End-of-term debriefing on big-picture learning

by Julie Dodd

students taking exam in auditorium

At the end of the term, teachers (and students) can get caught up in rush of final assessments and grades. That’s important for officially completing the course, however, we can end the term thinking of the details of the course rather than the big-picture learning experience of our course.

Taking time in one of the last classes of the term for a reflection activity can help both us as teachers and our students have more of a sense of closure and accomplishment.

I’d suggest that you introduce this activity in the framework of what your last graded assignment is, so that the students will consider this activity to be potentially helpful for them as they study for the exam or complete the last project.

Provide a brief overview of the course, noting the major goals (Student Learning Outcomes) and the assessment activities the students have completed throughout the course. I’ve found that as I provide that overview, students make comments like: “I’d forgotten about that assignment” or “I’m a better editor of my own writing now.”

As you talk about the course, connect it to other courses they will be taking and to their career goals. Ask the students to contribute to the discussion. Often they will make the point that you were planning to make or may raise an issue that you hadn’t considered.

Now’s the time for a Think-Pair-Share activity.

What the Best College Teachers Do - book coverAsk them to list two or three key learnings they’ve had or insights gained during the course. In What the Best College Teachers DoKen Bain writes about fostering “deep learning,” where students don’t just remember facts but develop understandings.

Tell the students that you’ll be collecting these but that they don’t need to include their name. (You should be prepared to distribute paper for this activity, as many students will have a laptop or tablet but not a notebook.)

You can tell them to include a question – if they have one — about the last graded assignment (i.e., the final exam, presentation or paper).

Give them two or three minutes to complete their writing. Then ask them to talk over what they’ve written with a partner. Tell them that each will have a minute to talk and that after they’ve talked together, you’ll be asking them to share their comments with the class.

Then ask the students to share.

One reason I like Think-Pair-Share activities is because I can feel comfortable calling on students who might not volunteer, as everyone has had time to formulate an answer. This is a great way to encourage the quieter students in the class to contribute.

I also like this kind of activity because of the element of the unexpected, which keeps me on my toes. Because you’ve framed the conversation as considering the “big picture” of the course and the understanding gained during the course, you may get a few unexpected assessments from the students and some questions requiring you to help make sense of course content or assignments.

Thank the students for their comments and for their involvement in the course during the term. If appropriate and if you have time, you can talk about what you’ve learned during the term and adjustments you’ve made to your teaching or the course design.

Now is a good time to ask the students to complete the course evaluation. (More on that in another post.)

You’ll leave the room while the students complete the evaluation. During that time, you can quickly look through their written comments, which you collected. Identify questions you need to answer about the final exam/project and any topics that you see in their comments that you’d like to respond to.

Be sure you’ve bugeted time to return to class to have adequate time to talk about the final exam/project. The reason some students attend those last classes for the term is to see if they can gain any additional help with the last graded assignment.

You can follow-up on the conversation and their questions with a post in the course management system.

Reading the students’ comments about their big take-aways from the course can be another way for you to determine the success of what you wanted the students to gain from the course. Based on their feedback, plus their performance on course assignments and what you learn from the course evaluations, you can make adjustments for how you teach the course the next time.

1 thought on “End-of-term debriefing on big-picture learning

  1. Pingback: 5 New Year’s resolutions for college instructors | Strategies for Successful Teaching

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