Closing the Loop

DecisionSimon, in his post last week, explained the need to be as transparent as possible about what we do by explicitly identifying to students how our actions relate to their learning — for example, by telling students that the feedback we provide is in fact feedback. Just as importantly, students need to be more aware of how what they do affects their learning. Students need to realize, as the saying goes, that instructors can lead students to knowledge but can’t make them drink it.

I’ve been using the end-of-semester quality of failure assignment, which first came to my attention when Amanda posted about it,  in all my undergraduate courses. The quality of failure essay has been a great success; I have been tremendously impressed with students’ willingness to honestly evaluate their efforts in a course.

However, analyzing failure is self-assessment ex post facto; it would be nice to bookend this with an ex ante instrument at the beginning of a course.

Evergreen State College’s academic statement provides a model. Evergreen’s academic statement is a process of formative assessment that extends across four years of college. It asks each student to reflect annually on his or her educational choices, why they were made, and whether he or she is attaining his or her academic goals. The objective is to make students more aware of and more deliberate in the choices they make while in college.

So I’m now making plans for a similar writing assignment for the start of the semester in each of my courses. The assignment will ask students to write about:

  • What do you plan to learn in this course?
  • Why does this knowledge interest you?
  • What will you need to do to learn the knowledge that you want to learn?
  • How do your goals for this course correspond to how you are living your life?

At the end of the semester, when students are reflecting on how and why they’ve failed, and what they’ve learned from their failures, I’ll point them back to what they wrote at the beginning of the semester.

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