Assessment, as Gloria keeps reminding us, has multiple functions. On one level it is needed to prove to ourselves and others that our students are accomplishing the goals we set for them. On another though, as L. Dee Fink discusses in Chapter 3 of Creating Significant Learning Experiences, Revised and Updated: An Integrated Approach to Designing College Courses, assessment has psychological functions. As Fink puts it, students need both a scoreboard and applause.
One example of the applause side really stood out for me. A music professor described how he uses “tribute letters” to help students focus on the skills that they already bring, rather than just explaining the skills that need to be developed. The student and the professor together write a letter, which the professor then sends, to a teacher or mentor whom the student identifies as having been instrumental in the student’s development. Fink explains,
In addition to creating extremely good public relations between the university and the public at large, this simple device had an unusual impact on both the students and the teacher. For the teacher, it shifted his focus from "what is not good in this student's playing that needs to be improved" to "what is good that be commended?" This in turn resulted in a much more positive general relationship with the student. For the students, it developed a more positive view of themselves. The more positive tone of the interaction with the professor led them to think things such as "I have a good base of learning, and from that, I can continue to build toward an even better level of performance." This in turn created an appreciation of the people who had contributed to their own learning and - as a result of the proceeding - a more positive attitude toward continued learning.
I wonder what effect it would have –on Lincoln’s PR and on our students' confidence—if we were to try some version of that assignment. I often have students write about a mentor but never thought of then sending out a letter of thanks to that person. It’s something to consider. Can you see it fitting into your coursework?