Team Based Learning: What Students Think So Far

In addition to conducting peer reviews on Project II in class, we began with a 6 question Self-Reflection assignment. I asked them what constitutes good writing, what they have learned so far in the course, what they can do to improve in this class, what they can do to 2015-09-08 09.09.46improve as a student in all their classes, what piece of advice would they give an incoming student about how to succeed in this course, and what they thought about Team Based Learning. Their responses to this question, in particular, blew me away. Not only were there   positive responses across the board, but they were backed with more specific and insightful reflections than the other questions elicited. I’m sharing some because they make a compelling argument for the positive outcomes of Team Based Learning in the Composition classroom, and I hope it might inspire others to try this approach.


I have a pretty strong work ethic, but when my group depends on me, I put even more pressure on myself.

I have learned, to my surprise, that I thoroughly enjoy working in groups in an English class setting. I usually do not ask peers for writing help in English but it has been a welcomed change.

I never really had the opportunity to show myself that I have leadership qualities until this class.

I am learning how to work in a group.

You have to pull your weight in every project and so does everyone else or it doesn’t work.

My communication skills are excellent with people that are similar to me and share the same background as I do. I have learned at Auburn that you won’t always be around people with your same background.

Attend class everyday because your group counts on you and your presence is vital.

We always did peer review in high school but it was more or less just letting someone make a couple marks on your paper and hand it back. It was not as hands on and personal as this is and this has taught me how much I do like to work with others.

I feel very proud of myself for being able to work in a group and be able to depend on others to do their part.

I have learned that it takes a maximum amount of effort from each person individually to work well as team.

I have also learned that it is easier to comprehend an assignment when you have four other people you are constantly in touch with. They are there to reach out to if I need help, rather than going directly to the professor.

When working with a group, sometimes decisions are not easily made because everyone is trying to please each other.

For this project I have had to be a vocal leader.

When we were placed in groups I became nervous about this class for two reasons. The first being I didn’t not know the work ethic of the members in my group. The second being I didn’t know how good of writers they are. After much communication I have realized they all work hard and are good writers as well.

Teamwork and collaboration has made me come to enjoy working with others despite the fact that there may be more conflict.

I have learned that I actually enjoy working with other people. That’s honestly a big deal to me.

I have learned that even when working in a team just as much effort needs to be put forth.

I have learned that I work better with a group, when I know that I have other people’s grades in my concern. My learning style is very kinesthetic and hands on, which is why I enjoy working on projects. I have also learned that the more papers and essays that you write, your work starts to slowly get better each time.

Team Based Learning: What Students Think So Far

What’s Going On Here? — Interpreting Direct and Indirect Student Feedback

One Minute Papers

On Tuesday the students submitted their Project 1 papers on Canvas and we began the class with a 10 minute self-reflection and feedback session. They composed four “One Minute Papers” which are, as the title implies, prompts or questions that require the student to respond quickly and candidly in 60 seconds. Often they are used to conclude a class period. They offer the instructor a way to gauge how well students followed the lesson or understood the material that day (and of course they bring writing into the classroom as well as the habit of self-reflection). For more on One Minute Papers there are plenty of resources like this one, “Gone in Sixty-Seconds” from Berkley.

I used them as a low stakes moment of decompression to prime the pump for the real reflections they will be composing next week (after they receive their grades on Paper 1 and have their conference with me) and to formally end the first unit before we start the next.

I posed the following questions as a series moving from broad self-reflection to project-specific reflections:

  1. How are you doing? (Reflect on your first 3 weeks of college)
  2. How are you managing your course loads? And what are you going to do if you fall behind in one or more of your courses? What’s your Plan B? (Most are taking 18 hours of core classes–meaning a heavy load and almost no overlap between subjects. For example, one of my students is taking: Composition, Algebra, Physics, Intro to Computer Science, Intro to Engineering, and World History.)
  3. What did you find most challenging about Project 1 and how did you overcome that challenge?
  4. What knowledge or skills did you acquire that you can apply to future assignments in this class or others?

Stop, Start, Continue

This is a feedback tool I learned from Diane Boyd this summer. As the title implies, you will get feedback on what students want you to stop doing, what they like and want to see you continue doing, and an idea for what, in their minds, might make the class better. The beauty is in the brevity and specificity of the prompt.2015-09-13 09.11.25

I asked them to compose two SSCs, one on their in-class experience so far and one on their Canvas, or out of class, experience. I also prompted them to be rhetorical and consider their audience, the greater good of the group, etc. Overall the feedback has been useful and encouraging. They seem to have really enjoyed the intense structuring I used to stage Project 1 and they have a lot of clear specific suggestions for how I might improve our Canvas page.

How Do You Know When It’s Working?

Beyond formal solicitations of feedback, there are informal ways to assess how your class is going. Facial expressions, hidden cell phones, eye contact, body language, etc., are nonverbal cues that can help you gauge how invested the students are during class.

launchings_jan2015But there are other ways, I’m learning, to determine how successful your class is at engaging your students. At a Biggio workshop, someone mentioned that they know things are going well when the students don’t want to leave at the end–either they stay to talk with each other or just linger around the door to chat with you. Another instructor shared one of his marks of success is when students start helping each other figure things out rather than, or at least before, asking him. The quality and tenor of conversation that takes place before class begins can be another positive indicator as the semester progresses. Assuming the conversation advances past, “Did you do the reading?”, you can get a feel for the kind of community that your class is developing into. I would be very interested to know of other tacit indicators that instructors rely on to get feedback on their class. If you can think of any please share in the Comments below!

Is Ignorance Bliss when it comes to Student Feedback?

I have several colleagues who admit they never look at their student evaluations because they find them, at best, vague and unhelpful and at worst, well, it can get pretty bad depending on a variety of factors–many having little to do with what the evals purport to be assessing. Large classes and core classes score lower than small and upper division courses, divergent subjects higher than convergent, male instructors higher than females, majority ethnicities higher than minority faculty, etc.

In the past two years I have experimented with soliciting student feedback throughout the semester in different ways in an attempt to gather more meaningful data on what students actually experience in the classes I teach. Although it’s been one step forward, two steps back and I am still trying to figure out best practices, here are 3 things I’ve learned:

  1. When asking for feedback, explain to the students why you want it and how you will use it.
  2. Ask specific questions about what they did, why they did, how they did, etc. and not how they felt about a particular assignment, etc. You cannot control or adjust for their personal tastes and often this is the kind of question that leads to the most depressing responses. Focus on actions and behaviors, not opinions and feelings, in other words.
  3. Let go of your ego. Cultivate humility and the belief that collaborating with your students can help you become a better teacher. Not asking for feedback is easier and more pleasant, but you lose the chance to grow.

My question for you: How do you assess your class throughout the semester?

This is a topic that is, admittedly, hard to broach because it demands an acknowledgement of our vulnerabilities, but what could be more useful than knowing our struggle is a shared one and getting some tips on how to make it easier?

So, let’s hear it: What works and what doesn’t?

What’s Going On Here? — Interpreting Direct and Indirect Student Feedback