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Assignment Helps Students Assess Their Progress

Midterm evaluations bring a host of institutional measures to reach out to underachieving students. However, what might make the most difference to students’ success in their courses is to enable them to assess their own performance and set goals as well as to ask questions of and provide feedback to the instructor. Instructors can give students this reflective opportunity through an online journal assignment in which students do the following:

It is best to implement this progress report assignment about a third of the way through a course so that underperforming students can change trajectory before the midterm.

My experience with the assignment
Since I make all grades available on our university’s learning management system, students can always see their grades, but they often don’t check or acknowledge that these grades are available. Further, because not all professors provide grades automatically, students may not fully understand their progress even when grades are available.

Students take anywhere from 50 to 400 words to complete this journal assignment, based on their needs. Their posts range from brief conclusions that they are exactly where they want to be to detailed descriptions of all kinds of problems and questions about how to move forward. This process allows me to respond quickly to the positive reports (“Sounds great! Looking forward to the rest of the semester!”) and to dedicate more attention to those who are struggling. This journal assignment is not graded, but students are required to complete it before submitting any subsequent assignments.

Although I am always open to student feedback, students often interpret this assignment as their first opportunity to reflect on the course and ask questions. Some will provide context for their content knowledge and other school responsibilities, which is often very enlightening for me. Students generally express gratitude at the official opportunity to assess their progress in the course (even more so when they are doing poorly or not as well as they expected) because it is early enough in the semester to turn things around.

Even in the case of students who are negative and critical, the assignment provides an opportunity for me to show empathy and clear up any misunderstandings they may have about course procedures and requirements. That’s a much-preferred alternative to letting their discontent silently fester and then show up on end-of-semester evaluations. In some cases, it also uncovers opportunities to improve the course and correct mistakes. Colleagues from my discipline and others have received the same positive results I have and continue to use this assignment semester after semester.

Tips for getting started
Here’s what you need to know before you implement the progress report assignment in your courses.

This small activity can have a big impact on students and on your teaching. It also builds strong rapport at critical points early in the semester.

Christina Moore @fontanamoore is a special instructor of writing and rhetoric at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan. She also works in OU’s Center for Excellence in Teaching and Learning.