APGAR for Class Meetings

Virginia Apgar

A recent article in the New Yorker tells the story of Virginia Apgar, the physician who gave her name to the quick, simple assessment of babies’ condition at one and five minutes after birth. Apgar understood that doctors and nurses needed such an assessment to guide their approach to early intervention and treatment. She also understood that without such an assessment, current practice was unlikely to change, as there was no baseline from which to work.

Atul Gawande describes Apgar’s system this way:

The Apgar score, as it became known universally, allowed nurses to rate the condition of babies at birth on a scale from zero to ten. An infant got two points if it was pink all over, two for crying, two for taking good, vigorous breaths, two for moving all four limbs, and two if its heart rate was over a hundred. Ten points meant a child born in perfect condition. Four points or less meant a blue, limp baby.

The score was published in 1953, and it transformed child delivery. It turned an intangible and impressionistic clinical concept–“the condition of a newly born baby”–into a number that people could collect and compare. Using it required observation and documentation of the true condition of every baby. Moreover, even if only because doctors are competitive, it drove them to want to produce better scores–and therefore better outcomes–for the newborns they delivered….

The Apgar score changed everything. It was practical and easy to calculate, and it gave clinicians at the bedside immediate information on how they were doing.

The article got me to wondering: what if we could generate an “Apgar” for each class meeting? Here’s my idea. At the beginning of the class, students would assign themselves a score based on questions like these:

1. Did you read the material for today’s class meeting carefully? No=0, Yes, once=1, Yes, more than once=2
2. Did you come to class today with questions or with items you’re eager to discuss? No=0, Yes, one=1, Yes, more than one=2
3. Since we last met, did you talk at length to a classmate or classmates about either the last class meeting or today’s meeting? No=0, Yes, one person=1, Yes, more than one person=2
4. Since our last meeting, did you read any unassigned material related to this course of study? No=0, Yes, one item=1, Yes, more than one item=2
5. Since our last class meeting, how much time have you spent reflecting on this course of study and recent class meetings? None to 29 minutes=0, 30 minutes to an hour=1, over an hour=2

Ideally, students would transmit their scores electronically, and the teacher would be able to do a quick class average at the beginning of the meeting. The teacher should also assign him or herself a score, with “colleague” substituting for “classmate,” for example, or perhaps with a different set of questions altogether. The teacher’s score shouldn’t be averaged in with the students’, but it should be shared with them somehow.

It would be interesting to chart the class’s scores over a semester, and to compare one section’s scores with another’s. It would also be interesting to see if the class began to compete with itself to try to keep those “Apgar”s high. There’s also a merciful aspect here for the teacher, who could see pretty quickly that a particular day didn’t go well for reasons beyond his or her own failings. It would also allow the teacher to move quickly to a plan “b” if the score indicated either that students were not ready for a challenging, self-motivated day … or if they were, beyond the teacher’s expectations. (It does happen.)

Seems to me one could do this exercise with clickers, or with a Google spreadsheet the whole class could log into. With the latter method, it would be a good reason for students to bring their laptops to class.

29 thoughts on “APGAR for Class Meetings

  1. What a powerful idea! At a minimum, this will make explicit to students the expectations that faculty have for their participation in real school. Regretfully, I suspect most faculty don’t have any realistic expectation that their students will do this sort of study on a regular basis. Perhaps adoption of the APGAR for Class Meetings can change this.

    I’m going to try this in my First Year Seminar tomorrow and think about how to incorporate it more systematically.

  2. I love it. It’s one of the ideas that seems so deceptively simply yet has the potential to generate powerful results–just like the original APGAR test.

  3. Steve comments that a Class Apgar could encourage professors to have expectations for their students. But I’m intrigued by this: “Moreover, even if only because doctors are competitive, it drove them to want to produce better scores—and therefore better outcomes—for the newborns they delivered….” Substitute “professor” for “doctor” and I wonder if our own competitiveness could help us to have higher expectations for ourselves as we consider how our actions affect the motivations of our students!

  4. I like the idea and will be interested to see what kind of reaction Steve gets in his class. For most students the idea that they collectively create the “health” of a class meeting will be a novel one.

    My first intuition is that the five questions you propose set a pretty high bar. As least in the beginning, we’d need to prepare ourselves for some limp, blue babies until students internalize this new way of thinking.

  5. I’m with Terry – let’s not have the students competing for high scores – the faculty need to be the ones concerned with the scores, not the students.

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  7. Another way to approach this is with a student response system. When students buy their books, the clickers are bundled and cost a mere $10. Instructors can use their existing PowerPoints and add questions that are tallied by the system. This means that they will have long-range data for each student.

    At ISU we use Turning Point – it’s relatively simple and is extremely effective in keeping students attention, engaging them in the content, and checking for understanding. There are other companies that provide equally usable clicker systems.

    It can get tricky if more than one instructor is using clickers – especially in adjacent rooms. At ISU each receiver has a different frequency and number. So when the students come into class, the instructor tells them what number to punch in … ta-da … no interference.

    Not only can you use the clickers as gate keepers (the software package will allow you to take anonymous and named quizzes), you can also do the following:

    * take opinion polls
    * create interactivity during the lecture
    * put students in pairs or teams and compete – this can really increase motivation

    Those are just a few of the uses.

  8. I think this is a great substitute for the “pop quiz”. Not that you should record the grade that students give themselves, but instead use it as a reminder of what a pop quiz is supposed to do – check for understanding and discuss further any concepts that are unclear. Then encourage the application of those concepts, introduce new material and relate it to the previous concepts, etc., etc.

    Though for some classes, especially at the lower level, you should also check for the basic things like is the student the right color pink? Is the heart rate sufficiently high? And so on . . .

  9. On an average class day, I would score either a 6 or a 7. Sometimes I do a little bit better, reading the material more than once, but I almost never do reading outside what is assigned. Occasionaly I read more poems if I’m particuarly interested in an author or a topic. But not usually.

  10. Then again, it’s good to know that Mary-Carolyn’s APGAR score today was -5. LOL

  11. Pingback: Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » Gardner’s APGAR Assessment for Classes

  12. Gardner is a proactive thinker and his apgar test is a simple way for students or anyone to prepare for darn near any future event It is a form of logical thinking to ask these questions of yourself each time you have a classroom or event coming up Success in living takes preparation and a prime part of that is often reading about the subject so you may understand and then explain your understanding. It is wonderful to read student’s thoughts on the method

  13. Pingback: Pedablogy: Musings on the Art & Craft of Teaching » Blog Archive » Update on Gardner’s APGAR

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  19. Gardner – I’m teaching a seminar this semester and will be doing something in a similar vein but I want the students to rate the live session, not themselves, and I want to show their pooled results to the class as a whole. My hope is that this creates a sense of responsibility for the overall welfare of the class in each student and also gets them thinking where we can improve. I will try for the first time next Monday. Let’s see how they react to it.


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  29. I heard you on the Teaching in Higher Ed podcast and found your idea of a class APGAR score to be interesting, especially since my profession is nursing. I look forward to trying it in my classes

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