Whether your students excelled on mid-term assignments or fell short of your expectations, the time after mid-term can be challenging. Students may be complacent after doing well—or poorly—on mid-term work, and they may be distracted by looming end-of-term projects, independent work, or expected break plans. What can you as an instructor do to re-energize the class and help make the last few weeks of class more dynamic and productive?
Take the pulse of the class
Mid-term is an excellent time to find out how students are thinking about the class. A mid-semester evaluation helps you to determine what's working and what's not before the final evaluation, and it sends a strong message to your students that you care about their progress. These sorts of evaluations usually involve asking students open-ended questions, such as:
- What aspects of this course and your instructor's teaching help you learn best?
- What specific advice would you give to help your instructor improve your learning in this course?
- What steps could you take to improve your own learning in this course?
The responses are read only by you. After gathering this information it’s important that you tell students what you learned from their responses, what changes you are willing to make, and what changes you can’t make and why.
Try something new
Your mid-term evaluation may lead you to want to try something new in your pedagogical approach. Sometimes the sameness of our teaching format allows students to drift intellectually. If you usually lecture in class, try devoting time for students to discuss questions or problems in groups and share a few responses. Or pose provocative questions and poll student responses. (This can be done anonymously by means of personal responders, also called “clickers.” Contact the McGraw Center for the availability of a system to borrow.) If you normally use discussion, assign brief in-class writing or pair students up to analyze text or solve a problem. Help students think through challenging topics by forming, and then switching, sides in a debate.
Gauge students' progress
Whether you try a new approach or not, you may find it helpful to ascertain what students are learning as they approach end-of-term by means other than formal assignments.
- The “one-minute paper” is an exercise in which you ask students to take a moment at the end of class to write down a key point from the lecture or the discussion or identify a question they still have. Perusing these comments can help you determine if students are where you want them to be at that point in the class. Again, it's important that you respond to students' comments or questions briefly during the next class
- The “one-sentence summary” exercise asks students to summarize a key concept, method, or reading in one sentence by responding to a question, such as, “What is the author arguing?” “What is the cause/result of this process?” These short writing exercises may reveal students' misconceptions or struggles with the material.
- Partial or annotated problem-solving is an exercise to help students spend more time in the analytical phase of quantitative problem-solving. Novice learners typically want to rush to computation, often not thinking through the principles needed for solving specific problems. Assign students problems that you ask them to analyze rather than solve. Or ask students to write out in words their reasoning for various steps in a problem. These strategies help you see how students are thinking through problems and help encourage them to spend time on that part of the process.
These techniques allow you to connect with students and gain new insights into your teaching and their learning. Building on this information can add new energy to the last weeks of class.