Help diverse students use your assignments and feedback to persist and remain hopeful

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When we observe students struggle or give up, we often redouble our efforts to remind and encourage them to use effective learning strategies. But our students aren’t always sure what those strategies are and what’s more, they don’t often recognize the need to spend time considering those strategies at the outset of your course in order to make good plans to succeed. It’s not that our students can’t do this kind of metacognitive, planful work, but it’s often the case that they didn’t need to do this work in high school because assignments were less complex or because work was broken up for them into small pieces. When students come to the university, the work they encounter can seem overwhelming, especially as they are simultaneously taking on new roles and responsibilities for the first time. This can put our underrepresented and first-generation students at risk of seeing themselves as not belonging at the university or having low expectations of their own success.

But our students can develop a sense of optimism about their place at the university and become more adept and persistent learners if we help them to plan a pathway through our course, to plan out an approach to assessments and assignments, and to use our feedback to make plans for improving. When our students take charge of their own learning in these ways, their motivation and learning increase. And, ultimately, they begin to see that they can and will succeed in our course and at university. Below you will find two strategies you can use throughout the semester to help students regulate their own learning and ensure their persistence, learning, and optimism.

1. Have students make a plan for completing the work of course assignments.

Help students respond more effectively to assignments by having them take some time when they receive an assignment to read it carefully, reflect on its value, and make a plan for how they will approach it. This work should be done in writing either in class or as part of a homework assignment. Below are some examples of prompts that can guide students to plan in helpful ways.

Prompts to help students reflect on the value of an assignment

  • How will completing this assignment prepare me for work I am required to do in other courses or in my major?
  • How does the work of this assignment relate to goals I have for myself in college? Beyond college?

Prompts to help students plan their work on an assignment

  • In what ways will this assignment draw on my strengths? How will I use these strengths to be successful?
  • What do I expect will be most challenging as I complete this assignment? What resources (e.g., teacher, peers, course materials, outside resources, etc.) will I use to help me work through this challenge?
  • What are two things I will do this week (by date) to begin working on this assignment?
  • If I am not able to complete this assignment on time, what options will I discuss with my instructor (e.g., choosing a late submission date, choosing to submit part of the assignment on time, other options that work for your course)?

Not only will this kind of analysis and planning help ensure that students are reading assignments more carefully, it will also surface questions early on so that you can more effectively guide students through their work.

2. Have students use feedback to analyze their approach to learning and plan productive changes to that approach.

Students don’t always realize that they can change their approach to their work and improve the outcome. Help these students by having them analyze their efforts and the feedback you provide so they can be more successful. After students have received grades or feedback on an assessment or assignment, have them respond in writing to prompts like the ones below to help them use that feedback to analyze their efforts and make plans for future work.

  • How long did I spend working on this assignment/preparing for this test or quiz? Was that enough? Do I need to spend more time on the next assignment/preparing for the next test or quiz?
  • What did I do while I worked on the assignment/prepared for the test or quiz? Did I
    • provide students with a list of helpful strategies here
  • Given the feedback I received, what are two new strategies (from the list above or others) that I will try when I work on my next assignment / prepare for the next test or quiz?

Students can analyze their work and adjust their strategies throughout the semester. Toward the end of the course, have students articulate their discoveries about the most effective ways to work, study, and prepare for assignments. Ask students to describe how they will continue to use these discoveries in their college career and in their lives outside of school.  

Resources about helping students persist and remain hopeful

  • Jordt, H., Eddy, S. L., Brazil, R., Lau, I., Mann, C., Brownell, S. E., King, K., & Freeman, S. (2017). Values affirmation intervention reduces achievement gap between underrepresented minority and white students in introductory biology classes. CBE—Life Sciences Education, 16(3).
  • Nilson, L. B. (2013). Creating self-regulated learners: Strategies to strengthen students’ self-awareness and learning skills. Stylus Publishing, LLC.

CATLOE can help!

As you design activities to help students make plans to succeed on your assignments and to effectively use your feedback, you may have questions or need some guidance. Please feel free to reach out to CATLOE for a one-on-one consultation with an instructional consultant.