Today I heard Vincent Tinto talk on the topic of student success (his premise: it doesn't arise by chance). Student success begins in the classroom, and we know from studies what's necessary: clearly stated and high expectations; support; feedback and assessment; and engagement.
Minute papers provide for feedback and assessment and engagement. When Tinto administers minute papers, he frames his questions as: What interests you most from class today that you want to learn more about, and what's still muddy that you want to understand more clearly?
It's not how he frames the questions, though, that I find most critical for advancing student learning. It's the frequency and the follow-up in his practice. Tinto administers minute papers at the end of class about 80% of the days the class meets. That's far more often than I have used them. Predictability, he argues, instills in students the expectation that they'll be asked to report on something, thus they're more likely to pay attention on any given day. Tinto also purposefully keeps responses anonymous so students will more likely be honest in their self-assessment. Finally, Tinto provides written feedback to the class, in the form of a one-sheet handout that summarizes the main points raised by the minute papers, clarifies misconceptions, and suggests additional readings, resources, or ways of thinking about the topic. He also spends 5 minutes or so at the beginning of the next class session discussing responses.
Ultimately, Tinto steps out of the way of the learning process, and after students respond to his minute-paper prompts, he has them form groups of 3 or 4 to discuss what they wrote and to help each other clear up any misconceptions they may have That's the point where you've reached the juncture of high expectations, support, feedback and assessment, and engagement--the recipe for student success.
You can read more about minute papers at the resource page of the CFD Web site. Click on the question "Once I have course learning objectives, how do I assess student progress in meeting them?"