Assessment Tools and Techniques

There are any number of creative ways to assess how well your students are learning the material you are teaching. The Field-tested Learning Assessment Guide for Science, Math, Engineering and Technology Instructors (more info) site goes into detail about several that have been contributed by faculty all over the country. FLAG presents Classroom Assessment Techniques (CATs) that have been reviewed by an editorial board to make sure that they are compatible with current professional standards for assessment. Some of the CATs they discuss are:

One or more questions are presented during class involving key concepts, along with several possible answers. Students are polled as to which answer they think is correct. If most of the class has not identified the correct answer, students are given a few minutes to try to persuade their neighbors that their answer is correct. The question is asked a second time by the instructor to gauge class mastery. Check out this section of the Starting Point site that gives an in-depth description of ConcepTests and their use. There is also a collection of geoscience ConcepTest examples.
Mathematical Thinking (Math CATs)
Math CATS are designed to promote and assess thinking skills in mathematics, specifically helping students recognize and solve problems that aren't identical to the ones they saw in the book.
Minute Tests
Minute Tests are concise, written answers by students (individually or in groups), focusing on a short question given by the instructor. These can be given at any point in the class for an instantaneous check-up of how well students are understanding material or at the end of class to help the faculty member design the next class session.

The Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville Classroom Assessment Techniques page. They discuss some different CATs (and provide sample forms for implementing them in class).

The Active and Cooperative Learning in the Classroom site from California State University, LA is a collaboration between the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry and the Department of Philosophy. The site has a number of Classroom Assessment Techniques that they use in their chemistry classes, but the will work just as well in the Earth sciences. Some examples are:

Clarification Pauses
Throughout a lecture, particularly after stating an important point or defining a key concept, stop, let it sink in, and then (after waiting a bit!) ask if anyone needs to have it clarified. You can also circulate around the room during these pauses to look at student notes, answer questions, etc.
Finger Signals
Students are asked questions and instructed to signal their answers by holding up the appropriate number of fingers immediately in front of their torsos (this makes it impossible for students to "copy", thus committing them to answer each question on their own). For example, the instructor might say "one finger for 'yes', two for 'no'". Or, the instructor might have multiple choice questions prepared for the overhead projector and have the answers numbered (1) through (5), asking students to answer with finger signals. In very large classes the students can use a set of large cardboard signs with numbers written on them.
The Fish Bowl
Students are given index cards, and asked to write down one question concerning the course material. They should be directed to ask a question of clarification regarding some aspect of the material which they do not fully understand. At the end of the class period (or, at the beginning of the next class meeting if the question is assigned for homework), students deposit their questions in a fish bowl. The instructor then draws several questions out of the bowl and answers them for the class or asks the class to answer them.

Additional Resources

What is Assessment of Learning - This site gets to the question of "What is the difference between Assessment and Evaluation?".
Assessment That Promotes Learning - This article by John P. Lowe from the Center for Excellence in Learning and Teaching at Penn State University aims to help educators design assessments for their classes that aid student learning.
What Does Research Say About Assessment? - This site is an extensive survey of how current research affects assessment theory.