Quizzes, Small-Group Study Aid Learning, Study Concludes

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Frequent quizzes and homework assignments, small-group study, and the allotment of one minute at the end of class for students to write down what they learned can substantially increase their academic achievement, a Harvard University study concludes.

While the study was aimed at higher education, and at Harvard in particular, its results could also be applied to the secondary-school level, according to its author, Richard J. Light.

"I would guess that most of the findings would apply to any student in any high school," Mr. Light, a professor in the Harvard Graduate School of Education and Kennedy School of Government, said in an interview last week. "Wouldn't it be exciting if some high schools tried some experiments with these ideas?"

The study grew out of the Harvard Assessment Seminars, which were begun three years ago by the university's president, Derek C. Bok, to promote more internal research and evaluation of teaching, learning, and student life on the campus.

The research involved interviews with a random sample of 360 Harvard undergraduates by their fellow students, as well as a series of seminars with faculty members and administrators from Harvard and other schools.

'More Engaged in Work'

The study found "a clear payoff" in dividing students into small study groups, numbering from four to six members, to work on substantive8topics.

Such a tactic not only improves student achievement, according to the researchers, but also creates enthusiasm for classwork and teaches students crucial skills, such as how to move a group forward and how to include all members in a discussion.

"That is something Harvard students particularly appreciated," Mr. Light said. "They almost unanimously report they are much more engaged in their work when they work in these groups."

"It strikes me that if Harvard freshmen are saying this," he added, "there is no reason juniors and seniors in high school could not do the same thing."

Another major finding was that students most appreciated those courses where they received quick and frequent feedback in the form of quizzes, tests, short papers, and homework.

A majority of the students expressed the belief that their best learning takes place when they can submit an early version of their work, such as a paper, get detailed criticism on it, and then provide a final version to be graded.

'Low-Tech Innovation'

The study also recommends feedback for instructors in the form of a daily "one-minute paper." The idea is to leave the last minute or two of class to allow students to take out a sheet of paper and jot down what they consider to be the central point of the day's lesson and what is the main unanswered question they still have.

"It is extraordinarily simple," said Mr. Light, who added that use of this "valuable low-tech innovation" was spreading among Harvard faculty members.

The method has several positive effects, the author said. For example, it encourages students to think throughout the class about what they will write, which helps focus their minds.

In addition, instructors get information on whether there is a problem in getting their main ideas across. Some instructors have taken to beginning their lectures with a brief discussion of the papers submitted in the previous session, the study found. That approach, it concluded, allows students to see what the entire group found clear and unclear, and whether their own questions were shared by others.

"The students feel they are shaping the course," Mr. Light said. "I would guess for high-school-age students in particular it would be a natural. There is no money involved."

Vol. 09, Issue 25

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