Midterm Course-Correction

Midterm grades have been posted, and if your email inbox is anything like mine, you have students wondering how they can get back on track, or in some cases on track to begin with. Or, perhaps, you’re not hearing from the students who should be emailing you. Either way, it’s an appropriate time of the semester to think about ways in which we might intervene with either individual students or an entire class to help nudge them back onto the track for success this semester.

Even if a student is performing well below the passing standard in our course, there’s still time for a course correction, even if that window of opportunity is nearly shut. There are several practices we might adopt (or expand) that can promote student sucess. Some specific teaching practices we might consider include:

“Exit Tickets”: Consider using the last few minutes of class for a brief student free-write that they submit (anonymously) when they leave class. One effective prompt is to have students list the “muddiest point(s)” after the class sessions, which can give us a quick check of how well students understand the particular day’s material, and if we need to go back over anything in a subsequent session. Alternatively, we might also ask them what they think the most important parts of the day’s material were; we can then see if those answers align with what we think the most essential content was, and if there needs to be any readjustment or reinforcement before moving into new material. This type of regular practice also helps students to think summatively about a particular class session, and begin the type of synthesis work that’s an important part of retaining material.

Random Brief Quizzes: At first glance, this might appear to be an overly harsh or punitive measure. After all, if students are struggling with material, increasing the frequency of quizzes on that material seems like it wouldn’t be helpful. However, we know from the research that one of the most effective ways for students to retain and master specific course material is to engage in regular retrieval practice (also referred to as taking advantage of the “testing effect”). James Lang discusses the importance and utility of retrieval practice:

The practice of retrieving information from your brain is very important for learning. Sometimes referred to as the “testing effect,” this principle argues that students need continual practice at retrieving newly learned content in order to make it available to them when they need it….That practice can come in the form of testing but…teachers can incorporate retrieval practice into their courses in a variety of ways, and students can likewise incorporate it into their study habits.

Consider, for example, offering brief quizzes at the beginning of a class session which cover the material from the prior class session. Asking students to retrieve material in a relatively low-stakes setting is useful retrieval practice, and also provides a jumping-off point for the current class’s discussion.

Create a “Metacognitive Pause”: An informal midterm evaluation, where students can offer anonymous feedback on the course, can provide an opportunity for students to “pause,” and think about themselves as learners, as opposed to simply recipients, of course knowledge. As Gillian Parrish describes, a midterm evaluation with well-considered, specific questions, can not only give us useful feedback, but nudge students into considering how the choices they’ve made and the strategies they’ve adopted are shaping their performance:

Cued by our language, students can become aware of a distinction—that we’re not asking what they like, but what is helping them learn. This opportunity for students to learn about their learning yields valuable insights that not only inform instructors about the effects of our methods, but also ground students in their own learning processes, deepening their confidence in and commitment to their development in the second half of the course.

This type of “metacognitive pause” can be a powerful reframing for our students, empowering them to consider how they themselves can shape the way they learn. For students who are struggling, this could be an important opportunity to think about the specific ways in which they can course-correct.

Recommend an Academic “Tune-Up”: For individual students who you think need extra support, consider steering them to the ALT Center. Certainly the subject-area tutoring and the writing and math support are important resources we should connect students with as appropriate. Further, Jade Horning, our Student Success Program Manager, offers students the opportunity for individual consultations to help them develop more effective strategies for success.  From Jade:

Students interested in an individual academic skills consultation (Academic Tune-Up) can book an appointment with me via this link: https://calendly.com/jadehorning/academic-tune-up

You can also book a session on behalf of your student – there’s a prompt to include the email of the attendee, so you’d just need to put in their email instead of your own. Topics we can explore in these sessions include:

  • Goal-setting
  • Time management
  • Note-taking
  • Reading strategies
  • Study strategies
  • Test-taking strategies

Any, or all, of these strategies could be an effective way to help struggling students reverse course, and adopt more useful practices for their academics. There are a number of other techniques, of course, for either individual students or on the class level, and I’d be happy to talk about options that could work well for your particular course and students.


Wednesday, Feb. 26, 12-1 PM ♦  Creating and Using Rubrics Effectively

For a complete schedule of CETL programming for the semester, click HERE or consult the CETL Calendar.

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