Start and Finish Better Next Year with Your Replay Notes

The biggest improvements in my teaching and my students’ learning are traceable back to notes I make this time of year and little experiments in instruction that I try out before the year ends. I am never more tired than I am at this point, but I am never wiser than now after a year of experience with real students in real contexts with real challenges. Here are some brief notes about the importance of such replay notes.

It is so tempting to focus on just making it to summer, and to tell yourself things like, “I’m so over this.” But we’re not over it. The year is not done yet. I understand the “I-just-want-to-be-done” impulse, but I tend to politely ignore such comments as much as possible. Now is a really good time to envision what I would have done differently with my current batch of students throughout the past year.

Over time, I’ve been encouraged to hear other thoughtful folks assert the importance of keeping notes that help us get better at teaching and learning. Below are some more recent commentators about the power of reflective notes for teachers.

In Why Don’t Students Like School?: A Cognitive Scientist Answers Questions About How the Mind Works and What It Means for the Classroom, the insightful cognitive scientist Daniel T. Willingham explains the importance of keeping a diary of our experiences of teaching: “Whether a lesson goes brilliantly well or down in flames, it feels at the time that we’ll never forget what happened; but the ravages of memory can surprise us, so write it down” (50). It’s encouraging when a cognitive scientist of Willingham’s caliber implies that much of your most important data to think with consists of your notes from your experiences of teaching. Willingham also offers helpful tips on various kinds of notes that you might keep–no science lab notebook required!

In Classroom assessment for student learning: doing it right — using it well, Jan Chappuis and her coauthors share samples from educators that follow a very simple but helpful pattern for reflection to keep in mind as one is developing replay notes and mini-experiments this time of year: “I used to…[,] Now I…[,] Why I changed…[,] What I notice as a result…”

My note file for this quarter is overflowing. One topic that keeps resurfacing for me is how to coach all sorts of students to become better readers. Students have too many ways that they excessively struggle with, fake, or altogether avoid inductive, independent readings of complex texts. When they don’t (or can’t) do those readings, they miss out on many other learning opportunities. Their struggles can involve many factors, including background knowledge deficits, ineffective habits, a lack of intentionality, and over-packed schedules. I hope to have more to come about this topic and some ways that I think that we can help students get better in this essential area of learning.

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