Classroom Assessment Technique: Muddiest Point
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Classroom Assessment Technique: Muddiest Point

Hello there. I’m Ann Carlson and, for many years, I’ve been involved in the teaching and learning scene at Western Washington University. What if I told you that you could improve the student learning in your courses— even your largest lecture courses— in just minutes each week? Sound too good to be true? Well, unlike what TV commercials say, there is no such thing as a miracle cure, no matter what it is we are trying to improve. However, when it comes to improving student learning in our courses, there IS a proven assessment method that requires very little time, involves minimal change to your syllabus, is one that students find most useful…AND can deliver optimal results. This method is called “The Muddiest Point.” It was developed in 1989 by Frederick Mosteller, the eminent Harvard statistics professor, and has been used by educators with great success and to wide acclaim ever since. There are many variations of the Muddiest Point, but the following is the classic method: STEP ONE: At the end of your class, hand out blank 3×5 cards. Instruct the students not to write their names on the cards – anonymity is important here. STEP TWO: Ask your students to write down the answer to this question: What was the “muddiest” point so far in this session? (In other words, what was least clear to you? Or, what questions do you still have about today’s lecture?) STEP THREE: Collect the cards. STEP FOUR: Review the cards and decide on a format for addressing the “muddy points,” that your students have identified. You then might post questions and answers on your course web page; answer questions at the start of the next class meeting; prepare a handout; Slightly revise your course content to address the frequently occurring questions; Send an email response to the class. The Muddiest Point technique is well-suited to large, lower-division classes and it can be adapted for use with lectures, a class discussion, or assignment. Since students’ responses to the Muddiest Point question usually consist of a few words or phrases; an instructor can read and sort the responses in just a few minutes. There is no one right way to do the “Muddiest Point,” and you will probably develop your own variation. For example, you may want to set it up as an online discussion, or have students turn in their responses as class begins. An emailed “muddiest point” can be used to gather feedback on readings, which can then be used to shape subsequent in-class discussions. Using the Muddiest Point has many advantages, for students and professors alike. For students, the Muddiest Point allows them to reflect on what they’ve learned; helps them retain information, as well as analyze and synthesize information; supports them in building new knowledge; and assists them in using their time to study effectively. For the instructor, the Muddiest Point is more effective than asking for questions; is an efficient way to get a sense of where students are having difficulty; identifies the next steps needed to help students master difficult information or skills; and helps in planning revisions for future versions of the course. Now, if you’re ready to do the Muddiest Point in one of your courses, keep in mind these tips: Don’t overuse it: Focusing on the muddiest points too often can be discouraging for both students and professors because of the tendency to emphasize the negative. If it turns out there is a theme that shows many in the class are mentioning the same Muddiest Point, you might want to schedule added class time on the subject, post more information on a course website, or re-design an assignment. Whatever you decide, be sure your students have reasonable expectations for your response. Consider alternatives to the muddiest point question such as, the most important point, the most surprising point, etc. In larger classes, create small groups of students and then have each group create a feedback card. Are you ready to make the Muddiest Point Method part of your assessment plan? The Muddiest Point is just about the simplest assessment technique one can use, and—for a relatively low investment of time and energy— can provide you with excellent and useful feedback that will improve the student learning in your courses.

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1 thought on “Classroom Assessment Technique: Muddiest Point

  1. Great! Your advices will be very useful in my daily teaching activity. Maybe students could answer the muddiest points of other classmates and viceversa during a discussion session, couldn't they?

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