Meeting with students to discuss class improvements


Education is about relationships. As we get close to the end of the year, I asked four of my students to give me feedback about the course. I tried to get a healthy cross-section of my students while at the same time inviting students who have expressed an interest in the quality of the class. 

Cole, a student who was invited but unable to attend, got this venture moving by sending me a link to an article about virtual reality. However, we both agree that the article is about much more than “just” virtual reality. It talks about personalized learning, mastery-based learning, and experiential learning

In preparation for the meeting, I outlined my thoughts. Here is my outline, prepared using Mindnode 5, one of my favorite Mac Apps. 

I think that the way my AP Economics class is structured definitely moves students toward these three ways of learning. As we learn unit content, students are exposed to a wide variety of material and learning opportunties. Sometimes class time is dedicated to simulations. Sometimes we are working on problems in class. We may practice graphing and talking about how to solve problems. Often, I am lecturing, more often than not with interactivity as part of the lectures. 

We get through this first stage of learning, and we all take the unit exam together (made up of AP multiple choice questions and AP free response questions). After that, we definitely transition toward personalized learning with an emphasis on mastery. I permit students to retake the exam whenever they want (usually with a “drop-dead date” for retakes near the end of the semester). They are also permitted to review their exams (in class), before and after school and during our conference period, (usually held a couple of times a week), and look at questions they missed, correct them, and re-check answers. I even encourage students who have taken the course to act as tutors for those who are struggling, and that has worked. The end result is a personalized learning plan designed to propel the student toward mastery.

Three of the four students that I invited to critique my teaching/course infrastructure decisions accepted my invitation to talk with me. Lauren (a junior who is taking the course), Luz (a senior and my student instructor who took the class last year) and Reia (a sophomore who is taking the course now) did end up talking with me. Unfortunately, Cole was unable to attend the meeting. 

I am embedding a recording of my conversation with students. These are all amazing students who are thoughtful in their responses. I really enjoyed the process.  I did have a "technical difficulty" toward the end of the conversation, so the final minute or so is not recorded. 

Highlights of our conversation include the following:

  1. I definitely forgot to bring donuts and bagels to the meeting, and I owe them for that mistake.

  2. I hold students responsible for taking whatever notes they think are necessary to aid in their learning. I recommend Cornell Notes and talk about them with a story about how they got me through law school, but ultimately students decide what works for them.

  3. I need better slides for my slide decks. Better means more color and more images.

  4. I need to offer students a wide range of problems, including multiple choice.

  5. Students learn how to learn through this process of moving from class learning to personalized learning.

  6. Piazza, coupled with Padlet, are appreciated by students.

  7. Students really appreciate simulations, but are asking for current events.

  8. Although using the Harkness Method would be great, we have too many students in our classes to take advantage of this wonderful teaching tool.

  9. Students appreciate not having homework but are not making smart choices about class time.

  10. Students have a difference of opinion about cell phone use. Luz thinks phone use is appropriate. Lauren thinks phone use is too common. Reia invokes Hobbes, arguing that students are inherently bad, and they need a Leviathan to keep them in check.

  11. Students like using apps like Pear Deck.

  12. There was difficulty with Varsity Economics and the experiential learning opportunities offered there. Is there room for the extracurricular activities offered through Varsity Economics? Luz highlights that students really are competitive. Reia asks about just focusing on Econ Challenge.

It was a great honor to have this meeting with three amazing students. I came away with an appreciation of their thoughtfulness and a handful of valuable insights to help make my course even more accessible for my students.