An APGAR Test for Students

A little while back, Jeff McClurken directed me (via Twitter, naturally) to a 2006 blog post by Gardner Campbell describing an APGAR test for class meetings.  In spite of having read Gardner’s work for a couple of years now, I hadn’t seen this idea until Jeff mentioned it as a way to use clickers to help students assess their readiness for a class session.  I think it’s a great idea, so I wanted to mention it here.  (By the way, this is yet another example of how Twitter has led to good things!)

In 1953, physician Virginia Apgar published a test designed to capture a newborn baby’s health in a score between 0 and 10.  The test measures five aspects of a newborn’s health: Appearance, Pulse, Grimace, Activity, Respiration–a convenient mnemonic device based on the inventor’s name.  Each aspect is given a score of 0, 1, or 2, yielding a total score between 0 and 10.  A baby with an APGAR of 10 appears to be in perfect health; a baby with an APGAR of 4 or lower is not doing well.

Gardner’s idea was to devise an APGAR test that students would take before a class session as a way to self-assess their readiness for that class session.  He’s put his five APGAR questions in a slide available on Slideshare with a photo of Dr. Apgar herself:

As Gardner suggested in his post, you could easily ask these questions using clickers, either as five separate clicker questions or as one question asking students to report their total score.  Most clicker systems will let you see the average of the responses for a rating question, so you could quickly see the average APGAR score for your entire class.

Why might you use this APGAR test for students?

  • As Gardner points out, just sharing these questions helps to communicate to students your expectations for them.  I frequently hear from students and instructors that mismatched expectations lead to all kinds of frustrations, so clarifying your expectations for your students out-of-class studying can be very helpful.
  • Furthermore, having students assess their own readiness for class creates the opportunity for a “metacognitive moment” in which students learn something about their own learning.  As a student considers these questions, she is motivated to consider how the five actions described in the questions might (or might not) help her learn.  As Steven Greenlaw points out, this can help students, particularly first-year students, become more intentional learners, which is a good thing.
  • On the instructor side of things, the results of a class’ APGAR test can provide useful information on students’ readiness for class, information that can be acted upon immediately.  If the class average is low, you’ll have to make some on-the-fly decisions about how to respond to the fact that your students aren’t that ready for class.  If the class average is high, you can look forward to some engaging discussion that day!

One potential problem with giving your students an APGAR test is that students might over- or under-report their readiness for class.  Perhaps they don’t want you to think they’re slacking off, so they rate themselves high.  Or perhaps they think you’ll go easy on them during class if they rate themselves low.  So you would have to take their responses with a grain of salt, considering what social dynamics might be at play that would lead them to fib a little on their scores.  The fact that clickers allow students to respond anonymously to questions like these helps, certainly, since they won’t be as subject to peer pressure when responding.

Have you tried something like this with clickers?  If so, how did it go for you?  If not, does this sound promising?

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