You just submitted grades and you’re getting ready to teach again. You remember how your classes went, but each time you start planning, you wonder
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Thank-you notes make people happy. For as much joy as they give me, I don’t send them enough. In fact, I think writing thank-you notes is a dying art. They’re overlooked forms of positive closure. Gratitude on its own is powerful, and when it’s exchanged, it feels amazing. After I thought about what notes of gratitude could accomplish, I started emailing thank-you notes to my students, waiting until well after the semester for the most impact.
Providing detailed feedback is a critical component of effective teaching. Feedback serves as a one-to-one conversation with students and can be a powerful tool to teach course content, mentor students, and help them to develop a growth mindset (Dweck, 2006). Decades of research have identified the characteristics of good feedback as expedient, specific, and related to the expectations of the task (Nichols & Macfarlane‐Dick, 2006). Feedback must also provide students with information about how to improve their work, which is focused on future learning (Sadler, 1989).
“Are students getting it? How do I know?” Instructors answer these questions through a variety of assessments, from small, informal methods such as asking students if they have questions, to formal, graded methods such as multiple-choice exams and research papers. These assessments provide cognitive feedback, whether in the form of a score, a correction, lack of an answer, or an abundance of questions. But is that the whole picture? While these assessments can help us gauge how well students are “getting it,” it often fails to explain why or why not.
Graduate students frequently get the chance to meet one-on-one with their professors. Yet at the undergraduate level, especially during the first year, students rarely get that chance, unless they take the initiative to come to office hours or schedule a meeting.
This is unfortunate. I teach first-year writing, and at least once every semester, I meet one-on-one with each of my students, usually to review a draft of their first paper. My students love these conferences, partly because they offer a chance for personal contact with their instructor, and partly because the conferences provide them with uniquely meaningful feedback.
The following conceptions of feedback were offered by a group of students studying to become physical therapists. They were asked to recall a situation during their time in higher education when they felt they’d experienced feedback. Then they were asked a series of questions about the experience and about feedback more generally: “What is feedback? How would you describe it? How do you go about getting it? How do you use it?” (p. 924) The goal of the study was to investigate students’ conceptions of feedback. Student conceptions involve underlying personal beliefs, views, and ideas, unlike student perceptions, which explore how the feedback is understood. Analysis of transcripts from the interviews reveal four conceptions of feedback held by this student group
One thing about student evaluations that troubles me is how they give students the impression that it’s the teacher who makes or breaks the course. A few instruments query students about their own efforts, but I’m not sure those kinds of questions make it clear that what happens in any course is the combined result of teacher and student actions. Early in my teaching career, I heard a wise colleague tell students, “It’s not my class. It’s not your class. It’s our class, and together we will make it a good or not-so-good learning experience.”
From the bold honors student to the timid learner in the back row, reflection can help students become more aware of themselves as learners. But because we often rely on writing as the primary mode of metacognitive reflection, some students, especially those who struggle with college-level writing, may not experience the full cognitive benefits of reflection. For such students, the stress of writing can compromise their focus on reflection.