A colleague whom I met at a conference on teaching book history at the Folger last year has a tip, published by the website Pedagogy Unbound, for gauging student expectations of their performance while simultaneously encouraging them to take more responsibility for their education. She suggests a quick questionnaire on the first day that asks students three questions:
1) What grade do you anticipate receiving in this course?
2) What will you do if you discover that you are receiving a lower grade than the one you anticipated?
3) Why do you feel these strategies will work? (quoted from the website)
It starts the year with a sense of student responsibility, gives her something to work with when students come to office hours upset about grades, and provides a means for students to reflect on their performance at the end of the year.
I think I’ll be adding this to my repertoire this semester. I already give midterm evaluations (students evaluating the course and their learning, not me evaluating them), with a format borrowed from a professor for whom I TAed in my second comp lit teaching semester (Professor William Moebius). Students are asked to complete three sentences. The first begins with the words “I’m learning,” the second with “I like” and the third with “I wish.” Like Sarah Neville’s exercise, some answers are very thoughtful and serious and some are silly, but it provides a moment to reflect on course experiences in the middle of the course, both for my students and for me (I take them very seriously).
Good luck to everyone starting classes over the next week!