Reflecting on the Fall Term

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Kitten touching a mirror, with the caption Time for ReflectionI kicked off this term by setting some New School Year’s Resolutions for myself, following the model of David Gooblar’s 4 Resolutions for the New Semester on Chronicle Vitae. Overall, my focus was on building more community (and by extension, participation) and improving assessment.

Now that I have reached the midpoint in my school year, it’s time for some reflection on what I have accomplished and what I still need to work on. I’ll address my ten goals from the fall one-by-one:

  1. Increase class participation. Oddly enough, the Digital Design Journals that I added to my course led to more interaction among students. I intended the journals to give students more practice in analyzing digital texts, which they did accomplish. Each student also presented a journal entry to the course, which led to great full-class discussions of rhetoric and design. I need to figure out how to accomplish the same engagement in my online courses.

  2. Give students more choice. I asked my technical writing students to Choose Their Own Projects, but I need to revise the assignment a bit. In particular, I need to make some Changes to My Coursework Proposal Assignment, which invites students to choose their assignments. I also need to do some work to ensure that they are stretching themselves with new genres they have no experience with.

  3. Switch to Pass/Fail grading. I did use Pass/Fail grading extensively in both courses I taught. The system isn’t perfect yet, however. Toward the end of the term, there was no time for revising, undermining the entire system. I wasn’t comfortable with failing students in the courses when their work didn’t achieve B-level standards. I have to build in more structure to ensure that students have time for revising failing work.

  4. Give feedback more quickly. The Pass/Fail system helped me out with my speed. I zipped through grading for all in-class work and weekly writing activities. Using mini-conferences more in my face-to-face class helped me provide lots of feedback as students quickly needed it. I need to figure out how to bring that dynamic to the fully-online courses.

  5. More formative feedback. I am doing better on this goal. When students did turn work in early enough or consulted me on drafts, I worked on providing constructive criticism and challenging them to improve their work. I need to do more for this goal, though. The timing complicates things—when I don’t receive work until the last minute, formative feedback is useless. There’s no time for revision, so students won’t use the advice.

  6. Ask students to track their own work. I added a participation log assignment to ask students to spend more time Tracking Their Participation. In addition, I developed a Participation Log Analysis Assignment to help them evaluate their participation in the course.

  7. Encourage more (or better) reflection. I need to spend more time on this goal in the spring. I asked students for reflection statements when they turned in their major projects; however, I haven’t done much to improve the process. I am going to work on integrating reflection more with the structures that encourage students to turn drafts in earlier.

  8. Add videos to online courses. I started the Fall Term with a WebEx session where I walked students through the course website and answered some basic questions. Only two students were present during the video, not surprising given that we share no common time when we can meet. Worse yet, I never managed to edit the video and post it online, so only those two students benefited. There are definite challenges. For example, I need to find $170 to buy Camtasia, so that I can edit footage properly. I think the videos are worth it, but it is a harder goal to achieve.

  9. Add an AMA session. I added an Ask Me Anything session, to all my classes this fall, as I explained in my Inviting Students to “Ask Me Anything” post. The discussion went really well. Seeing the questions students asked probably told me as much about them as my answers reveals about me. I’m definitely going to keep it as part of the beginning of all my courses.

  10. Encourage community. Around mid-October, I tried Organizing Online Writing Groups for my classes. I asked them to connect with one another for feedback and support as they needed it. The strategy still needs work. The biggest problem has been that students waited until the last moment to post to each other. The assignment led more to checking off a requirement than connecting and building community. I think it can be successful, but I’ll need to do more work to make it happen.

Overall, I accomplished a lot during this fall. There are still several places where I need to do more, but I’m happy with my progress so far. How about you? Was your fall term successful? What are you looking forward to doing next term? Leave me a comment below and let me know.


Credit: Kitten Meme created on the ICanHazCheeseburger site

About the Author
Traci Gardner, known as "tengrrl" on most networks, writes lesson plans, classroom resources, and professional development materials for English language arts and college composition teachers. She is the author of Designing Writing Assignments, a contributing editor to the NCTE INBOX Blog, and the editor of Engaging Media-Savvy Students Topical Resource Kit.