Recast Student Reflection with Letters to Future Students

Alexandra Babino, Texas A & M University - Commerce

Jacqueline Riley, Texas A & M University - Commerce




What type of reflection on the part of educators and students leads to deeper learning and under what circumstances? For both educators and students, the place of reflection in transformational change has been simultaneously an unquestioned constant and site of critique (Beauchamp, 2015).


Generally, the onus of responsibility for reflection is on the individual, whether it be the individual educator or individual student, instead of a collective, organizational pursuit (Reynolds & Vince, 2017). However, engaging in reflection with others, especially with those who have shared the experience, can reinforce or extend learning in the same experience (Hartog, 2017). Thus, while typically engaged as an individual pursuit, reflection leading to transformational learning can be a social process that aides all those involved.


In our teaching, we have found one strategy that has allowed us to minimize the emergence of the same challenges year after year: current students' writing advice to future students. We have seen that by giving our current students time to provide guidance to future incoming students, we not only learn how our students are experiencing our classes, but our students also take the opportunity to reflect personally on significant learning and develop a sense of empowerment as they can give a seasoned perspective to future students. We've even noticed how this activity encourages students to reflect on how their decisions during the class impacted their learning and success within the course.

In turn, the advice provided by previous students serves as a guide to future students as they navigate the expectations for the course.

Creating Structure


Indeed, we could keep the question open-ended and ask, "What advice would you give to incoming students who will take this class?" Yet, we have found it more advantageous to request that their advice be more pointed and directed in regard to specific topics. For example, in a recent class, Author 1 (Babino) was interested in what advice her current students would give to future students regarding working with herself and specific strategies students employed for success in the course on particular assignments.


Afterward, you can also consider the direction you'd like to lead your students. Are there particular policies that students have struggled with understanding and applying? Are there specific assignments that have proven to be more challenging? We've found students benefit from added attention to the attendance policy; for online classes, we've seen students benefit from clarification around managing the course load and late work policies.


Writing Guiding Questions


After having a general idea in what direction we'd like to take our students, we draft the questions. An example of some prompts we wrote for a recent class include:

  • What general advice would you give students who are taking this class next semester?

  • Which assignments were the most challenging, and why? What can future students do to be successful on these assignments?

  • If you could go back and do something different this semester, what would it be? Why?

  • Students' responses to questions about course design and content provide us with useful information.


Explaining the Advice-Giving


After we've written our questions, we share them with our students. Although we prefer to solicit our students' opinions electronically through an online survey (i.e., Survey Monkey, Google forms, Qualtrics), you can just as well type the questions on a Word document. Begin with sharing your purpose for the activity. You might want to mention that you're interested in receiving feedback yourself, as well as providing them with an opportunity to pay it forward to future students. Be sure to explain that you will be sharing what they write with your future classes. Then, allow students approximately 5 minutes to answer the questions before collecting their responses.


Reviewing and Considering


Once you've collected the advice, it is important to read them carefully and consider the responses. Are there pieces of advice that you may not want to share but serve as important feedback to you? For instance, one-semester Author 1 had a student say that future students didn't need the book. Although she understood the notion of wanting to save a fellow student the cost of the book, it made her wonder why the student felt that way. It was an excellent opportunity for her to reflect on how to interweave the book even more into coursework and explain the importance of reading to future students.


After considering the useful advice:

  • Evaluate if there are themes or groups of like-advice.

  • Summarize the tips under the categories identified. There could be one category for studying tips, communicating with the instructor, or certain assignments.

  • Organize students' advice into like-groups.

Furthermore, consider versions of the same type of advice given many times as both good feedback to you and as a tool to highlight the importance of this advice to future students. You could say something to the effect of, "the advice given most often by previous students was to…."


Sharing the Advice


Last but not least, share advice from previous students as it relates to your new class. We usually like to start a new semester by sharing some general advice from past students regarding policies. Then, as we work through the semester, we'll share quotes of what students said related to the assignments with tips to tackle them.

Why it Works


Allowing your current class to advise future classes serves three purposes:

  • It's a reflection tool for your current students and yourself.

  • It empowers your current students.

  • It provides added punctuation to your future classes as you share previous students' tips.

Overall, it is a set of pedagogical practices that allow future students and yourself to work more efficiently while allowing your current students to reflect differently.



Discussion Questions for your consideration


1. What additional learning can occur for current students as a result of writing letters to future students?

2. What additional learning can occur for current professors as a result of writing letters to future students?

3. How might the insights gained from this practice inform future pedagogical practices for professors?


References


Beauchamp, C. (2015). Reflection in teacher education: issues emerging from a review of current literature. Reflective Practice, 16(1), 123-141.


Hartog, M. (2017). Educating the reflective educator: a social perspective. In M. Reynolds and

R. Vince (Eds.). Organizing reflection (pp. 170-185). London, UK: Routledge.


Reynolds, M., & Vince, R. (2017). An introduction in M. Reynolds and R. Vince (Eds.).

Organizing reflection (pp. 1-14). London, UK: Routledge.


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