Notes from the reflective teaching Brown Bag, 10/13

Here are a few notes from the October 13 lunchtime discussion in the CLS Library, facilitated by Suzanne Young. I joined a bit late and when some strategies for reflection were already put up on the whiteboard, distilled from the ongoing conversation:

  1. Invite feedback from students early and often – here Thorsten Wilhelm shared a great feedback form that he distributes in his class every few weeks to ‘take the pulse’ of the students’ experience in the classroom
  2. Have a conversation about how class should be run
  3. Observe others teaching
  4. Ask for advice on teaching from peers
  5. Reflecting on evaluations
  6. Doing on-your-feet reflections, and being ready to change course as you’re teaching
  7. Writing post-lesson notes on the lesson plan immediately after teaching, taking note of what went well, and what didn’t, why and how. Serves as a resource for future iterations of the class
  8. Other forms of journaling: Teaching journals, clipping exemplary or problematic work or examples from students to serve as future resource.

About halfway through the hour, after discussing some of these general strategies, we then spent a few minutes free-writing about a reflective practice that we use. This gives me space to step out of the ‘event narrator’ role and say personally that blogging, and often blogging here, is a form of reflective practice for me that’s been of great value. Of course, one can’t write about some things that aren’t appropriate for a public venue, but the advantage gained is also great: a blog post makes me consolidate my thoughts about something, and also invites conversation beyond the physical place and time when I write these thoughts down.

As we came out of free-writing and began processing what we’d written, some other ideas came out:

  • Encouraging students to come to office hours and “break the ice” that often prevents students from signing up or actually visiting office hours. Of course there are challenges here: because students’ schedules don’t often match teachers’ preferred hours, you have to re-schedule
  • More thoughts on observing others’ classes: there’s a real value to getting insight from other experienced teachers, as much as or in different ways than the insights that students are able to give. The question arose of what the prevailing culture is here at Yale: are lectors and graduate students usually open to asking to observe another teacher, or asking someone to observe one’s own class? How does one go about this? How can you structure your own observations and others’ observations of your classes to reap the most benefit?
  • Think about possibilities for “observing yourself” — recording yourself with your own recorders (your phone, tablet, etc.) for all or a portion of a lesson. You can use a stand or a small tripod and check in with the students about permission–most people seemed to think this would be okay with them if it’s made clear that this is just for the teacher’s own improvement
  • The German department has a weekly reflection process for teachers, and discussing this became an opportunity for talking about the benefits of systematic, regular, institutionalized, and somewhat “distanced” observations

A final topic that Suzanne brought up was how instructors help students reflect on their own learning. Ideas included:

  • Having students keep “error logs” to keep track of their mistakes, correct them, and think about what kind of errors they’re making.
  • An open question, with an article that Sybil mentioned: How to get students to become more engaged in the teacher’s feedback? –> create expectations and structures of dialog between the teacher and the students on assignments, drafts of papers, etc.
  • Think about the kind of feedback you’re giving to students. Not giving them all the answers but leading them forward with your own comments. Don’t necessarily correct their errors; point them out and have them work with this into next assignments
  • Linguistic autobiographies? Introduction cards?
  • Frequent check-ins with students…

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