Active reflection of learning in every class

Andrea ChesterLeave a Comment

This suggestion is from The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Art Jipson, an associate professor of criminal justice and sociology at the University of Dayton, sets a timer to chime 10 minutes before the end of each class. At that point Jipson will usually pause and say something like “Ok, let’s reflect on what we just did.”

It’s time for students to distill what was covered in the class. Jipson carries a list of his own takeaways, but mostly listens and writes down what students say. Then he asks them to describe strengths and weaknesses of the class that day. A student might say, for instance, that it covered too much material. The goal is for students to give succinct responses, and Jipson emphasizes that there are no right or wrong answers.

In case students want to say something but are uncomfortable bringing it up in front of their peers or professor, Jipson also provides a way for them to comment anonymously online.

This type of immediate debriefing is called a hotwash, a term used to describe the way first responders evaluate their efforts in the wake of a disaster. In the classroom, Jipson said, a hotwash serves several purposes, like enhancing student engagement and building community.

Jipson uses students’ feedback on what they thought went well or not so well in a number of ways. It allows him to make adjustments in the rest of the course.

When the next class period begins, Jipson refers back to the hotwash, and opens the floor in case students have further reflections to add. Even if students have nothing to add, he said, asking the question helps them form connections, illustrating that “thinking like a researcher, like a scholar, like a writer is always an ongoing process” and that a course is more than the sum of its individual sessions.

Jipson tried a variety of approaches for helping students “feel like they’re active participants in the class” before settling on this one a few years ago, he said. Since adopting the hotwash, Jipson finds himself using it more and more frequently, now ending nearly every class this way.

While Jipson generally teaches classes of 25 to 40 students — a class size that might particularly lend itself to this kind of technique — it can be adapted for a larger class using online polling.

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