Campus: University of Washington 

3. Have you made good choices today?

Educator: Sonya Cunningham, Assistant Director of Diversity and Access, College of Engineering
Context: in-class; STARS Seminar
Keywords: academic support, study habits, time management
Student Activity Time: 5–10 minutes

Students in a learning strategies seminar reflect on how they have used their time for the day.

Introducing the Reflection Activity

Students often feel as if their ability to do well academically or in other domains of life is an innate characteristic and beyond their control. In an academic support seminar, one educator helps students overcome this mindset with a small reflection at the beginning of each class session about the choices they have made throughout the day. The purpose of this activity was to help students reflect on how they used their time, and if the choices they made for the day supported their larger goals.

At the beginning of the term, the educator assigned the short reading, “Self-Theories: The Mindset of a Champion” by Carol Dweck. Students read the selection and wrote a brief reflection assignment related to the article. The reading prepared students for the one reflection activity to be repeated for the entire term. At the beginning of each class meeting, the educator wrote, “Have you made good choices today?” on the board to prompt a pre-class discussion. At the beginning of each class session, 5 to 10 minutes were dedicated for a class share about the good and bad choices students made that day.

The educator noticed outcomes for students related to their awareness of time, frequent recall of the prompt outside of class, and an enhanced sense of accountability among the community of learners. While the activity is simple, students were able to derive many deep meanings from the activity, including a realization of adaptable abilities, and the importance of small, day-to-day choices.

 Recreating the Reflection Activity

Step Description
1 Assign “Self-Theories: The Mindset of a Champion” at the beginning of the term with a short written reflection and class discussion.
2 Start seminar sessions with the question, “Have you made good choices today?” written on the board throughout the term.
3 Provide students a short period of time to share the choices they made at the beginning of class.
4 Repeat the activity throughout the term.
5 Conclude the term by assigning the students a written reflection about the choices they made throughout the term and the kinds of choices they plan to make in the future.
In the words of the Educator: Tips and Inspiration

Start with something concrete. I start out the quarter having them read about mindsets, by Dweck. I think you have to start with something like the article “Self-Theories: The Mindset of a Champion” to give students a context before they get into the activity. She uses lots of famous people as examples in the article, and when the students turned in the first assignment about reading the article, the room completely lit up. They thought the article was fantastic and wished someone had told them about it earlier. It validated students who were always told they were naturals but in fact were working very hard. For those who didn’t think they had to work that hard, it provided some motivation to do the work ahead. It really sets the tone and suggests that whatever is happening, you have control over it and can change it. 

Wrap it up. The final reflection paper is ultimately about each student to identify what choices they have made, assess whether they made good choices, and decide what choices they want to make in the future. It’s all part of what Ray Landis has in his book about becoming a “world-class engineer.” I only require six to eight pages for the final reflection, but sometimes I get a lot more than that. Students really seem to adopt the idea and seriously consider how their choices help as learners.

What was the inspiration for the reflection activity? This started because the very first speaker I had during transition week (before the fall term begins) was someone who had overcome some significant obstacles as a student. She talked about how you are not your past and the choices she made to secure the future that she wanted for herself. It started with that talk, and somewhere along the line, I heard someone ask the question, “Have you made good choices today?” and I decided to frame the quarter within that question. For at least half of the class sessions, we had a chance to talk about choices before class started, and people had a chance to share their good choices or bad choices. The choices that they shared could be about anything that they felt affected their academics. The students had already been primed about the range of things that they could consider that affect their academics.

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