My post today is about a cool article I read on a low-stakes type of writing assignment that I think could be wildly helpful to my students. Julie Empric calls this assignment, “Afterthoughts.” In short, Afterthoughts eliminate the brain dump that often occurs at precisely the time when students exit the classroom. Instead, students are asked to interact with the material in ways they may not have previously. I think this technique, described below, is very much in line with the Cognitively Active (deep learning) study approaches that I presented last week.

In short, the Afterthoughts assignment has students write about what happened in the class session. From this template, the Afterthought should:

  1. follow-up on an important point covered in class,
  2. raise questions about what was discussed in class,
  3. link ideas presented in several different class sessions,
  4. correct, adjust, or extend an Afterthought someone else presented in class, or
  5. connect course content with something on TV, a film, the Internet, in a book, with content from another course, or with something the student experienced.

You, the instructor, can then use these Afterthoughts as conversation-starters or discussion topics in class or online, have students respond to them online (Canvas has an EXCELLENT Discussion tool), and or, as part of a larger assignment where students compile their Afterthoughts into one end-of-class graded assignment.

Here’s how it might go (from Empric’s “Afterthoughts”):

  • The follow-up that returns to an important point: “For the past few classes we’ve discussed how Shakespeare often employs double plot structure in his plays. Well, yesterday I was watching a TV program that uses exactly the same technique …” I then play a cut from (or describe or outline on the board) a double plot structure from a current TV show that is similar to what we’ve been doing for A Midsummer Night’s Dream.
  • The intriguing idea that can link learning over a weekend (as well as demonstrate how much student comments can matter): “After our last class I was thinking about Jake’s comment on the emotional power of words. And it occurred to me that while our culture manages quite well with words that wield bold power—for instance, we defend freedom of all kinds of speech, even the offensive—we grant far less value to words of subtle emotional power. Do you agree? Why or why not? What examples would you give from our readings or from pop culture or media sources? What are some of the consequences of the loss of subtle expression in literature or in life?
  • The chance to correct, adjust, or extend: “In thinking about our last class, I had an afterthought: During our lively discussion of Gatsby in the last class, we didn’t consider how the narrator’s point of view might affect the characters’ ethics. Before we take on ethics in the reading for today, let’s go back and take a look at that.”

I love this! What a fantastic way to combine writing with high-order thinking and evaluation! I’m going to use this one. I also think that this type of assignment will provide outstanding feedback on my teaching and the IMPACT of my teaching on my students’ understanding of the material and how they are applying what they’re learning to their lives. (PERFECT for the annual review narrative, but also the type of input from my students that I’ve never had before). If you do adopt this assignment, click “Leave a Reply” and comment!

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