For many schools and universities in North America and Europe, the academic school year concludes in May and June, prior to summer break, and picks up again around September. For those in Africa and many parts of South Asia and Australia, they follow the Gregorian calendar and begin their new school year in January. Chinese schools follow the Lunar Calendar, which means their schedules can vary greatly from year to year, and in Japan, schools begin in April and progress from there.
No matter your school’s calendar, as an educator, when your academic year comes to a close, it is important to make space for reflection, organization, and preparation. And if this crucial time is spent productively, it can mean you’ll return the following academic term ready, with confidence and energy.
But what does that look like? How can educators set themselves and their students up for success for the new school year? Here are a few ways:
Take in (and really utilize!) student feedback.
Create an online or in-person end-of-year survey and offer your students the chance to give you feedback. As with every assessment, offering different types of questions will elicit a wider variety of answers from your class. Open-ended questions that require commentary will give you a richer context around student responses, which in turn can allow for more thoughtful revisions to your curriculum. Sometimes, anonymous feedback can be more honest while other times, it can be beneficial to hold students accountable for their responses, especially if you have follow-up questions.
Consider the questions below and how the feedback may inform curricular changes:
- What was your favorite lesson or assignment? Why? This type of question can pinpoint which assignments inspired and engaged your students most. Research shows a distinct correlation between student performance and engagement, which means choosing projects that keep students invested can increase student learning outcomes.
- How have I helped you as a student? How could I have helped you better? Questions around instructor performance give you an insight into how your behavior, interactions, and energy affected your class. It might shed light on ways your mentorship and guidance supported student growth or conversely, how you can improve. Research shows that teachers play an important role in motivating their students to learn, so receiving feedback on your instruction can go a long way in improving course experience for future students.
- What tools/technology platforms were most effective and why? Questions on technology that you use in your classroom are even more pertinent coming out of the pandemic, as many institutions adopted new platforms and tools. A student-centered audit on which ones were effective and easy to use can help you and your administrators determine if the outcomes of the technology are worth the cost; if students and/or educators need more instruction on how to use the tool(s) more efficiently; how your students relate to education technology in general.
- What was most helpful to hear in your writing? How did you like to get your feedback? Feedback on types of feedback may seem, well, funny, but actually, this question can wholly influence how you affect positive change in student writing. If you can determine their best modality in receiving feedback, in addition to the types of comments that spurred revision and improvement, then your review workflow will not only be more productive, it will be personalized and specifically geared towards your students’ individual learning styles.
No matter how your student feedback survey is structured, make sure they have adequate time to give thoughtful, unhurried answers. Afterwards–and especially if you provide the assessment online– you can graph the responses, study the feedback, and analyze how to make the following school year even better.
Conduct a spring cleaning.
The tradition of grabbing a broom, opening doors and windows, and sweeping out the old to make room for the new, has its place in traditions all over the world. In Iranian culture, entire families spend several days cleaning (or “shaking the house”) prior to the Persian New Year, and in Thailand, people recognize Songkran by taking to the streets for an enormous water fight, as a chance to “wipe away the buildup of the past year, both mentally and physically, in anticipation for the year to come.”
As an educator, you can do the same, but perhaps don’t approach the task with a broom or mop. Instead, tackle your curriculum with a spring-cleaning mindset:
- Scrutinize your assignments to determine if there are lessons or projects that need revision or elimination. Adopt uniform naming conventions for your assignments, so you and your students can easily locate and organize projects in a digital space. Detailed naming will also give you a better awareness of how your topics and genres are spread across a term; instead of seeing “Assignment_1” in the first week, you’ll see you have “Literary_Analysis_1” followed by “First_Year_Reflection”.
- Utilize item analysis to survey your exam questions and evaluate how to improve them to uphold test effectiveness and fairness. Have a question that everyone missed? Try to determine whether it’s because students misunderstood the question or the concept the question addresses. Or perhaps the material itself needs to be retaught in class, possibly with a different learning approach. Gradescope is an excellent tool that can help you to create data-driven exams and curricula with item analysis insights.
- If you are a Turnitin Feedback Studio (TFS) user, look at your dashboard and see which QuickMarks you used most frequently throughout the year. If they don’t already, standardize which QuickMarks you use across your courses so they align with “Where to next?” feedback. This offers consistency across classes and clear, formative feedback for students to improve their own writing.
- You can also copy your student roster in TFS to reuse another semester or school year. That way, if you loop with students and/or know which names you’ll be seeing next term, you can be ready for their arrival early in your gradebook and LMS.
A curricular spring-cleaning can refresh your relationship with your lessons, weed out projects that are no longer relevant or helpful, and give you a clear perspective on how best to approach the upcoming term.
Lay the groundwork for a year of academic integrity.
It is invaluable to establish a strong culture of academic integrity within your classroom and throughout your institution. Thinking about how you can improve your integrity practices, as well as establish new ones, can take place at the end of a term where you have the chance to strengthen your approach.
- Consider updating your institution’s honor code and course syllabus to best reflect your school’s integrity values. In a world where much learning is taking place online, explicit direction and expectations around plagiarism, citations, and original work is key to student success. And if your course or institution is new to this space, learn the basics about academic integrity, attend an integrity webinar, and take the initiative now, at the end of the term, so next year’s students are informed and ready.
- If you have an academic integrity policy in place, offer a reflection activity to your current students. With Turnitin’s Disrupting plagiarism: Building a culture of academic honesty resource pack, you can download this collaborative PDF that asks students to think about the honor code to ensure that academic integrity is a working part of the classroom community.
- Up-level the teaching tools you use in order to ensure students are completing their best, original work. Draft Coach is a Google Docs add-on, available for Turnitin Feedback Studio and Turnitin Originality customers. With instant feedback on grammar and citations, students can better understand where and how to revise their writing, saving teachers time with fewer issues to review in the final submission.
The learning success to come depends greatly on your preparation now. Whether you are bidding farewell to this set of students in the winter, spring, summer, or fall, take this time to reflect, review, and revise. Your future self and your future students will thank you.