It is intuitive that teachers should constantly monitor the learning of their students, and then use this knowledge to constantly adjust – or completely re-imagine – their pedagogy. In practice, however, this takes considerable and maintained effort, and it can be hindered by external pressures from administration to “cover” a certain range of topics and from students to reduce workloads and keep things fun. A number of suggested classroom assessment techniques (CATs) are given by Vanderbilt’s Center for Teaching that are relatively easy to implement and, interpreted carefully, can greatly inform the relative success of different teaching methods and give feedback on what topics should be covered in more detail. One suggestion I found interesting was the *What’s the Principle *CAT, decribed here:

The

What’s the Principle?CAT is useful in courses requiring problem-solving. After students figure out what type of problem they are dealing with, they often must decide what principle(s) to apply in order to solve the problem. This CAT provides students with a few problems and asks them to state the principle that best applies to each problem.

I like the stated intent to understand the thought-process of the students as they approach problem solving, but I’m wondering how well it would be received in practice. Many students are going to have difficulty identifying such an abstract concept when faced with a new type of problem to solve, and I wonder how much extra time a professor would need to spend describing what is meant by the term “principle.” I have not had much teaching experience, so I could be way off. Those of you who have more experience, have you tried this approach? Do you find the extra time investment to be worthwhile in longterm development of problem solving skills?