Playlist #3: “Pencils Down!”

The number one topic for consultations and ‘in the moment’ questions this past year was assessment. From the technical (“Can you show me again how to provide extended time on a Canvas quiz?”) to the philosophical (“What ARE the point of grades? What else can I do?”), we grappled with the purpose and processes around assessment in our classes. Summer is a great time to re-examine these practices. Here’s what we are reading and listening to focused on all things assessment.

What We Are Reading

  • Ungrading: Why Rating Students Undermines Learning (and What to Do Instead) edited by Susan D. Blum. This book’s value is in the voices of fifteen educators across different fields and levels sharing how they used ‘ungrading’ in their classes. If you are curious about this practice, Blum’s work shows different ways it has been achieved. Center for Teaching Faculty Fellow, Elizabeth Johnson-Young, used the work in this past spring’s assessment learning community with great success!
  • Science Exams Don’t Have to be Demoralizing: A Practical Guide by Katie Clements (Department of Chemistry) and Cynthia Brame (Center for Teaching) at Vanderbilt University. Don’t let ‘science exams’ fool you–this guide is helpful for anyone constructing a traditional course exam. The guide is divided into four sections–check out the helpful tips in ‘Class Structures to Minimize Exam Anxiety’.

What We Are Listening To

  • Dead Ideas in Teaching and Learning podcast: Assessment For and As Learning (36:24 minutes). Jonathan Amiel and Aubrie Swan Sein from Columbia University’s College of Physicians and Surgeons share how they reimagined assessment for first and second year medical students. The shift from assessment as a measure of what a student knows to an analysis of what a student can do with what they know changed their program. Interesting ideas if you are rethinking how and why you assess in your course.
  • Learning Scientists podcast: Feedback with Dr. Naomi Winstone (16:29 minutes). Dr. Winstone examines feedback as a process (not a product) and addresses ways to improve feedback sharing and student engagement in the process. This episode is short but packed with information and strategies.


  • Struggling to find a project that works for your class? How about giving your students the freedom to explore a topic of interest related to your class via a Genius Hour Project. You might have heard the buzz on our campus about this idea–learn more via this ReFocus Online segment with Jennifer Walker (College of Education). Not convinced Genius Hour could work in your class? Check out Janet Asper’s presentation at UMW Academy to hear her story using it with chemistry students this past year (note: UMW Academy materials are on YouTube playlist accessible only to UMW faculty and staff. Please reach out to if you need the link again!).
  • If you want students to focus more on learning and less on a grade, specifications grading may offer a solution. Breana Bayraktar’s blog post provides a thorough overview of why and how to implement specs grading. UMW’s Jeb Collins (Mathematics) uses specs grading in his classes and generously shared his insights and strategies during his November 2019 Faculty Pedagogy Colloquium presentation.

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