AOI | Learning Innovations

Faculty Insider

Weekly Tip: Lessons Learned

As each semester comes to an end, and planning for the next one begins, many of us consider what another semester of teaching has taught us. The end of the semester reflection is also used to evaluate what worked, what didn’t, and what we want to change. While an end of the semester reflection is imperative in the teaching process, incorporating an ongoing reflective practice can make finishing one semester while rapidly moving toward the next one a more effective and seamless process. In “A Teacher Educator’s Lessons Learned from Reflective Practice,” Tom Russell suggests incorporating a semester long reflective practice. He defines reflective practice as “reflection in action.” This week’s Faculty Insider Tip will discuss implementing a five step lessons learned reflective practice throughout, rather than at the end of, each term.

Educators need to be reflective, that is self-aware—engaged and active in their relationship to discourses and practices.

—Robert Muffoletto,
“Education and Technology: Critical and Reflective Practices”


Begin each semester by answering a series of questions for each major project, assignment, or assessment in a course. Identify the overarching goals of the course:

  • What are the goals or outcomes students will be expected to demonstrate by the end of the semester?
  • What are the higher and lower level thinking skills students will be expected to demonstrate?
  • In what types of situations will students be required to demonstrate their mastery of course objectives?

Creating a few brief fill in the blank template sentences can also be a useful way to identify major project, assignment, or assessment goals. Will students need to evaluate, discriminate, categorize, design, justify, contrast, illustrate, defend, explain, or translate? Use verbs to describe what students will need to demonstrate. Additionally, plan for the kinds of tools, technology, or skills students need to use to successfully demonstrate what they are expected to learn. Consider the following sentences as a starting point:

  • By the end of the semester, students will be able to __________.
  • Students will use________, and they will demonstrate _________, ________, and _______. In example: While working on this group project, students will use laboratory tools and equipment to demonstrate laboratory procedures, and they will examine, identify, and evaluate the skeletal system of the human body. Any required constraints, such as time limits, may be included when identifying a particular measurable outcome.


Following each major activity, assignment, or assessment, analyze the results. Look for patterns and record answers to the following questions during or directly after grading:

  • Did the majority of students successfully demonstrate the targeted learning objectives?
  • If students did not do as well as expected:
    • Were any consistent, glaring mistakes, or misunderstandings identified?
    • What were the holes?
    • Would adding a scaffolded activity or assignment before this one better prepare students for this next time?
    • Was the lack of success possibly related to lack of practice, learning, or understanding?
    • What might need to be adjusted next time students complete this assignment?
  • Which parts of the assignment did students do well on?
  • What will you change next semester (or sooner), if anything?
  • Did this group of students seem to lack knowledge or skills prior students came with?
    • If so, what? (Use this information to track future classes and to surface any consistent shifts or changes in the skills and or knowledge of incoming students.)

Good reflective practice takes practitioners beyond mere competence towards a willingness and a desire to subject their own taken for granted and their own activities to serious scrutiny.

—Ron Johnson and Graham Bradley,
“The Competent Reflective Practitioner: Innovation and Learning in Education”


Using your analysis notes, create a formal Lessons Learned document:

  • For easy retrieval later, consider a title that includes Lessons Learned, the name of the course, the assignment title, and the semester.
  • Document what was revealed during your analysis, ideas for what you will add, change, or adjust in the assignment, and any scaffolding you want to add next semester.
  • Record any overall holes you noticed on previous major assignments that are repeated on this one.
  • Consider reviewing the gradebook to note any trends or data that may help you plan for the upcoming semester.


When you begin planning for a new semester:

  • Review the Lessons Learned documents created for each major assignment in the previous (or current) semester, the course outcomes, your major assignments sequence, and the scaffolded assignments leading up to these.
  • Create a section on your Lessons Learned document to jot down any new ideas, scaffolded assignment you want to add, or revisions you want to make.


The beauty of following a Lessons Learned reflective practice is that by the end of the semester, revisions should be straight forward. You’ve been considering them all semester, and, in some cases, you may have been compiling notes for several semesters.

This series of videos and teaching tips is presented by Academic Outreach and Innovation (AOI). We invite you to join the conversation. Share your tips and ask questions through this blog. If you would like these posts to be sent directly to your email each week, subscribe to the listserv by emailing

For more information or to schedule time with an instructional designer or emerging technologist, contact or request training on demand. You can also visit the Spark Faculty Innovation Studio in room 102 any time from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., Monday through Thursday, during the academic year.