The Beginning of the End

Get Your Students’ Best Work

There’s a month left in the semester, and the final weeks are always packed with projects, papers, and exams. This time can be intense and stressful for both faculty and students, so it’s helpful to remind ourselves that the purpose of all of this final coursework is to give students a chance to demonstrate what they’ve learned.

Students produce their best work when our courses are well-aligned, meaning that there are clear goals; the projects, exams, and other major assessments are designed to collect evidence of students’ progress toward those goals; and the in- and out-of-class daily work offers opportunities for practice and feedback that will help students to work toward the goals over time.

If these major components of a course are out of alignment, it will be difficult for students to gauge their own progress, so they may learn less. They may be surprised by the exams, or complain that exams don’t reflect what they’ve learned. With a month left in the semester, there’s still time to check that our exam questions, or the specific tasks involved in completing the projects we assign, are aligned with our goals, so that they will measure what we intend for them to measure, and so that students can both learn more and better demonstrate their learning.

Lisa Turner de Vera, of FSU’s Interdisciplinary Social Sciences Program and Department of Urban and Regional Planning, has been working on alignment in her ISS 4304 course:

I’ve been revising the final assignment, thinking in terms of my goals for students’ learning. I asked myself some questions: Why did I assign this in the first place? What are the skills my students really need to develop? Are all of the parts of the project important? Do all of these steps that I’m asking students to do help them accomplish the goals? Then, with my answers in mind, I’ve changed and streamlined some aspects of the project, so that it is more aligned with the intended benefits of the assignment.

In the future, I’m going to start creating assignments and tests by writing down what my goals are, and then I’ll think step by step through each part: Is this flowing from what I really want students to know and be able to do, and the way that I’m going to teach? Then, I can make sure the assignments are based on learning priorities, and that my teaching is, too, which will help me get a better outcome. And I can always revisit, and think more about my role in getting the kind of work I want to see.

If you’d also like to begin working on alignment by asking yourself some questions, here are a few to get you started:

  • What kind of thinking does each exam question ask students to do?
  • Have they practiced this kind of thinking before in the class?
  • Is the exam significantly more difficult than the practice students did leading up to it? (Contrary to what we often assume, the high stakes conditions of the exam should not be the first time students encounter complex questions or problems. Students need adequate opportunities to practice with the most challenging sorts of questions and thinking.)
  • Do the most important concepts—the ones you spent the most class time on—also have the most weight on the exam or in the project?
  • For a project, review the grading criteria or rubric:
    • Does it reflect your priorities with regard to thinking, concepts, and content?
    • Does it give too much weight to surface features?
    • Did you spend class time on the aspects of the project that have the most weight on the rubric?
    • Do students understand the rubric? Do they know how to use it to self-assess?

If you’d like help making sure your projects, exams, and other assignments are aligned, and that your students will have an opportunity to show you how much they’ve learned this semester, please send us an email or make an appointment. We look forward to working with you.


The Center for the Advancement of Teaching is pleased to be partnering with the Critical Thinking Initiative, Florida State University Libraries, and the Oglesby Union for the 2019 Critical Thinking Symposium: Truth and Misinformation in Media from April 1-4, 2019.

We are happy to welcome Glenn Kessler from The Washington Post as this year’s keynote speaker. For a full list of programs, please visit

We invite you to attend our roundtable and the other events for faculty, postdocs, and TAs!

Roundtable Discussion: Teaching in a Post-Truth Culture

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2:30 – 4:00 p.m., in Westcott 201
Facilitators: Leslie Richardson and Jen Bartman

When it’s becoming increasingly difficult for students—and citizens—to decide what to believe, our responsibilities as college faculty have never been more pressing: If we don’t teach our students to think critically, who will? In this roundtable discussion, we will explore and discuss our current “post-truth” culture, our beliefs about the role of a university in such a time, and what this role means for our teaching, including how we might prepare our students to be savvy citizens and critical consumers of information. All faculty, postdocs, and teaching assistants are welcome to join us for a timely discussion and light refreshments.

Click here to RSVP. Responses are appreciated but not required. Thank you!

Faculty Panel: Critical Thinking Across Contexts

Wednesday, April 3rd, 2:00-3:00 p.m., in Strozier Library Bradley Reading Room
Panel Presentations with Q&A / Moderated by Jonathan Daso

In this panel, three faculty from across the university will discuss how they support critical thinking in the unique contexts of their disciplines and beyond. Arienne Ferchaud, from the School of Communication; Richard Morris, from the School of Communication Science and Disorders; and Marlo Ransdell, from the Department of Interior Architecture and Design will each give a brief talk about their teaching, followed by a Q&A and discussion with the audience.

TA Panel: Critical Thinking in Lower Division Classes

Wednesday, April 3rd, 3:30-5:00 p.m., in Strozier Library Bradley Reading Room
Panel Presentations and Q&A with Program for Instructional Excellence (PIE) Associates: Vivianne Asturizaga (Music), Jeff Conley (Economics), Kate Hill (Biology), Amanda Kowalosky (Psychology), and Joshua Tanis (Music).

A panel of experienced TAs from various disciplines will discuss how they encourage and embed critical thinking in their courses. There will also be time for question and answers.Pre-registration is encouraged, but not required.