this project is capturing the improvement that comes from doing it with the new guidelines. I know that their work is better, but it is difficult to provide any data, let alone empirical data, for an oral presentation. This is especially true because there is not a tangible paper product.
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This course, Spanish 440, brings together perspectives already taught in two courses in our existing curriculum:
- Span 446: Spanish Culture: A study of the history of Spanish culture and civilization from a diachronic point of view. It covers a variety of topics, including geography, history, the arts, etc.
- Span 447: Latin American Cultures: The description and study of Latin American Cultures with attention to history, folklore, and the arts.
The goal for this new course is to build bridges between these two courses and explore the historical and cultural connections between Spain and Latin America in one course. The idea is not to compress those two courses, which will continue to be taught every year at the 400-level, but rather to integrate topics in this new course at the 300-level. The purpose is to offer students coming into the major an overview of key concepts and historical and cultural trends of the Spanish-speaking world prior to their taking advanced level courses. In other words, we have envisioned this course as a tool helping students improve their cultural literacy before they start taking more specific cultural and literary courses at the 400- and 500-level.
This class was a pilot class and, therefore, I did not have any materials such as a syllabus or paper prompts to draw upon. I designed and developed it from scratch. If it was successful, the department would put it into the curriculum again. We have already decided to include it in our regular offerings, and I will teach it again next year. I will be able to draw on my current experiences, such as the goals that I have written into the narrative for the syllabus and the presentation itself.
On completion of the course, students will have accomplished:
- A panoramic view of the history of Hispanic cultures and civilizations.
- The ability to analyze and think critically about cultural products that belong to different fields.
- Development of research skills.
- Development of oral and discussion skills (presenting a convincing argument).
- Improvement of their linguistic and cultural competence in Spanish.
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Our class created this framework that lists six different steps of the process:
- First, I increased the weight of the oral presentation. I assigned 15 percent of the final grade for this assignment, rather than the five to ten percent that I had initially planned.
- The second step I took was to explain clearly on the first day of class my expectations.
- Together, the class and I developed criteria to evaluate the oral presentation. We started by having students discuss in pairs and create a list of categories and aspects that a good oral presentation should have in terms of content, organization, delivery, time frame, etc. After that, I asked the groups to share their lists orally, and we brainstormed an outline for a rubric on the board.
- I took their list of ideas and combined those into a draft that I presented to the students in the next class period. They then gave me further feedback about other aspects that we should include in the rubric and about the distribution of points assigned to each category. This meant that they were having a great deal of input in creating the document.
- We viewed the rubric that we collectively developed (final rubric (pdf)). They knew that this was going to be used for their oral presentations later that semester.
- The scaffolding also comprised specific tasks to build up their skills. For example, we practiced summarizing the readings and providing a brief oral and written guided synthesis of them. This was done in several ways, such as giving them a set of questions in advance to guide both their reading process and the synthesis of the main ideas. Next, students gave a brief oral explanation of one of the guided questions in class. These activities were steps to prepare them for the big project.
Self analysis: participation
At mid semester, I gave students the handout (pdf) titled “Auto-analisis de Participacion.” This document listed several areas of participation and asked the students to reflect on their own participation based on its categories. I thought it was interesting to see how students perceive themselves: some of the strongest students rated themselves low, while others whose work I found more problematic gave themselves high scores. The important point is that this handout worked, for up until that point in the semester, students tended to take it for granted that they would get full participation points. This document pointed out the importance of their participation and how I would consider it in their final grade. It made an impact on many of them: they started speaking Spanish more frequently.
Often I have students who are doing good work, but silently, and by putting on paper my expectations for participation, I was overtly asking them to show all the work that they were doing. These quiet ones then had an incentive to join in fully and actively in class.
In the handout, the three basic categories outlined how much each student participated (such as how much of their speech was in Spanish versus English), how active each student was in group work (we did a lot of group work, so each person needed to join in and not just sit back and let others take charge), and the preparation each had done prior to class (did that person come in with readings and writing projects done?).
The overall class grade offered 10% for participation, and although students had done a self-evaluation of their effort, I gave the final grade in this category. I wanted them to be consistently active in their classroom participation. I developed this as a result of my previous teaching experiences where I felt like I just went with the flow. That didn’t seem fair. I have plans to create a similar handout for the end of the semester. That handout would ask the student to describe how they have improved their participation over the semester, what strategies they have used to make those changes, etc.—in short, a meta-analysis of their overall participation. This work augmented the intent of the rubric and oral presentation: that is, the students were in charge of their learning and that occurred through their active participation in the various aspects of our class work.
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When I announced that the CTE would come by to take photographs, the students who were going to present that day were thrilled that they would be included in the portfolio. They really enjoyed the moment, which was apparent in their clothing choice (they dressed in matching outfits of blue pants and pink shirts) to the candy that they brought along to give to classmates who did well on the activity they presented and up to their follow-up activities.
What I noticed, in addition to glad-handing for the photographer, was that the presentations were successful. There was not a bad one, and the range of grades was from B (5 students) to B+ (9 students) to A (2 students). This high range of grades had a positive impact on the final grade of several students who were borderline between a C/B and between B/A in their overall performance for the course.
I attribute this success to having good models of oral presentations from which the next group of presenters could learn. This stemmed from using the model that we created through the class rubric work, and the students enjoyed successful results because they knew the covert and overt angles of this project.
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Because this was the first time I used this method of teaching, I don’t have any past semesters’ work to compare it to. I can look at what happened with the oral presentations as we implemented them and make judgments based on that experience. For instance, in future semesters, I will check into videotaping these presentations. That will involve other aspects that I did not have to consider this initial time, such as finding and becoming familiar with using the taping equipment and preparing the students for the taping. I think it will be a nice way to keep records, although it does mean that there will be a first time that we create such a document, and that first recording will not have an antecedent.
My department has had a very positive response to this course. We are debating how it will fit into our other course offerings, at what level, and the best way to integrate it with those offerings. First, we have found that it bridges two sides of our field: Spanish and Latin America. It is important that we cover both sides, as transatlantic issues are the direction the field is going. We are already making that bridge in research, and we want to do it in teaching, too. The second way that this course helps our overall department offerings is by exposing students to cultural issues at an early point in their coursework. The upper level courses are generally literature based, and that content brings up two issues. One issue is that language barriers can be an obstacle for students who aren’t native speakers; they find it hard to analyze texts at this level. Another issue develops because the students often aren’t from the countries whose literature we are studying, and therefore, they lack a strong cultural literacy background. This course offers a means to begin attuning them to cultural background prior to their study of literature.
Towards the end of the semester, a tenured colleague came to observe a class section, with full access to the materials and goals that I was employing. Afterwards I received a very nice evaluation of not only that day but also the entire course. Overall, the department response has been super towards this work. It is very likely that I will teach this course again next spring.
I am thinking about teaching much more. The concrete information from the teaching seminars—new strategies, activities that worked or did not work in colleagues’ classes—gave me ideas I could consider implementing in my courses. I not only applied these tips, strategies, activities, and types of assignments to Spanish 440 but others as well. In the fall semester, I have agreed to join a faculty seminar in order to work on a totally different teaching project for a graduate course. I have learned a lot, and I have made good friends as a result of my work on teaching.
The completion of this project for BPI has made me more self-reflective about my teaching practices. In other words, my teaching has become more intentional rather than instinctive, such as thinking, “This feels right.” The resources that the CTE provided were extremely helpful. I learned a lot just from discussing and hearing ideas from other colleagues. For example, I found my colleagues' oral explanations of their projects useful. The BPI follow-up meeting was also helpful. Most participants had already taught their target courses and could offer a thorough analysis of their projects. I am really happy that I decided to participate in these teaching seminars, and I highly recommend them for anyone else; they have provided a fruitful way to help me think about my teaching practices.
Ideas for student work
I think it will also be useful to ask for a written copy of the students’ text before their presentation. This time I asked for a copy of the outline and bibliography one class period in advance. I think that if I had the entire presentation ahead of time, I would have time to look at their grammar and other written elements in order to help them avoid errors.
The students also were not clear in their oral presentations about technical terms or words. They did not explain complicated concepts to their fellow classmates, and I told them that they needed to help the listeners navigate the presentation. When I do oral presentations or lectures in class, I write technical terms on the chalkboard so that everyone can clearly understand that term, and I want the students to do that as well. I think I need to add this topic to the rubric.
Contact CTE with comments on this portfolio: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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