Course Portfolio Memo Two

I am sharing my process of course design via a series of memos I wrote during summer 2012. Below is the second memo in the series.

Course Portfolio Memo 2 English 145

Prediction of Student Learning

Note: Given that this is a new course for me, I have no direct evidence of student learning in this context. However, I am going to use this forum to predict what I think will happen based on teaching methods that I used in English 101. Then, at the end of the term, I can analyze what happened versus what I thought would happen.

Students come in to most classes with vastly different abilities and aptitude. Often, attitude—theirs and mine—determines students’ potential for success, as well as my job satisfaction.  Measuring student attitude is another matter, but it is oft reflected in their cumulative progress.   

I use a qualitative assessment tool to make improvements in my pedagogic approach over time, as well as to analyze student learning.  The assessment, given at the end of the term, has a threefold purpose. First, it helps students reflect on what they’ve learned, which serves a pedagogic purpose. Second, it provides me qualitative research to analyze to make future improvements based on student response. Third, it is akin to the memos of intent that they have completed for each project throughout the semester, so they have little trouble completing this longer report because it is a scaffolded assignment.

The assessment method takes one week of course-time to complete, which is a substantial time investment. I use this in lieu of a formal final examination. It is worth five percent of a student’s grade, but is not graded for formal grammatical structure, citation practices, or fluidity of prose. By removing the high-stakes assessment, I get more honest answers. Students seem to value being a part of the active research process, and I explain my ethical imperatives behind it. I introduce this assessment the first week of class and explain that we will revisit it during the final week.

Throughout the semester, I measure student learning by assessing and giving useful feedback for writing projects, blogs, and quiz grades in order to determine individual student improvements over time.  While grades are a good motivator for some students, I try to promote a greater sense of intrinsic motivation that carries deep learning forward to future projects. This is where the memos of intent are most useful. At its essence, a memo of intent is a self-reflective analytic document that details student understanding of:

•What the project was supposed to do/be

•How they went about completing the project

•Why the project was valuable to them, if indeed it was

•If they think they met the assignment’s goals, and how they did so

•If they feel they failed to meet the assignment, as well as why and how

•learning outcomes (provided) they addressed and how they addressed them

•How/why the project added to or revised their definition of a particular genre of writing

I use classroom assessment activities (Angelo & Cross) to make incremental adjustments based upon student suggestions.  Anonymity is important here, and students take it seriously once they know I’m sincere.

The biggest hurdle is helping student’s improve the general quality of their writing along with critical thinking skills.  One can have a piece of writing that is in form perfect but says nothing.  The memos of intent help students and me understand how and why this occurs. 

The English Department uses a final class evaluation via a scantron form. It is not particularly useful to me, and I don’t know how it is used it to determine my effectiveness in the classroom. It provides numerical data that is “perfect” in form but says “nothing” to me about how to improve.

Future Improvements

Based on my past experience with English 101, I might expect the following challenges.

In the beginning, the students will be hesitant to accept that all of the projects are not standard five-paragraph essays. Asking them to switch genres might be difficult for them. When that layer of complexity is introduced, their basic skills will likely regress but rebound to better effect, eventually. They might have difficulty adapting to different technological interfaces used for different rhetorical purposes.  In the past, this has been a psychological hurdle because they have a narrow definition of “writing.” They may find my assessment techniques complicated.

I don’t have student feedback for this course, yet. However, based on former feedback from English 101, I plan to implement the following:

•Provided sample documents along with major project assignments for analysis by students

•From these analyses I will create grading rubrics for future use

•I will use ReggieNet as the primary technological interface

•I will ask students for better feedback about their Julia Visor center experiences

•I will ask for feedback about group dynamics


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