’Tis the Season for a Pedagogical “Auld Lang Syne”

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Photograph of a tree that lost all of its leaves, clouds and a plane’s contrail in the far background_1.jpg

We’re limping our way to the semester’s end on our campus, and I can almost smell the anxiety, stale coffee, and giddy anticipation of winter break through my N95 mask. 

’Tis the season of self-reflection, as we invite (ok, require) students to write about how they have challenged themselves and what they have accomplished in a final essay, project, or perhaps over the whole semester, as I have written about here. We know that metacognition is a high-impact practice well worth developing, as Carol Dweck and others have argued (one of the many reasons I teach her work). 

Just as many of us share with our students our own writing processes, pains, and joys, I hope we do the same with our own self-reflective work. My next annual report is due in January, and so I have spoken with my students about my process of reflection (ok, this is also required) on the new strategies I am trying in my courses, what worked and what I plan to revise next time around, and my analysis of student evaluations. Their eyes, above their masks, got big. “Will you quote us?” a student asked. “Sure,” I said, “though of course student evals are anonymous, so I can’t cite you. I trust you to offer me effective feedback, just as you have trusted me all semester.” (I write this, well aware of the research that shows the problems with student evaluations, but, recognizing my privilege, I have mostly found them effective tools when framed this way.)

Any reflective writing prompt we offer our students at the end of a course could be a good model for our own self-reflection, so we don’t forget the lessons we’ve learned along the way, too. Here are a few I use for students that I plan to respond to in notes to myself. I suspect “Future start-of-semester April” will thank “Past end-of-semester April” for the insights, and (bonus!) this exercise will help me draft my annual report.

  • What have you tried that’s new? What would you do differently next time, and why?
  • What risks did you take, and what did you learn from them?
  • What are you most proud of?
  • What will you remember from this semester in five years? Why?
  • What advice would you give next year’s students (or next year’s instructor, who might well be you)?

What self-reflective prompts have you crafted for students that could also work for instructors, before we all “tak a cup o' kindness yet, / for auld lang syne”?


Image Credit: Photograph taken by the author, April Lidinsky

About the Author
April Lidinsky (PhD, Literatures in English, Rutgers) is Professor of Women’s and Gender Studies at Indiana University South Bend. She has published and delivered numerous conference papers on writing pedagogy, women's autobiography, and creative nonfiction, and has contributed to several textbooks on writing. She has served as acting director of the University Writing Program at Notre Dame and has won several awards for her teaching and research including the 2015 Indiana University South Bend Distinguished Teaching Award, the 2017 Indiana University South Bend Eldon F. Lundquist Award for excellence in teaching and scholarly achievement, and the All-Indiana University 2017 Frederic Bachman Lieber Memorial Award for Teaching Excellence.