Using the Minute Paper as a Classroom Assessment Technique

By Clare Trowell

Alison Hicks’ presented at the CILN Forum and one of the assessment ideas she mentioned was using minute papers. I thought this sounded like a great idea for assessing students in large groups. A minute paper is a short and informal writing assessment which typically occurs at the end of the lecture. They are a particularly useful way to assess students in a large lecture theatre setting. They do not take up much time, a minute in fact, and can be easily assessed to see whether students have grasped the key ideas presented in the lecture. They commonly take the form of “What was the most important thing discussed today?” or “What did you learn today?” In this way the minute paper is a way for lecturers and the students themselves to assess student engagement and learning. “Lecturers who use the ‘one-minute paper’ normally praise it as a learning tool, not only for the students but the instructor as well.” (Stead, 2005)

As I have recently been able to embed essay, project and dissertation sessions to teach data searching and literature review across all three years of the Tripos in Economics I decided to try out the Minute Paper as an assessment tool with large groups. I constructed the following document to hand out to all attendees in the Part IIB Dissertation Class

I decided to use the changeover period when students come in but take a while to settle to ask the students to start filling out their answer to the first question. I told them to spend about 30 seconds on this:

  • What are you hoping to learn today?

After this I showed them my learning objectives and said I hoped they matched up broadly with what they were hoping to achieve. If not it wasn’t the end of the world but they might have to follow up their own learning objective later. We then proceeded with the lecture and, again towards the end I asked them to spend around 30 seconds to answer the other two questions:

  • What did you learn today?
  • What do you need to learn more about?

I asked for the minute papers to be handed in and suggested if they needed to keep their ideas they could photograph their written notes on their phones.

I had also decided to try and elicit some further feedback in the form of a score and comments, which was appended to the bottom to the Minute Paper

The results were great. I got some pretty honest feedback about what had gone wrong and some really positive remarks as well. I have a pile of minute papers showing me the gap between their expectations of the session and what I taught them. In this case the main problem was that the session had been scheduled too close to the Dissertation hand-in date, so most students had written they would prefer to have my lecture in Michaelmas Term. I am not responsible for scheduling but this gave me some great evidence to ask the Faculty to schedule my sessions in Michaelmas for PIIB in future. They have agreed to do so.

It was clear that many of the students had not grasped some basic searching techniques, so it also showed me what I can usefully spend time on in the sessions for Part IIA and Part I. Fortunately their sessions fall later in term. It is unfortunate for this cohort that some of this information has come too late for them, but I received some positive comments about my teaching and many wrote down that they had worked out most of what they needed already. In answer to the question, What do you need to learn more about? the commonest response was: “I need to understand how to structure and write up the literature review.” As a result of this I shared a simple handout on this topic which was shared with the slides after the session. The students also really seemed to value the information on avoiding plagiarism and how to reference in Economics.

In conclusion, I would recommend using the Minute Paper technique to get feedback from large group sessions. I hope it also engaged the students to think about their own learning. I had almost full attendance and nearly all the students filled out the paper during the session. It is certainly true that this assessment method is flexible and requires no technology. It took very little of my time or the students and yet by the end of the session I had a really rich set of data on what had gone well and what they had found less beneficial. I will certainly continue to use Minute Paper assessments in future.

REFERENCE

Stead, David (2006) ‘A review of the one-minute paper.’ Active Learning in Higher Education, 6 (2), pp.118-131 [doi: 10.1177/1469787405054237]

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