Don’t Let Your Good Ideas Get Away
Congratulations! Spring 2022 is a wrap and summer break is just around the corner. We can all be proud of the learning our students did this semester, and now that we’re done (or almost done, if you’re still grading) we get the pleasure of starting to ruminate a little on what we’ve learned, too. One of the exciting things about teaching is that it’s a puzzle of infinite complexity. Each semester we learn more about our craft, so each time we teach, we can make our courses a little more powerful and effective—and we can have a little more fun teaching.
Because the semester ends with several time-sensitive tasks, it’s easy to lose the opportunity, but it’s worth carving out some time to reflect on the courses we taught this semester. Our exceptionally organized colleagues may take notes about what worked best and what flopped after each class day, but the rest of us probably still need to write down our reflections before we forget. If it’s already getting difficult to remember what you wanted to tinker with, you can look back at your course schedule, Canvas shell, assignments, exams, or students’ work to jog your memory.
As we reflect, we should focus first on what worked best. Which course goals were you delighted to see students attain? What exercises or practice really moved them along? Next, we can identify where students struggled or were frustrated, and where we ourselves struggled or were frustrated. (We may also get feedback in either category from the SPCI survey results.) We might consider, for example, the pacing of the course, whether students needed more or less time than we expected to master a concept or develop a skill. We can think about our priorities and whether the work students spent the most time on aligned with those priorities. We can identify where communication broke down, where our expectations and students’ interpretation of them didn’t match up. If students performed poorly on a particular assignment or exam, could we make the instructions and criteria more transparent? Did they need more scaffolding to exercise particular skills? Perhaps most importantly, we can consider whether students’ grades accurately reflected their learning.
The most effective course revisions come from thoughtful reflection on—and accurate information about—students’ thinking. Because of our advanced levels of expertise, though, we can make incorrect assumptions about what students know and are able to do. For example, last semester, a colleague shared his frustration that students weren’t coming to class prepared; they didn’t do the assigned readings, which were articles he thought were level-appropriate and engaging. At first, he assumed his students just weren’t interested in the subject matter, but through an end-of-semester survey, he learned that students were struggling to understand the texts and giving up. He realized they needed more support learning how to read effectively in the discipline, so he adjusted the course to provide more structure, spending some class time discussing the kinds of texts students would read and why. He also helped them to better understand what they should be looking for by providing guiding questions. Then, at the beginning of class, students had some time to discuss their responses to those questions before doing an activity (worth points) in which they practiced applying some of the ideas from the reading. He found that this structure provided both the support and the motivation students needed to read, and to work to understand the readings, more often.
Some of the changes we want to make to our courses may be structural, and others may be more focused. Of course, we don’t have to make them all right now, but if we take note before we move on, when we sit down to prepare our fall courses, we’ll have a record of our best advice to ourselves.
If you’d like some support to reflect on the spring semester and make plans for summer or fall, please contact us for a consultation at firstname.lastname@example.org. We look forward to working with you!
Although this is our last weekly message until August, we’ll be open over the summer. Stay tuned for announcements about events and opportunities. We’re also eager to support you through one-on-one consultations. If you’d like to retool your course, develop new assignments, examine your exams, or anything else, we’re happy to be of assistance. If you’d like support in interpreting and responding to student evaluations, we can help with that, too. We wish you a wonderful summer!