Monday, May 14, 2012

Directed Paraphrasing

This is a technique I encountered in an old booklet called Class Assessment Techniques: a handbook for faculty, by K. Patricia Cross and Tom Angelo, and have adapted slightly for this posting.

The activity is designed to test "the degree to which students have understood and internalized a given lecture or reading by [evaluating] their ability to summarize and restate the lesson in their own words". That sounds a bit bland, but think further on this later comment by the authors: "much of a student's eventual success depends on his or her ability to first internalize rather specialized and often complex information and then effectively communicate it". Are you the kind of person who understands something better once you have taught it to someone else? Me too.

This is a very authentic learning activity which mirrors the kinds of skills that students will need once they enter the workplace.

So here's what you do.
  1. Select a point in your course - perhaps after a major reading assignment, lecture, or seminar.
  2. Decide on an appropriate audience for the students, and how much speaking time they will need. Choose a non-expert audience. For example, if they are psychology students, they might be asked to describe a counselling technique to a group of teachers; if they are accountants, they might be asked to describe a change in the tax law to a client; and if they are medical students, they might be asked to describe a surgical technique to the parents of a child about to undergo an operation.
  3. Provide the audience with feedback sheets. Each feedback sheet should include the following:
    • an overall rating presented as a set of boxes to tick:
      • confusing
      • mininally understandable
      • adequately outlined
      • excellent explanation
    • space for members of the audience to record comments about the best aspects of the presentation
    • space for members of the audience to record comments about the worst aspects of the presentation
  4. If you have time, for each presentation, put the speaker in a group with his or her audience, and give them time to talk about the best and worst aspects of the presentation. You might need to provide guidance on the best way to provide useful feedback without destroying confidence. Alternatively, you as teacher can collect these evaluation sheets, go through and summarize them, add your own comments, and return them to the speaker.
Make sure that students do present the material in the role they have been allocated (and that they don't merely read out a pre-prepared script from a cheatsheet or a PowerPoint slide). Encourage them to use metaphor and examples, to draw on the board or on a piece of paper, and to check understanding with their audience to ensure that the main points are getting across.

Further reading:

Cross, K. Patricia & Angelo, Thomas A. (1988). Classroom Assessment Techniques: a handbook for faculty. Michigan: National Center for Research to Improve Postsecondary Teaching and Learning.

I found a copy on the web at, courtesy of my University's libary database subscriptions, but more recent and much more beautiful editions can be purchased from all the usual places.


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