A New Year, a New Resolution

By Meg Butler

At the beginning of the year, we all hear a lot about resolutions.  People resolve to change their habits—exercise more, smoke fewer cigarettes, spend money more wisely, etc.  Though the school year is half over, it is the start of a new semester.  And in teaching, it is never too late to start working on good habits.  One habit that I recommend is the habit of pedagogical reflection.

After teaching a class, take the time to consider—in writing—how things went.  After finishing the end-of-class informal conversation, answering individual questions, providing a fuller explanation of a confusing concept or a homework comment, spend 10 minutes in your office writing down your impressions of the class—what worked, what seemed to confuse your students, whether you thought you accomplished the learning goals that you had established at the beginning of class, etc.

Notes such as these provide useful guidance—in both the short and the long term.  In the short term, the notes will help you as you prepare to teach the next session to the same students.  You will better remember their areas of growth and that will enable you to focus your teaching more closely to their needs.  In the long term, assuming you teach the same course in the future, reviewing these notes will assist you as you adjust the course to accommodate students’ experiences and concerns.  It is true that no two classes of students are alike, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t make broader changes to a course over time, based on your experience teaching the course.

If you are interested in reading a law review article on the subject of reflective journaling for teachers, I suggest you consider Gerald F. Hess’s article “Learning to Think Like a Teacher:  Reflective Journals for Legal Educators.”  I particularly want to note how much I appreciated reading the footnotes that included excerpts of his teaching journals: they demonstrate the tremendous variety of factors that can be considered when reflecting on one’s teaching.

Good luck with your resolutions for the New Year, whatever they may be!

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