Teaching Strategies

Bringing CATs into your Classroom

Using the three factors – A.) Logistics; B.) Lesson Sequence; C.) Purpose – outlined on the “Selecting a CAT” page, review the below table with a wide range of examples of CATs organized by where they can occur in a lesson sequence and the student skills they assess.

[iframe src=”https://cte-migration.cdil.dev/wp-content/uploads/2018/12/CATs-Workshop-Table-2.pdf” width=”100%” height=”500″]

Once you have chosen an appropriate CAT(s) you want to implement then consider the following points to deploy them effectively in your classroom.

  • Planning
    • Focus on a question and/or objective
    • Start with success – start with the class that is going well
    • Try it yourself  – do what you are asking your students to do to check if it is appropriate
  • Implementing
    • Explain clearly – give clear instructions about what students need to do and why they are doing it
    • Review as soon as possible – facilitates action to be taken on feedback
  • Responding
    • Summarize feedback
    • Explain next steps


Examples: Finding the right home for CATs in your Teaching

Here are three examples of professors using CATs on three different scales: by course, by topic, and by class session. Note how each professor, despite the variety in their teaching contexts, adapted CATs to address specific course, topic, or class-level goals.

Example 1: Professor L in large introductory class

Desired Student Learning Outcome: Wants students to be able to articulate key principles of macroeconomics.

Teaching Context: Wants to engage students in topic they most likely will not study again and have some degree of interaction with each other without logistical hassle.

Course Context: Introduction to Macroeconomics course, 250+ students, 120 Economics majors, rest from MCAS, only 1 TA, large lecture theatre twice a week with fixed seating

Implementation Plan:

Before Course: In reviewing the table of CATs Professor L wants to firstly evaluate where his students are with regard to the knowledge of Macroeconomics. He decides to start off his course with a Background Knowledge Probe. He does this by creating a quiz in Canvas and assigning it to students before the first class. He creates a Canvas announcement for students letting them know they should take the quiz to get extra credit. The data from this quiz allows him to evaluate where to ‘set’ the complexity of his course.

During Course: To get his students to debate and interact with each other in class he decides to pose an Everyday Ethical Dilemma at the beginning of each new module. Students are required to review a short case study shared on Canvas at the beginning of the week. In-class Professor L uses Poll Everywhere to pose 4 responses to a question about the case study. There is no right/wrong answer, the responses are there to generate preferences for students to different Macroeconomic policies. He then asks students who selected different responses to outline the reasons for their choice to the class, this begins a discussion in class.

After Course: His previous use of Canvas discussion boards have not been successful. So Professor L wants to incentivize students to work together to think about the content at a deeper level that does not require his constant supervision. He decides to dedicate 1 long question, and 5 short questions from the exam to Student-Generated Test Questions. Students are allowed to submit 1 question each on a discussion board and must provide an explanation as to why they think it is a good question relative to course learning outcomes. Students are allowed to ‘like’ their favorite questions. Rather than reviewing every submission Professor L reviews just the 10 most popular questions. If they meet his criteria then they will appear in the exam. He outlines the questions he has chosen in the final class and the reasons why they were selected and not others.


Example 2: Professor E in small seminar discussion course on sensitive topics

Desired Outcome: Wants students to have critical discussions about race based on course readings.

Teaching Context: Students are not comfortable articulating their opinions about sensitive issues, Wants students to be able to express their ideas about sensitive issues in multiple ways.

Course Context: Sophomore English studies, 25 students, seminar discussion room, English majors.

Implementation Plan:

Before Unit: Prof. E wants to probe students’ attitudes and preconceptions around race before diving into a discussion on the assigned short story. Knowing that she will have to address these issues before substantive conversation can occur in her classroom, she decides to start her first class on the short story with Focused Listing. She puts the name of a problematic character from the narrative on the board, and directs students to list ideas/concerns/observations related to the “focus” on a separate page in their individual notebooks. After writing, students are asked to contribute to a collective list the class creates around the name of the character on the board. The class then reflects on tensions and similarities they see in their class list as a way to discuss the issues the focus character brings up. At the end of class, Prof. E collects students individual lists and looks over them, looking specifically for strong opinions or sensitivities that did not surface in class. After looking at the data, Prof E decides to extend the discussion in the next class and to reach out individually to a few students to see if they would be willing to share their perspectives in the next session.

During Unit: Prof E is teaching a text which raises issues that closely mirror contemporary political events. She wants to allow students to draw relevant connections to current events without becoming de-railed from course content. She decides to frame the objective around the wider course goal of writing a persuasive essay. As a way to prep students for the larger assignment and to allow students to articulate their opinions, she decides to use a short Analytic Memo CAT. Choosing textual themes or plot moments that correspond to current events, students must write a one-page analysis of their topic to help inform a decision-maker. Students show not only how their topic works in the course text, but also how it relates to pressing issues in the larger world. Prof. E reviews the Analytic Memos for their persuasiveness in linking the text to contemporary events.

After Unit: In her writing class about personal identity, Prof E wants students to complete an in-class written self-reflection as a way to start a discussion about how our diverse backgrounds shape our pathways in life. While students only have to share if they feel comfortable, she realizes the activity will stretch several students’ comfort zones, and wants to make sure everyone has a chance to reflect on their experience of the activity. After class, she chooses to create and assign a Teacher-Designed Feedback Forms to allow students to respond to specific questions about the effectiveness of the class session. Prof E receives responses from every student, allowing her to gain a true picture of the positive or negative impact of the activity on the class. As a result of the feedback, she decides to continue the activity in her teaching, but to debrief in the next class and make a few suggested adjustments.


Example 3: Professor S in advanced Senior course on complex material

Desired Student Learning Outcome: Wants students to understand key concepts and be able to draw sophisticated connections among those concepts.

Teaching Context: The students in the course are often able to memorize basic information and explain key concepts but tend to view course topics as isolated from one another.

Course Context: Small upper level biology course for majors.

Implementation Plan:

Beginning of Class:

Before expanding on a topic touched on briefly earlier in the semester Prof. S wants to see if her students can make connections between that topic and other key topics already studied using Concept Maps. She asks each student to write the four main topics on a piece of paper and then spend ten minutes drawing lines and indicating some of the connections between these topics. Prof. S. has her students submit their concept maps and then, while they watch a brief video explaining an aspect of the topic of that class, spends a few minutes looking them over. This allows her to see which connections are clear to many of the students and which are not, which helps her quickly determine how to facilitate their learning on the new topic.

During Class:

After lecturing on the topic for twenty minutes, Prof. S has them complete a Categorization Grid in small groups on whiteboards. The grid includes three categories related to the concept as well as a list of items that need to be correctly sorted into those categories. Once all the groups have finished, the entire class spends time discussing and then correcting any discrepancies between grids. This activity gives Prof. S a chance to check student knowledge of the main components of the key concept before asking them to look more broadly at how this concept fits in with other key concepts learned during the semester.

End of Class:

Now that students have spent time studying the new topic in some depth, Prof. S again asks them to return to their Concept Maps. She provides students with their original concept maps and asks them to spend ten minutes adding their new knowledge to them with a different colored pen. She then asks students to share their concept maps with one another in small groups. After these discussions, students revise their concept maps one more time, with a third colored pen, before submitting them. Prof. S looks at these submissions and is able to see the more sophisticated connections students are making between topics, as well as any connections that students are not yet making.