At the end of each term, I ask my students to reflect on what they’ve learned in the course. Officially, this is in the form of a top 10 list. Each student is asked to generate a rank-ordered list of the 10 most important things they learned in the course with a description of each and an explanation of why each thing made their list. I leave it that wide open on purpose. Most students choose to write about specific concepts. Some choose more broad theories. Others take an entire category, like “tips for a leading a happier life.” How they want to define “important” is just as wide open. It could be important to them personally, important for people in general to know, or important for all of humanity to know about. All term I ask my students to demonstrate the knowledge that I think is important. For this final assignment, I give them an opportunity to tell me what they learned.
During our last class session, I ask each student to tell the class what they chose for the top of their list and why. Next, I ask the other students if anyone else had that in their list. For those who do, I ask why they found it important. I make sure that we hear everyone’s number one choice.
This is also, frankly, a fun way for everyone to review what they learned in the course. Not only do they reflect when they work on the assignment, but they also reflect as other students share their list items in class. It’s not unusual to hear a student say, “Ooo…, I wish I would have put THAT one on my list.”
I also get one more opportunity to share other examples, connect concepts to current events, or talk about concepts we didn’t cover in the course.
Here is a partial list of what my Intro Psych students this term found important and a paraphrase as to why.
- Correlations. “You hear news stories that report that one variable causes another, but it looks like they’re talking about a correlation, and you think, 'but does it, though?’”
- Independent and dependent variables. “Without experiments, there would be no science to give us everything we learned in this course.”
- Hindsight bias. “I’m now more patient when I’m teaching someone something that I already know. Because it’s obvious now to me doesn’t mean it’s going to be easy or obvious to them.”
- Epigenetics. “If knowledge of epigenetics can help us purposefully turn on and off genes, who know what we can cure.”
- Sympathetic nervous system. “I was taking a test, and I was starting to feel nervous. I felt my pulse, and it was definitely up. I thought, ‘Yep, that’s my sympathetic nervous system at work, but that doesn’t mean I’m anxious.’”
- Excessive optimism. “I’m tired of the excessive optimists in my life who can’t see the realistic threats.”
- Scapegoat theory. “It’s all over the news.”
- Split-brain, cognitive dissonance, perception, color processing, implicit bias. “There is so much that our brains are doing without our conscious awareness.”
- Operant conditioning. “It’s made me more aware of how I can reinforce my own behavior and how I’m unintentionally reinforcing bad behavior in others.”
- Parenting styles. “I have a child, and I want to do what’s best for her.”
- Stress. “Now I understand how stress can cause my chronic health condition to flare up.” “I’m using some of the coping strategies we learned about, and it’s made a difference in how much stress I’m feeling.”
- Happiness. “When I feel down, I go to the 10 tips our textbook lists that can help boost happiness. I pick one and do it. And I do feel better.”
- Effects of sleep loss. “I had no idea how much my lack of sleep was affecting me. I started sleeping more, and I feel so much better.”
- Schemas. “I’m now aware of how much I rely on these every day. And I think about how my schemas can differ from someone else’s.”
- Fundamental attribution error. “First impressions really are powerful. I’m trying to be more aware of the first impressions I give people so they think better of me from the start, and I’m trying to not let first impressions of other people affect my view of them so much.
- Stereotypes.“I’m more aware of my own stereotypes and how my friends and family show their stereotypes through what they say and what they do.”
- Psychological disorders. “I have more empathy for my friends and family who have a disorder.” “I have a deeper understanding of my own disorder.”
I tell my students at the beginning of the course that this will not be a course where they will just learn stuff for a test and then forget about it all two weeks after this course is over. Instead, I tell them, this will be a course where they will learn stuff they will use for the rest of their lives.
As we go through the course, students have opportunities to discuss and share their own experiences with the material. What I like about this end-of-term assignment, though, is that students have often had a few weeks or more to reflect on what they’ve learned. This may be the content that will really stick with them long after the course is over.
Hearing what students have to say on this last day of class always makes it easier for me to start Intro Psych the next term. What will these students put in their top 10 lists?