Spotlight is published twice each semester by the Office of Assessment and Continuous Improvement in the College of Education to highlight promising practices in assessment and continuous improvement.

Education to highlight promising practices in assessment and continuous improvement. This edition of the Spotlight examines one-sentence summaries as an assessment for creative thinking and synthesis, the College of Education’s Improvement Planning Model, and using ICON’s SpeedGrader with rubrics for fast and efficient feedback.

Mission Statement

To deliver a personal, affordable, and top-ranked education for students who want to collaborate with renowned faculty to solve problems and effect change in the field of education in our community, our country, and around the world.

Vision Statement

A world-class college of education: leading research, engaging our communities, and preparing education and mental health professionals for innovation and impact.


  • Equity
  • Diversity and Inclusion
  • Unrelenting Commitment to Communities
  • Continuous Improvement and Innovation
  • Anti-racist Action
  • Teamwork and Collaboration
  • Excellence and Integrity


Prepared by Jeremy Penn with support from Michelle Yu and the Continuous Improvement Committee

To share a promising practice in a future edition of the Spotlight you are using in your classroom, in your program, or in your department, please contact

Classroom Assessment Tidbit

Assessing Creative Thinking and Synthesis with One-Sentence Summaries

Thomas Angelo and Patricia Cross (1993) offer one-sentence summaries as a deceptively simple assessment strategy for synthesis and creative thinking. One-sentence summaries can be written in 5-10 minutes, do not require much time to assess, and can be a powerful learning experience for students during class. One-sentence summaries are useful for helping students bring together a large amount of complex material on a specific topic. It can also be useful for helping students prepare to communicate large amounts of complex material to others.

To implement one-sentence summaries, start by selecting a topic and then working through the assessment on your own. Then, double the amount of time it took you to complete the assessment and determine how you want summaries submitted to you (e.g., on paper, via email, or posted somewhere in ICON).

At the heart of this assessment is what Angelo and Cross call “WDWWWWHW,” or “who does what to whom, when, where, how, and why?” Start by briefly answering each of these statements separately. For instance, if the topic was about how laws are made in the United States, the responses might look like this:

  • Who: Senators, Representatives, and the President
  • Does what: Submit, debate, and vote on legislation
  • When: Legislative terms
  • How: Bills are proposed through committees which are voted in the House and Senate chambers, then the President decides whether to sign or veto legislation
  • Why: To serve their constituents and achieve political agendas and goals
  • Next, take these responses and convert them into a single, grammatically correct sentence.
  • Sample sentence: In the United States, to serve their constituents and achieve political goals, a new law must be proposed by a Member of Congress to various congressional committees who select laws to advance for voting by the Senate and the House, and, upon passing in both chambers, must then be signed by the President.

To assess, look for each element of the assignment (WDWWWWHW) and then assess the grammar and flow of the final sentence. Consider sharing examples with students in class to identify common gaps or strong summaries that might work with various audiences.

Be sure to test the one-sentence summary yourself prior to assigning it to your students as not all topics are amenable to this format.

College Data Tidbit

The College of Education’s Improvement Planning Model

Instead of summarizing a recent assessment result, this month we will provide a description of the College’s Improvement Planning model. This model, shown in Figure 1, is based on the Plan-Do-Study-Act (PDSA) continuous improvement model popularized by Dr. W. Edwards Deming and Walter Shewhart. This model can be used to support improvement planning and continuous improvement efforts at any level – from one-on-one mentoring of a student, to a course, to a degree program, or even to the College of Education itself. The five steps in the College’s Improvement Planning model are described in more detail below.

  1. Affirm Mission, Vision, and Values. This first step is assumed to be in place for use of PDSA. It is explicitly included in the College’s model as a reminder of the importance of regularly returning to the mission (what you do and how you do it), the vision (what you seek to achieve or what difference you will make in the world), and your values (core principles that guide and direct you). As the driver of the other four steps in the model, it is essential that participants have a shared, thorough understanding of the mission, vision, and values. It is also important to engage with stakeholders, students, customers, and administrative structures (such as College or University mission statements and vision statements) as part of the mission, vision, and values step.
  2. Plan. Planning should include long-term (such as 5-10 years) and short-term (1-year or less) planning cycles. Long-term plans should be used for big organizational goals, such as capital projects or significant growth in employment or enrollment. Short-term plans should identify key strategies that can be achieved in a shorter time frame and will support the unit’s long-term plans. Planning processes should engage stakeholders, customers, and students, and should connect with budgeting processes and measures of success.
  3. Deploy. The most challenging component of any improvement or planning cycle is putting the plans into action. Important levers for implementing plans is clear communication, professional development, changes in policy, leadership, and committees or other similar structures to support plan implementation.
  4. Learn. In some continuous improvement models this step is called “check.” The College of Education uses “learn” to reinforce the goal of this step is to learn about what is working and what is not working rather than simply checking a series of boxes or meeting an arbitrary benchmark. Learning requires looking at data on progress, reflecting on progress, and drawing conclusions about which actions are showing promise and which actions need to be modified.
  5. Improve. The final step is to take improvement actions in response to what was learned in step #4. This might include sharing data with students and other stakeholders, meeting with staff and faculty to examine what is working and not working, and then engaging in improvement actions. Examples of improvement actions might include professional development, making resources available for innovations, or changing short-term (or even long-term!) plans.

Using a systematic Improvement Planning model is critical for successful continuous improvement efforts. The College of Education’s Office of Assessment and Continuous Improvement is a resource for continuous improvement efforts in the College and will support your efforts through providing consulting, presentations, data analysis support, templates, and other support as needed. The University of Iowa is currently exploring strategic planning software tools which may also support these efforts at some point later this year.

IPM graphic outlining text information

Promising Practice

Use SpeedGrader with Rubrics in ICON for Fast and Efficient Grading and Feedback

The University of Iowa’s ICON (Canvas) system for course management includes a power feature called “SpeedGrader.” SpeedGrader allows instructors to quickly grade and provide written feedback to students for point-based assignments or assignments graded with a rubric. Students can see their assignment scores in their gradebook and view their written feedback, including annotations, text, and highlights by viewing the assignment’s submission details. SpeedGrader instructions.

Instructors have unlimited options for rubrics to use with SpeedGrader. Instructors can create their own custom rubrics in SpeedGrader that can be used with multiple assignments and multiple course sections. Instead of creating a rubric from scratch, a good practice is to use or adapt a rubric created by others. A good source of rubrics is AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics, which cover 16 areas including written communication, critical thinking, global learning, and ethical reasoning.

For doctoral programs or research-focused assignments, Barbara Lovitts’ book “Making the Implicit Explicit: Creating Performance Expectations for the Dissertation” is an excellent source of guidance, including examples from multiple discipline areas, on creating a rubric with clear expectations for the dissertation. Her book is available through the UI library and an E-book is also available for online access.

Using ICON’s SpeedGrader with high-quality rubrics is an efficient and effective way to provide feedback and grade student work. To ensure students make the most of your feedback, take time in class to show students how to find your written feedback and consider requiring students submit multiple drafts of their work that respond to your feedback before their final graded submission (this will be a topic for a future edition of the Spotlight).

Future Opportunities

  • Association for the Assessment of Learning in Higher Education’s 2022 Assessment Conference (Providence, RI): June 6 – June 9.