Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

… which post was the fairest of them all?  I am not referring to this blog; rather, this question was posed to my upper-division students in their final informal out-of-class writing assignment. Over the course of the semester, they have written at least once a week in a GoogleDoc visible to me and that student [I resist the urge to call it a journal.]. Each time, they respond to a prompt. I grade these P/nP. To P, you have to follow directions and present your own thinking. I also respond (usually in a colored font) to their ideas and thoughts, which often starts a conversation between us within the GoogleDoc. Here are a few examples of prompts, which ran the gamut from hard core to touchy-feely.

Week 2:

  • Write a summary of one unusual aspect of the form that we discussed in class today in Beethoven’s “Pathetique,” first movement.

Week 6:

  • Please pick one of the questions that you or a classmate submitted on Brahms’s “Gestillte Sehnsucht” to explore. Your exploration should include (but doesn’t have to be limited to) specific references to the score. I will put a cleaned-up version of the questions on blackboard.

Week 10:

  • Write in your GoogleDoc on the following prompt: We’ve looked at five sonata forms so far this year (Pathetique, mvt. 1, Beethoven, Symphony No. 7, mvt. 1, Beethoven String Quartet Op 59, No. 1, mvt. 1, Schubert Cello Quintet in C major, mvt. 1, and your Project #2 piece). What changes do you see between composers (Beethoven and Schubert) or within Beethoven’s output (your project is “early Beethoven” whereas the Quartet and Symphony are “middle Beethoven”). How do you think those changes tie into Beethoven’s development and/or the development of Classical music?

As you can imagine, their commitment to engaged thinking and writing varied greatly.  Some students were always deeply engaged, others rarely, and most were intermittently engaged with thinking. Not surprisingly, there is a direct correlation between their engagement within the GoogleDoc and their grade in the class.

I’m really big into reflection. It makes me a better teacher, parent, and human being. I think it can make students better learners. So, when I read this excellent blog post about “Informal Writing Assignments: Promoting Learning Through Writing,” I was inspired to try out an idea that was new to me. Here was their final assignment:

Week 14:

  • GoogleDoc reflection (P/nP). Read through your posts in your GoogleDoc. (1) Comment on the overall set of your posts, and (2) Pick your best post and comment on what qualities made it your best.

I wish I had student permission to post some of their reflections. Overall, I strongly agree with their self evaluations. And I’m thrilled that I have access to their GoogleDocs so that I can better set up my informal writing assignments in future semesters to focus on the qualities of a good post.

In future semesters, I will definitely have students do a mid-semester reflection in addition to their final reflection. By only reflecting at the end of the semester, they don’t have time to implement any changes in the way the approach this type of assignment (it’s akin to the reason why I give informal evaluations in the semester’s first third).

One thought on “Mirror Mirror on the Wall…

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