Representing Your Teaching
CTE offers a two-day Best Practices Institute each May for faculty members and instructional staff members who would like to reflect on and learn to represent their teaching. Please follow the link if you’d like to learn more about it.
Avoid pedagogic amnesia
Keeping a record of what you have done, along with notes about why you did what you did, is the best way to avoid what Lee Shulman has described as “pedagogic amnesia.” It’s easy to forget which assignments clearly showed whether or not students understood a key concept. Did grading essay exams take that much time? At the end of a semester, what gaps were evident in students’ learning, calling for a restructuring of part of a course?
To keep a record of a course, you may wish to compile the items listed in the box below. If you gather these kinds of materials for each course you teach, you’ll have a complete record of your teaching. From it, you’ll be able to illustrate the trajectory of your teaching accomplishments for your reviews.
Items you can compile for a course record include:
- List of course goals (may be included in the syllabus)
- Brief description of how assignments relate to course goals (may be included in the syllabus)
- Samples of student work at various levels (high, mid, low)
- Notes on student performance:
- Were the course goals appropriate?
- How many students/what percentage achieved course goals?
- What gaps in student learning are evident?
- What material needs more time or a new approach?
Make learning visible to your teaching community
After a course, a successful teacher takes evidence of learning found in student work and reflects upon what it says about the course. It’s challenging to identify weaknesses in an instructional design and plan changes that might benefit future students. In many cases, this involves making the results of our teaching public and seeking comment from others, much as we do in other parts of our creative lives. Peer review of teaching provides an occasion for examining the intellectual work of teaching, including constructive feedback on that work from professional peers.
In the process of offering a typical course you’ll likely spend about 50 hours in contact with students (in class, labs, studios or consultations), and probably the same amount of time outside class in preparation, reading student work, and general course management. Rather than discard the products of that substantial amount of time, it’s very useful to set aside half a day to write down your impressions of a course. You could comment on which topics or issues you would emphasize more or de-emphasize in your next offering. You could discuss how well you felt the assignments, projects and exams represented the skills and knowledge you hoped to see in your students. Making notes about such changes is best accomplished right after the course is over, while the ideas and experiences are still fresh in your mind.
You also can save a random but representative sample of student work as an archive of what you and they accomplished together (see Student Consent Form (pdf)). It’s disheartening to a teacher to think that after years of teaching there has been no progress in advancing students’ understanding of our field. If you have a small but accessible record of some key performances from several offerings of a course, you can review them for any trends. Maybe you see some consistent problems that you can address with more time, different materials or additional practice. Maybe you see some improvement over time that was not apparent to you in the midst of delivering courses. Ultimately this is why we teach, to help students appreciate and understand our fields as we do, and having a small archive allows you to see how you are doing in a longer perspective.
Whatever your field of research or creative activity, you keep archives of your work. You have tapes of performances, examples of studio work, lab data, notes from library visits or interviews; in many ways you capture the important products of your inquiry into your field. Given the amount of time you likely spend each semester on teaching (probably more than 200 hours total for two courses), it would be a shame to lose all the benefits of that work by not developing some record of what was accomplished. The syllabi, assignments and student work are done anyway, so you should not simply throw them away. Adding a half-day of reflection and writing, to capture your insights at the moment of greatest understanding, is a wise investment. It will help you grow as a teacher and achieve your goals, and ultimately those reflections can document your intellectual work as a teacher.