Rebooting After the Break
Spring break is back! After two years of COVID-19 disrupting our typical time off from classes, students and faculty alike are welcoming the return of our weeklong respite. Whether you’re traveling, staying put, catching up on projects, or claiming your well-deserved rest, we hope the time will be restorative. After a break in routine, it can be hard to regain momentum, so we have a few suggestions for helping students regain their focus when classes resume.
First, when we return from a break, we have an opportunity for a reset. For example, if you collected midsemester feedback from students, you can implement some of the changes they requested. If class discussions haven’t been as lively as you wish, you could try a more structured discussion activity. If your students tend to do in-class work in groups or teams, you can mix them up so they meet new people. If your students usually sit in rows, you could try asking them to arrange the desks in a circle, so they can see each other when they speak.
In addition to helping students reconnect with the classroom community, we can also help them reconnect with what they’ve been learning. During a break (possibly a week full of experiences more intense than classwork), it’s common to forget what they were thinking about and working on in their courses. Learning involves building knowledge and developing skills over time, so they likely need to review in order to get back on track. We can help to “interrupt their forgetting” by asking them to think back and reconstruct what they learned in the first months of the semester.
Researchers studying a phenomenon called the testing effect have established that “retrieval practice” improves memory and learning (e.g., Roediger and Karpicke, 2006). Summoning new knowledge from memory strengthens neural connections and enhances long-term retention; it’s far more effective than common study strategies like rereading and reviewing notes. You don’t actually have to give a test in order to harness the testing effect; you just need to prompt students to retrieve—and use—the important concepts and skills they still need to be building. Here are a few suggestions for bolstering students’ memories:
- Give an (ungraded) recall quiz. The first weeks of class probably seem like a long time ago, but it’s important that students think back to what they were studying then, so they see the connections to what they’re studying now. You can also make this a game, like Jeopardy.
- Have students reflect on what they’ve learned so far. You can ask them to identify two or three fundamental concepts they want to use in the future, or think about how they can apply the material in new contexts. This can also prompt them to consider how and why they value what they’ve learned and are learning.
- Have students create a timeline of the course. This is useful not just for prompting students’ memories, but for helping them trace connections amongst concepts and skills. When they have to consider what we did first, and why, they can begin to make meaning of what might be a barrage of new content.
- Have students create their own study guides. Asking students to determine which concepts are most important (and, as always, why) is good practice in self-regulated learning (Nilson, 2013).
There’s one very important proviso. Students will remember what we “test,” so be sure to focus on the most important concepts. If we quiz on minutiae, students will remember minutiae, at the expense of the major concepts.
If you’d like to think more about creating opportunities for retrieval practice, we’re happy to help. You can request a consultation by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you!
Equity and Inclusion in Higher Education: Strategies for Teaching
Wednesday, April 6th | 2:30-3:45pm | RSVP for the Zoom link
Please join us for an interactive session, during which our guest facilitators will share an approach to inclusive teaching that involves engaging in self-reflection, creating inclusive curricula, and implementing inclusive pedagogy. During the workshop, faculty will have the opportunity to accomplish the following:
- Examine the principles that guide their DEI work;
- Consider a variety of inclusive pedagogies appropriate for their teaching contexts;
- Review strategies for curating inclusive curriculum materials appropriate for their teaching contexts; and
- Identify potential inclusive assessments appropriate for their teaching contexts.
Rita Kumar, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the Faculty Enrichment Center at the University of Cincinnati and former Professor of English at University of Cincinnati, Blue Ash. Her research interests include problem-based learning, inclusive classroom practice, and faculty development. She serves on the Executive Board of the Women’s Network, American Council on Education Women’s Network-Ohio.
Brenda Refaei, Ed.D., is Director of the Learning + Teaching Center and a Professor of English and Communication at the University of Cincinnati Blue Ash College where she teaches developmental, first- and intermediate English composition. Dr. Refaei is an Engaging in Excellence in Equity Fellow.