Three Ways to Make the Most of Midterm

Isis Artze-Vega serves as college provost and vice president for academic affairs at Valencia College in central Florida, a Hispanic-serving institution long regarded as one of the nation’s best community colleges. She provides strategic leadership in curriculum, assessment, faculty development, online learning, career and workforce education, and partnerships for educational excellence. She is the lead author and editor of The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching, along with coauthors Flower Darby (University of Missouri), Bryan Dewsbury (Florida International University), and Mays Imad (Connecticut College).

Isis Artze-Vega
Image Credit: Valencia College

Where did time go? It seems like only yesterday we were welcoming a new set of students at the start of the academic term. Yet here we are at the midway point in many of our courses, a time of mixed emotions: from excitement about what we and our students have accomplished to exhaustion and angst about what’s left to get done. The good news is that midterm is an ideal time to implement powerful strategies to help students learn and succeed. Here are three ideas from The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching to make the most of this teaching and learning moment:

  1. Give students feedback that validates their knowledge and abilities. A few weeks in, many students are still wondering if they belong and whether they have the intellectual capacity to succeed in their individual courses or, more broadly, in college. They may not see what you’ve seen: their growth, insights, mastery of key topics, and so on. Show them! Whether you craft comments on specific assignments or discuss with the whole class their general progress, take a moment to notice, name, and celebrate your students’ academic wins—and to validate your own hard work this semester.

  2. Earn or maintain your students’ trust. In teaching, trust is the basis for all else, allowing us to challenge students because they know we have their best interests at heart and will therefore support them. At this midway point in the term, there’s still time to build trust—and to maintain and strengthen the trust you’ve established. Your efforts may help students feel comfortable reaching out to you for help if they’re struggling. One small way to build trust is to remind them of your humanness: share something about yourself they don’t know yet—such as a hobby, a setback you experienced, a childhood story, an activity you enjoy, aspects of your identity, or what motivates you to teach. 

  3. Ask students for input—and then act on it. We often pause throughout the term to reflect on how things are going by reviewing student assessment scores, attendance, levels of engagement, and so on. These kinds of data points help identify areas for growth and specific students who may need more support. Yet there’s no substitute for asking students directly—and anonymously—how they are experiencing the course. You can ask general questions like “What’s helping you learn in this class?” “What’s getting in the way of your learning?” and “What adjustments would you suggest I make?” Or you can ask specific questions about the extent to which they feel they belong or aspects of your class (like assessments, activities, and readings). See Figure 5.1 and Unit 9 of The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching for sample survey questions and other check-in activities. Make sure to close the loop with students, thanking them for their candid input and letting them know what you’ll do in response. Acting on their feedback signals your authentic interest in their perspective and builds trust.

While you’re at it, take a moment to check in with yourself. Your commitment to students should never compromise your own wellness. Whether your “oxygen mask” consists of time with loved ones, meditation, reading, or exercise (in my case, yoga), remember to prioritize yourself too. Happy teaching!

The Norton Guide to Equity-Minded Teaching is available free to all instructors. Please click here to request your ebook. 

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