Many researchers argue that it is important for the professor to take time to reflect after each class. Just a few minutes jotting down notes on what seemed to work well, what students seemed to understand, etc. is helpful, not only for the next class but over time as well.
If you are not paying attention to student reaction, not allowing opportunities for questions, not frequently assessing student understanding, and not receptive to student input, you are simply guessing at what is working and what is not. This is true for lecture as well as discussion-based classes.
It is also helpful to get feedback from peers in a non-threatening fashion. Most institutions do not have structures in place to offer formative assessment; therefore, you will need to ask colleagues to assist you.
The “big book of CATs” would have to be Thomas A. Angelo and K. Patricia Cross’s Classroom Assessment Techniques: A Handbook for College Teachers. Angelo and Cross suggest that teachers should first determine both their teaching goals for a course and their primary teaching role; they offer a Teaching Goals Inventory (TGI) to help professors do just that. Then teachers should select CATs that support their goals. They recommend that teachers try using a CAT themselves before using it with students, that they allow for sufficient time to analyze the data they receive, and that they “close the loop” by telling students what they have learned and how they will implement that new knowledge (31). “By collaborating with colleagues and actively involving students in Classroom Assessment efforts, faculty (and students) enhance learning and personal satisfaction” (11).
Angelo and Cross suggest five simple CATs to start with:
The Minute Paper: Ask students to write for one minute and answer the question, “What was the most important thing you learned today?” and “What questions remain uppermost in your mind as we conclude this class session?”
The Muddiest Point: Ask students to write for a minute and answer the question, “What was the muddiest point in my lecture today?”
The One-Sentence Summary: Ask students to write for a couple of minutes at the end of class and answer the following questions: “What did what to /for whom, when, where, how, and why?” This asks students to summarize a large amount of information from a lecture or activity.
Directed Paraphrasing: Ask students to paraphrase a concept in two or three seconds for a specific audience. This allows you to see if students have grasped that concept.
Applications Cards: Ask students to list several applications of what they’ve learned in class to “real life” or another specific area.
These CATs involve only 5-10 minutes of your class time and approximately an hour of your own time as you consider the information you gain from them. Follow up by telling students in the next class what you learned from them and by adapting your lecture or activity accordingly.
Other CATs to begin with might be to ask students about their prior knowledge of the subject you are teaching, ask them about assumptions, and explore their attitudes or their ability to connect various ideas, concepts, or events. These CATs help you understand where you need to begin your course. If students compare their answers and discuss them, they become involved in their own learning.
Some CATs involve much higher levels of energy and more time. These include assessing group work, keeping diagnostic learning logs, and writing a paper or project prospectus.
What’s crucial is that you select a CAT appropriate to your context and what you need to know, and that students are kept aware of how their feedback is being used to structure the course.