When the semester ends, we’re often exhausted and eager to move on to other projects. Growth as a teacher, however, requires a commitment to reflection, iteration, and the refinement of our practice. Below are some tips to help you reflect on your course after the semester in ways that can strengthen subsequent teaching experiences.
This guide can be read both linearly and non-linearly. To jump to a specific section, follow the links below.
Think about revision
It’s possible that you might teach this course again or a course in which you’ll use similar activities or assignments. Even if you don’t think you’ll teach this course in the next semester, take a few minutes, before you head to the beach and block any CUNY-related thoughts from your mind, to think about what you want to keep, what you want to revise and keep, and what you want to toss totally when you teach the course again.
If you annotated your syllabus throughout the semester, then read through those notes and make a ‘to do’ list or a quick summary of them so that, when you return to planning, you have some guidelines for how to jump back in.
If you didn’t annotate your syllabus, take a few minutes to jot down a few notes about what readings, assignments, and so forth that you absolutely want to keep, or what new ideas you have that you want to try next time. Think about the feedback you received from students through both formal and informal evaluations. How can you incorporate this feedback into your next class?
A small pocket of time at the end of the semester can help you get ahead for the next semester. If you know you’ll teach the class again in the next semester, think about what can you do now that will save you planning time or keep you from forgetting great ideas later. If your next course is already on CUNYFirst, add your textbooks. Write out a draft calendar for your syllabus. If you’ll use the same assignments, begin to update the date information.
Shifting Existing Course Information to a New Space
If you used a course blog or another platform such as Blackboard, you might want to move some or all of your information to a new space. This will clear out the space for the new semester, but also ensure that you do not lose work from the previous semester. Make sure you note how long the information will be available on your previous platform and make sure you migrate any resources, posts, and any other data you want to preserve before then.
Tip: You can ‘archive’ your Blackboard course and move the material to a new semester. For more information, check out the tutorial here.
Tip: If you used a WordPress blog for your course and want to do so again, you have a couple of options. You can export your old course’s site by using the export and import tools in WordPress. Check out a quick tutorial here. You can choose what content from your old site to export (posts, pages, media, etc.) You can also just reuse your original course blog, adding new students to your old course blog. However, if you have had your students adding content to that site and don’t want your new students to see the previous semester’s work, you’ll need to hide that old student work by reverting their posts to “draft” in the Dashboard. This has the disadvantage of making it harder for former students to access their work in your class, so you might encourage them to migrate their work to a personal storage space before the semester’s end. One of the advantages of using a course blog instead of Blackboard is the relative permanence of student work. Unlike Blackboard, where students lose access to their coursework as soon as the semester ends, a blog allows your students to access their work after the course is over.
At the end of the semester, you’ll likely have an abundance of paperwork. Be mindful about what you keep copies of, and carve out a space (digital or hard-copy) where you maintain records of your teaching. This can include everything from syllabi, to gradebooks, to assignments, to in-class writing. Below are two sets of paperwork that we particularly recommend keeping.
Record of grades & attendance
Schools vary in terms of how long students have the right to dispute their grade. Be sure that you know your school’s grade change policy. In the event that a student initiates a grade dispute, it’s important that you have the necessary documentation to support the given grade.
Students may come to you a semester, a year, or even a couple of years after you’ve had them in your class. You’ll likely have engaged with dozens or hundreds of students since then, and the records you keep will be helpful in refreshing your memory.
- your gradebook
- any unreturned papers (such as final exams, final papers, etc)
- your attendance records
- course syllabus, grading policy documents, and all rubrics and assignments
- student emails (you don’t need to print them, but perhaps keep them in a mailbox folder).
Many departments offer adjuncts and GTFs a drawer to keep materials. If the drawer is secure, you can keep the information there.
For tips on record keeping during the semester, see “Record Keeping” in our During the Semester guide.
Sample Papers and Standout Examples
You might want to keep a few papers on hand as examples to share with a class or models that you can work through, critique or peer review with future students. Make sure you get each student’s permission and preference for name/no name on the paper. You might consider sending out an announcement or including on your syllabus that all work that is submitted can be used anonymously for “future educational purposes,” and asking that students who wish to be excluded from this policy email you.
Additionally, if there are standout examples you might want to keep them for your teaching portfolio.
Making Use of Evaluations
Students almost always complete an Official Course Evaluation; this is administered at the end of the semester and covers questions ranging from the competence and preparedness of the instructor to the way in which the course met its objectives. Each school has its own observation question set. These observations go to the department first but are made available to instructors after the end of the semester.
While the evaluation results may give you valuable information, they have many limitations, such as not being discipline-specific or course-specific enough to help you assess the success of your course. However, taking a few moments to review the evaluation and allowing it to guide your future work can be useful. If the data on the observation reveals that students were unanimous or close to unanimous in a particular question, be sure to consider it. For example, students indicating that they did not understand how the reading related to the course does not necessarily mean that you need to toss all of that reading and find new titles; rather, you might choose to do some contextualizing of texts and how they relate to the course/course goals when you distribute the material.
In addition to the quantifiable answers, there is typically space for students to make a few notes or give more general feedback. Do not be surprised to find overly effusive or downright vicious student comments. Remember that these students are often rushing through the evaluation and may not think through any comments that they choose to make, so be mindful to measure their feedback against your own good judgment.
The institutional student evaluations are something you should consider including in your teaching portfolio so it is to your benefit to preserve them. Some systems allow you to export the evaluation; for others, you may have to take screen shots. In any case, make sure to save the file with other teaching documents, and to label it with all relevant course information.
Remember that the formal evaluation is just one tool you can use to measure the effectiveness of your course, and that it may not be the most useful one. You can ask your students to evaluate your course throughout the semester with evaluations that you create. While the questions in the course evaluations required by your campus are determined by the administration, in an unofficial evaluation you can ask those questions that you feel would be the most helpful to you. You might hand out a form or ask students for feedback verbally. A useful evaluation will help you answer questions you might have about the course. Think through what information is most useful to you from your students, and create questions that will solicit appropriate feedback. True reflection and evaluation are difficult tasks, so try not to overburden your evaluation, but you might leave space at the end for open reflection.
Questions that could help you assess the success of your readings and assignments could be:
- What reading resonated the most and why? Or: if they had to recommend one reading to a friend which would they recommend?
- What reading did they care for the least and why? Or: if they could give assign a reading to an enemy which would they assign?
- What assignment was most effective and why?
- What assignment was least effective and why?
If you tried out something different this course, like a new technology, in-class activity, or discussion structure, this is a great opportunity to solicit feedback on the student experience. As with the formal evaluations, these informal evaluations have a place in your Teaching Portfolio, so keep a copy of useful ones for future use.
Your Professional Development
Teaching is a fundamental part of your professional training. The skills you build as an instructor position you for future success within academic careers and in many other career paths. As you continue to gain teaching experience, reflect on each semester as part of the story of your professional growth.
Keep a copy of your syllabus and each assignment you design
Your teaching portfolio may include a range of syllabi and assignments you’ve designed. Make sure you keep a copy of syllabi, assignments, and assessments so that you have as many options as possible to choose from for your teaching portfolio. As the semester ends, you might make small notes about the genesis of a certain syllabus theme or assessment. These brief notes may prove useful later when you are asked to talk about your approach to teaching or ways you have developed as an instructor.
Is there an article?
Think about the larger impact of practices from your courses this semester. Did you try something new: a new assignment? A new classroom design? Reflect on your pedagogical practices and what new learning experiences they opened up. Is there something you want to write about and share with other instructors?
There are several journals geared toward articles about pedagogical practices, including the Journal of Interactive Technology and Pedagogy, published out of the Graduate Center. For a list by discipline, check out the Association of College and Research Libraries’ list or Kennesaw State University’s directory which also features a link to a list of annual teaching and pedagogy conferences.
Publishing in the field of pedagogy will demonstrate to future employers that you have the capacity to carefully reflect on and engage with past experiences in pursuit of professional development.
Prepare ways to discuss your teaching experience in job applications and interviews
Many GC students will teach a significant number of classes, and it can be hard to keep track of all the innovative syllabi, assignments, assessments, and activities that you designed for each course. Consider making a running document where you list every single section you’ve taught with the topic, the catalogue course description. and a paragraph describing your focus/thematic lines, if applicable. Within this document, jot down a few notes about skills you developed throughout the courses, new approaches you designed, and best practices that you employ continually.
Documenting these experiences will help you when you go on the job market, academic or non-academic. Take time to reflect on:
- the types of students who were in your class (and ways you tailored your instruction to best serve your students)
- the technology you used, and perhaps why some technologies were more successful than others in your class
- the assignments you devised. Perhaps choose one or two particularly effective assignments, and write a paragraph about the choices you made in creating it.
- what you learned
- where you struggle or failed, or felt most challenged
Tip: As you list and reflect on the skills you developed or utilized in teaching a particular course, begin to think about how you would frame them both for academic and non-academic jobs.
Tip: Don’t short-change the breadth of experience you have as an instructor. Depending on your course, you may have gained management, mentorship, and advising experience, as well as improved general instructional skills like public speaking, organization, oral and written communication, and evaluation and design.
Teaching is incredibly hard work! Be sure to take some time after your semester has ended to reflect on and take some joy from the impact you’ve had in the classroom!