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.