What Worked, What Didn’t: Course Reflection for the End of the Semester

Reflective writing enhances student metacognition and learning, which is why many of us integrate reflective assignments into our American literature and composition classes. Similarly, reflective teaching provides an opportunity for instructors to articulate their course’s strengths, identify areas for improvement, and strategize for the next semester. We spend so much time designing courses, organizing content, and crafting student learning outcomes that the daily yet significant details of what worked and what did not in terms of assignments, readings, discussion prompts, pacing, etc., may be lost in the shuffle from semester to semester. Course reflection is important because it ensures that our “big picture” pedagogical goals and values align with our everyday teaching practices.

Yet while many of us may assign a reflective essay at the end of this semester in order to reinforce students’ deep learning, very few of us will take the time to reflect on our own teaching practices–what we and our students accomplished and what we would do differently next time. The end of the semester is such an exhausting time and reflective practice requires the higher-order thinking that many of us may lack after grading stacks of essays! But setting aside just a few minutes at the end of the semester for course reflection might help you–and your students–as you return to your syllabus after the holiday break.

Books-and-red-wineIf you have just 10-15 minutes, make a cup of tea or pour a glass of wine. Think about and write responses to these questions:

  • What was the best moment in the course? How can my students and I have more moments like it?
  • What was the most challenging moment and why? How will I respond next time?
  • In what ways did my students surprise me this semester?

These questions might help you consider which assignments and readings to keep, cut, or change. Of course, not all aspects of a course are in your control. But what elements are? What changes can you make to enhance student learning?

If you have more time, pour another glass of wine, look over your syllabus and assignment sheets, and reflect on the various course components:

  • Syllabus
    • Policies to add or change
    • Student learning outcomes to change or add
    • Reading and assignment schedule: Is it coherent? Did the pacing work?
  • Writing assignments
    • Clarity
    • Assignment scaffolding
    • Did each writing assignment promote student learning?
    • Is there a writing assignment that could be cut?
  • Reading assignments
    • Pacing
    • Sequencing
    • Which readings to keep? To cut?
    • Which texts/authors worked?
  • Class sessions
    • Best lecture/worst lecture
    • Class discussion: What made them talk?
  • Did you try something new?
    • What made it effective?
    • What would you change?
    • What did you and your students learn from it?

Your future self will thank you for taking these notes while the semester is still fresh on your mind. And your future students will thank you as well: instructor reflection promotes student learning and improves the classroom experience.

Now, pour another glass of wine and celebrate the end of the semester! You’ve earned it!




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