Depending on the course, the questions may be modified to reflect course or disciplinary requirements. For example, in a physics or chemistry course you might ask students to focus their questions on the homework problems. In biology, students might focus on lecture, laboratory or reading assignments.
One useful variation on Question 3 requires students to provide a rationale or justification for each of their questions [e.g., "If I were the professor I would ask students to explain the function of DNA ... because understanding the function of this molecule is central to understanding all the physiological processes of living things].
If you are using this technique in a science methods course (I found it very useful to teach science to pre-service teachers), you might change the last question to: "If I were the elementary teacher and taught this material to children, what questions would I ask to find out if they understood it?" This will offer an opportunity to teach question asking techniques.
Number of questions
In some courses, instructors feel that the third question is less informative than the first two, and they omit it. In other courses instructors assign the second and third questions every week, and the first one every other week to alternating groups of students. Both of these strategies reduce the workload of the instructor.
Frequency of Reports
Some instructors feel that it is too time-consuming to grade Reports every week. Instead they assign them every other week and have quizzes on alternating weeks.
Scoring Weekly Reports
To start, we suggest that you decide how you are going to score the Reports. What is the maximum score? How is it to be distributed among the three questions? What criteria should be used to assign value to student responses? [ You might take a look at the CAT on Scoring Rubrics by Diane Ebert-May]. Three issues are central to any scoring scheme for Weekly Reports: What are the most important concepts of the week?; How much "explanatory value" is represented by each concept?; and How are the concepts connected to each other?. A concept map may be helpful here but only if it is not overloaded with details, and really represents important connections. [See CAT on Concept Mapping by Michael Zeilik.]
Level of Difficulty of Student Questions
To assess the understandings, interests and expectations of students, it may be useful to analyze the levels of difficulty posed by their questions. For example, one can assign four levels of difficulty to interrogatives posed in questions 2 and 3 as follows:
- Questions that ask for factual information can be assigned to the "minimal level" ("What is a physical pendulum?").
- Questions that ask for comparative information can be described as "low level" ("What is the difference between a simple pendulum and a physical pendulum?").
- Conceptual questions and questions about procedures done in previous class can be considered at a "moderate level" ("How can we prove that the period of a simple pendulum does not depend on its amplitude?").
- The "highest level" can be assigned to questions that required explanations not given in class before and that usually start with "Why?" ("Why is it that only a force that is linearly proportional to the displacement can provide a system with simple harmonic motion?").
Pros and Cons
- Weekly Reports help students reflect on their own knowledge and learning.
- Weekly Reports help students learn to express their thoughts coherently in writing.
- Weekly Reports help students learn to formulate good questions.
- Weekly Reports help students focus on the most important issues.
- Weekly Reports foster communication between professors and students.
- Weekly Reports provide continuous feedback for both sides.
- Weekly Reports may be frustrating to students because they are rarely asked to write in science courses or to reflect on their knowledge.
- Weekly Reports require training of students.
- Weekly reports take a great deal of instructor time (answering questions).
- Reliable scoring requires knowledge of rubrics.
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