This quick technique helps the instructor find out what students have gotten out of a given day's class, and works well with both large and small classes.
Background and Purpose
No matter how beautifully prepared our classroom presentation may be, what the student hears is not always what we think we have said. The one-minute paper (described in Angelo and Cross, Classroom Assessment Techniques) is a quick and easy assessment tool that helps alert us when this disjuncture occurs, while it also gives the timid student an opportunity to ask questions and seek clarification. I have used the one-minute paper in large lecture classes at Penn State where I would choose one of the ten recitation sections to respond and where it helped keep me informed of what the students were getting from the class. I have also used it in the relatively small classes at Macalester College where it is still helpful, alerting me to the fact that my students are never quite as fully with me as I would like to think they are.
In its basic format, the instructor takes the last minute (or, realistically, three minutes) of class and asks students to write down short answers to two questions:
Responses can be put on 3´5 cards that are I hand out, or on the student's own paper. Students can be allowed to respond anonymously, to encourage them to admit points of confusion they might hesitate to put their name to, or they can be asked to write their names so that the instructor can write a brief, personal response to each question or encourage thoughtful answers by giving extra credit.
The questions can be modified in various ways, but they should remain open-ended. In one variation described by Angelo and Cross, the instructor asked each student to name five significant points that had been made in that session. This can be especially useful in identifying the range of perceptions of what has been happening in class. By spending some time early in the semester discussing these perceptions and how they relate to what the instructor hopes that the students will see as the central ideas of the class, students can learn how to identify the central themes in each lecture.
In the large lecture classes at Penn State, students were required to write their names on their papers. After class, it would take me less than 30 minutes to go through the thirty or so papers that would be turned in, check the names of those who had turned them in (a bonus amounting to 1% of the total grade was given to those who turned them in regularly), and then write a one-sentence response to each question. These were returned to the students by their recitation instructors.
Many of the students in large lecture classes viewed the one-minute paper as simply a means of checking on whether or not they attended class, and, in fact, it did help keep class attendance up. It kept me abreast of what students were getting out of the lectures and helped establish some personal contact in the very impersonal environment of the amphitheater lecture hall. But even in the small classes at Macalester College where I now teach, where students are less hesitant to speak up, and where it seems that I can sense how well the class is following me, the one-minute paper often alerts me to problems of which otherwise I would not be aware until much later in the semester.
Use of Findings
Since the purpose of the one-minute paper is to identify and clarify points of confusion, I start the next class with a few minutes spent discussing student answers to the first question and explaining the misunderstandings that seemed to be shared by more than one student.
For example, after a class in which I introduced exponential functions of the form bx and explained how to find their derivatives, I discovered that there was still a lot of confusion about how the derivative of 3x was obtained. For many students, using (3x+.01 - 3x-.01)/.02 as an approximation to the derivative of 3x was more confusing than useful because they thought that an approximation to the derivative should look like (3x+h - 3x)/h. Some students were thrown by my use of the phrase "in terms of x" when I spoke of "the derivative in terms of x." They knew about derivatives, but had never heard of derivatives in terms of x. This provided an opening the next day to come back to some of their continuing misunderstandings about functions. More than one student thought that the most important point of this class was how to find the derivative of e. This forewarned me that some of my students considered e to be the name of a function. Only four students picked out what I thought I had been emphasizing: that the significance of e is that it provides a base for an exponential function that is its own derivative. Almost as many thought that the identification of ln with loge was the most important thing said all period. Knowing the principal points of confusion about derivatives of exponentials, I was able to start the next class by clearing up some of them and using selected questions to motivate the new material I wanted to introduce.
To use the one-minute paper as a learning tool, it is essential that you be consistent and regular and spend time early in the course clarifying what you want. It can also be employed simply as a periodic check on how accurate are your perceptions of what students are learning and what unanswered questions remain at the end of each class. The beauty of this tool lies in its simplicity and flexibility.
It is not easy to get students to identify important points or to ask good questions. They will tend to retreat into generalities. Following the class on derivatives of exponential functions, most students wrote that the most important idea was how to take derivatives of exponential functions. A few simply identified "taking derivatives" as the most important idea. Similarly, many students will either write that they have no questions or tell you only that they are confused. You can correct this by refining the question ("What was the most surprising or enlightening moment in class today?") or by spending time early in the course discussing examples of the kinds of specific observations that you would like them to be able to make. You may also want to talk about how to formulate questions during a lecture or presentation as a means of sharpening attention, illustrate this with examples taken from students in the class of questions that demonstrate this kind of attention, and then give some small bonus credit to those students who can consistently end each class with a question.
 Angelo, T.A., and Cross, K.P. Classroom
Assessment Techniques, 2nd ed., Jossey-Bass, San Francisco,
1993, pp. 148-153.