Post-Semester Reflection

Woman in business suit with fountain pen looking thoughtful.

Now that your last class has been taught, exams given and grades turned in, it’s time to kick back and enjoy some rest and relaxation, right? Not to say that you haven’t earned it, but first it might be a good idea to add a third “R” to the mix. That would be reflection.

While the first thing the word reflection might bring to mind is the scientific definition, the Oxford Online Dictionary gives the second meaning as “Serious thought or consideration.”

The Center for Teaching and Learning at the University of Washington (Seattle) lists among its resources a section on Self Reflection on Teaching.

“It is key to engage systematic reflection on your own teaching. Some easy yet consistent strategies for keeping track of your teaching are to annotate assignments, tests and class plans on an ongoing basis. This will help you keep track of things to keep and/or eliminate when you teach the class again. End-of-term summaries also help you reflect on your teaching and provide excellent fodder for the development of new classes and or improved versions of the same class.”

In Wilbert J. McKeachie’s Teaching Tips: Strategies, Research, and Theory for College and University Teachers the author notes, “One key to improvement is reflection – thinking about what you want to accomplish, and what you and the students  need to achieve these goals.” [p. 6-7 in 11th edition, Houghton-Mifflin, 2002]

While the semester is still fresh in your memory, ask yourself some questions. What was successful? What wasn’t? Were your goals and objectives for student learning met? Do your assessments accurately capture student learning? What do you want to do differently the next time you teach this course?

If your classes went smoothly and students seemed engaged, there may be few changes to implement with the next iteration.  If you are feeling that the entire course was a disaster, Using Failure to Reflect on our Teaching, a post in the Chronicle of Higher Education ProfHacker blog written by Janine Utell, Associate Professor of English at Widener University in Pennsylvania, will help you to take something positive from the situation.

Utell offers strategies for assessing specific failings and finding remedies –looking at past successes can help you to solve current problems.  She writes: “If I can pinpoint a specific strategy that failed, I stop thinking of myself as a failure and can find something concrete to fix. I can use past problem-solving to remind myself of my strengths: I’ve fixed that before, I can fix it again. I can see, too, if perhaps a class going badly came from something that was out of my control. Every class has a life of its own. That means every class that fails, fails in a particular way. It also means that every class that succeeds does so at least in part because of a particular and providential confluence of our strengths and those of the students.”

Taking time for reflection now will prove beneficial at the end of the summer when the next semester starts.

Macie Hall, Senior Instructional Designer
Center for Educational Resources

Image Source: Microsoft Clip Art