August 27, 2013
Use a student reflection activity as an ice-breaker at the beginning of class and an assessment at the end of the term
Although we articulate student learning outcomes for course syllabi that describe what our students should be able to know and do by the end of the term, we often focus on disciplinary content and overlook learning outcomes related to the intellectual development of our students. Many courses include explicit learning outcomes related to personal growth, intercultural competence, or diversity skills. These learning outcomes can be made more explicit (and assessed) by including reflective assignments at the beginning and end of the term.Standpoint Statement ice-breaker activity
The Standpoint Statement (Brookfield and Preskill, 2005, p. 158-159) activity is a short, in-class written reflection. Give students a few minutes at the beginning of class to reflect on and describe how their personal and social identities might influence their perspectives on course topics. The written reflections should include the following elements
Follow-up small group discussion
Ask students to gather in small groups to discuss their reflective essays. The discussion serves as an ice-breaker and helps students get to know one another. The group discussion helps establish a classroom climate in which students can share personal perspectives in a safe, respectful, and civil environment. When faculty permit and encourage student to discuss personal experience in combination with more theoretical disciplinary perspectives, they enable students “to claim a knowledge base from which they can speak” (hooks, 1994, p. 148). This experience can be particularly important for creating an inclusive community in the classroom for students who may otherwise feel alienated from the norms of traditional academic culture (such as first generation students, students of color, etc.).
Final reflective paper (close-of-term assessment)
Consider using a closing assignment that encourages students to articulate how they have changed and grown as a result of their experiences in your course. Ask students to reflect on their experiences and self-assess their personal development in the course. Assign a Minute Paper (Angelo & Cross, 1993) or ask students to write a letter to themselves that you will collect and mail to them in a specified number of weeks or months after the term ends.
If you used the Standpoint Statement activity at the beginning of the semester, you can encourage students to think specifically about how their identities influenced their reception of course material. You might also ask students to describe any changes in their perspectives that were connected to their learning and experiences in the course (see Mezirow (1981) for more commentary on perspective transformation).
Bookending your course with reflective activities that prompt students to think about who they are and how their personal characteristics are related to your course can transform a mere content-laden class into a personal growth experience. These tasks can help students articulate how their identities and personal histories shaped their perception of course content at the beginning of the semester and, in turn, how their perceptions may have become more refined, deepened, or broadened through their learning experiences in the course.
Angelo, T. A., & Cross, K. P. (1993). Classroom Assessment Techniques: A handbook for college teachers (2nd Edition ed.). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Brookfield, S. D., & Preskill, S. (2005). Discussion as a Way of Teaching: Tools and Techniques for Democratic Classrooms. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
Duffy, D. K., & Jones, J. W. (1995). Teaching Within the Rhythms of hte Semester. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.
hooks, b. (1994 ). Teaching to Transgress: Education as the Practice of Freedom. New York, NY: Routledge.
Mezirow, J. (1981). A Critical Theory of Adult Learning and Education. Adult Education Quarterly, 32, 3-24.
Updated 08/27/13 lrg
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