Reflective Teaching

Reflective teaching involves a continuous appraisal of the approaches you use in your classes. Broadly, it involves keeping notes about what you have done in class, why you used that approach, and how it worked. Lee Shulman says this approach can help instructors avoid “pedagogic amnesia.” For instance, 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 student learning, calling for a restructuring of part of a course? Although you might feel exhausted at the end of the semester, we recommend reflecting on your teaching while the course is still fresh in your mind.

Ashley Herda in Sport, Health, and Exercise Science creates what she calls a living syllabus. She said the living syllabus worked like this: After she distributes the course syllabus to students, she sets aside a copy for herself and makes digital notes on it during the semester. If students find something unclear, she makes changes in the syllabus in edit trace immediately. If an assignment takes far less time than she expected, she highlights a section of the syllabus and makes notes in bubbles to the side. If there are problems in grading, she reminds herself right in the document. This approach makes it easy for her to make adjustments for a future class, she said. Rather than starting from scratch each time, she has the living syllabus ready to go.

Others use variations on that approach. John Bricklemyer in Engineering and Project Management jots down notes after each module in the online classes he teaches and frequently shares his thoughts with other instructors. Lee Stuart, leadership programs manager on the Edwards Campus, includes a reflection component for each assignment that asks students for their feedback on the assignment. That helps him get a better sense of places where students are struggling or of assignments that might be too easy or that are not meaningful.

The method of reflection on a course is less important than the act of reflecting, though. The disciplines we study and the courses we teach are dynamic and need continual oversight. Students change. Materials change. Our understanding of the subject matter changes. Needs of a department change. By keeping track of the ups and downs of a class, we remain more aware of the needs of our students and the adjustments we need to make along the way or in the future.