Pedagogic Rashomon

I often do a "check-in" along about midterm each semester.  I ask the students to divide a single sheet of notepaper into a grid with four boxes and then to label each box with a question: What's working well in this class?  What could work better?  What one change could I make that would help you?  What one thing could you change?  

I just did this little exercise yesterday in the first-year honors seminar, a course that I have been fretting about for weeks. Every year the honors seminar is different.  A lot of it has to do with the particular personalities in the room.  Some groups are chatty and unfocused; others are intense but quiet.  This year's group presents its own set of challenges.  I have been pushing them hard on their writing, and I've sensed they were growing frustrated with me and the class.

Boy was I wrong.   My view of the seminar is not how they see it.  The "check-in" was considerably more positive than I expected.  They like the revision policy and the daily writing tips.  They really like the discussions and in-class writing we do on Tuesdays.  They also appreciated the detailed feedback on papers.  On the other hand, they want broader participation in class discussions and some said they just needed more time to process the material. 

Suggestions for changes included organizing one-on-one conferences outside of class to talk about writing and preparation.  That's probably a good idea.  The section is small enough that I can accommodate this request.  I'll also try to come up with some activities that garner broader participation.  On the whole, they think things are going well. 

So much for my fretting.

I don't always do the "check-in."  It depends on the class.   Even so, it's almost always worthwhile.  It reinforces the idea that you are there to help them.  And, if nothing else, it reminds you that the richest source of teaching tips, advice and best practice is sitting right in front of you.  All you have to do is ask.


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