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Best Teachers Summer Institute, June 18-June 20, 2014

Reflective Exercise: Exercise Three

Putting the Focus on Student Learning

Introduction

In the first two exercises, we asked you to think about your teaching as it is designed and proposed (through the syllabus) and conducted (through actual classroom practice). But the conceptions and behaviors of teachers are only part of the educational picture. As teachers and as colleagues trying to assist each other with teaching, we also consider students and their learning. We consider how students understand (or don't) our explanations and queries; what sorts of misconceptions or questions about our fields they bring or construct; how we monitor and help direct their learning through appropriate assignments, exams, projects, and the like; and what new understanding they leave with at the end of a class or the course. 

For this exercise, we ask you to reflect on your teaching in terms of student learning. 

Part I

Choose an assignment--that is, instructions for a student project, paper, problem set, classroom assessment, computer simulation, etc.--that is designed to promote and/or elicit an important aspect of the learning you intend for students in one of your courses. (You may find it helpful to focus on the same course as in the syllabus exercise, though the choice is yours.).  Attach to the assignment several samples of student work, illustrating a range of responses, perhaps with your feedback included. 

Write a brief reflective memo (2-3 pages) in which you comment on what the assignment/student-work samples reveal about students' learning in your course; think of the audience for your materials/memo as a committee that is conducting a departmental program review and wishes to construct a map of what and how students' learn about your field as they move through various departmental courses. 

As you put together your work samples and write your reflective memo, use any of the following prompts that you find provocative: 

1. Why did you choose this particular assignment (as opposed to some other assignment) to reflect on? How is it important to your overall intentions, course design, conception of your field and the way you want students to understand it? Are there distinctly different formats or focuses you could have chosen for this assignment which would have highlighted different dimensions of the idea or the field? 

2. Why did you structure the assignment in the way that you did? How does its particular question, problem, or application reveal differences in student understandings or interpretations of a critical concept you are teaching? What patterns emerge as you study your students' work? 

3. What, in particular, do you hope your students will demonstrate in their work on this assignment? What kinds of questions will they learn to answer? What reasoning or other abilities will they develop? Drawing on a scientific research metaphor, what was your hypothesis about what students might learn from this class, unit, or course? What evidence does the assignment provide that would serve to confirm or disconfirm this hypothesis? Where else do you look for such evidence? 

4. What does your assignment and the students' responses to it tell you about how students are constructing the ideas that are central to the course and to your teaching goals? What misconceptions do they have about these ideas? How do you identify and address student errors and misinterpretations? 

5. On what standards do you judge student work on this assignment? How do these standards compare with those you would use in a more introductory/advanced class? How are your standards related to the standards you would use to evaluate a piece of scholarship which a colleague has asked you to critique? 

6. What thoughts do you have about improving your assignment, your course, or your teaching as a consequence of completing this reflective exercise? 

Part II

This exercise asks you to try your hand at just one of a number of ways through which one might document student learning. There are other ways to gather information about this aspect of teaching. For example, one might gather information through classroom assessment techniques, or probe students' thinking more deeply through individual or small group interviews. Even student ratings and comments on classes might provide evidence about student learning. Probably you can think of additional options, as well. What advantages and disadvantages do these alternative methods offer? What combination of them would offer a useful/fair/appropriate picture of your students' experience as learners. 

Developed by Russell Edgerton, Pat Hutchings, Kathleen Quinlan, and Lee Shulman and modified by Ken Bain. 

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