Beginning…again. Start of the Semester “Expectations Reflection Paper”

Steven Volk, January 31, 2014

One of the things that I most enjoy about a life in the academy is the bi-annual prospect it provides to start anew. Whether we follow through on them or not, the resolutions we make at the start of each new semester offer an opportunity to reflect on what went well and what went pear-shaped in the last semester, as well as a chance to institute some changes to address the shortcomings.

There’s a boat-load of hopefulness built into this bi-annual reset button, and I was reminded of the importance of this once again when reading the obituary of Pete Seeger, a personal hero who visited Oberlin many times during his long career. “The key to the future of the world,” he said in 1994, “is finding the optimistic stories and letting them be known.”


Nora Borges, Norah Borges: Obra grafica, 1920-1930

So, how to begin…again? CTIE has posted “first-week-of-the-semester” advice at the start of most semesters, and you can find the entries on CTIE’s Blackboard page. Here’s one additional suggestion of something to do at the start of the semester: Hand out an “Expectations Reflection Paper.” Many of us do something like this as a way to help students articulate what they hope to get out of the course and as a way that we can learn something more about our students and what they think they have signed up for. (It’s always a sobering experience to realize that their expectations and your syllabus don’t particularly align.)

You can set aside some time in the class for students to respond to the handout, although you can also have them work on the assignment outside of class as long as they know they need to turn it in at the start of the next class. Some faculty require that students put their names on the assignment, others explicitly don’t, and a some make it optional. Generally speaking, if you want to use the expectations paper as a way to get to know your students, you’ll need to know who authored them.

What to ask? Here are some starting ideas:

  • Why are you interested in this subject; or what prompted you to take this class? (Don’t be afraid of saying that you need it to fulfill a requirement of some sort.)
  • Have you taken other courses in this area or have you had other experiences (in classes or outside of class) that you think are relevant?
  • What content knowledge do you hope to gain by taking this class?
  • What skills do you hope to gain by taking this class?
  • How do you learn the best? Formal lectures, class discussions, small group discussions, readings, assignments, practical engagement, group work, etc.?
  • Do you know of anything that might get in the way of your full participation in this class? (Is this a particularly busy semester for you? Health issues? Family issues? Part-time work? Lack of particular skills? Shyness? Please list anything that you feel comfortable listing, anything you think I can help with or should be paying attention to.)
  • Do you have any particular worries about this class that derive from your own concerns, the reputation of the class, what you have heard from other students?
  • Is your workload for this semester high, low, or normal?
  • What can you tell me that can help me remember you? (E.g., “I’m the one with pink hair who loves Bach and always sits in the back row.”)
  • In this class, do you expect to work more, less, or the same amount as in other courses?
  • Are you doing anything else this semester (or in general) that relates to or corresponds with the subject of this course (either in terms of what you are studying or things that you are doing outside of your classes)?
  • What one thing can I do to help your learning in this class?
  • What one thing can YOU do to help your learning in this class?

Other areas to include? Send them along and I’ll compile them.


Nora Borges, Norah Borges: Obra grafica, 1920-1930

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