The Flourishing Academic

A blog for teacher-scholars published by the Duquesne University Center for Teaching Excellence

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Helping Students Reflect on Study Habits

In January 2017, CTE interviewed Pamela Spigelmyer, Faculty, School of Nursing about her use of exam wrappers to help students learn. thumbnail_pamela-spigelmyer_0003

What is an exam wrapper?

It’s a reflection by students on their exam performance. It stimulates them to think about the effort they put into studying for the exam, and the barriers to achieving their best score. I ask students to do the following:

  • tell how much time they studied and estimate the percentage of time they spent on various study methods
  • analyze the reason for the points they lost on the exam
  • state their study plans
  • suggest ways I can support them for the next exam. [see sample wrapper below]

Tell me how you have used exam wrappers.

I have used them on the midterm exam in three different courses. Students can use their reflection on the midterm to improve their learning in the second half of the semester.

In my freshmen class this fall it went really well. I was surprised at the list of things they said they were going to do to improve for the next exam. When I asked, “what can I do to help you,” there were only minor comments. This makes sense, because I was already administering frequent quizzes and giving them clicker questions in class. They were getting practice.

What have you learned in the process?

Some of the comments I got back really opened my eyes to what students thought was effective study. For example, some students created 50-60 page study guides by cutting and pasting from the book. They explained that this guide was all they used for studying and claimed that it should have been enough. But they didn’t do well, and I was able to provide that as evidence back to them.

I put student grades into two ranges and made a chart of the study methods students in each range said they used. Then I presented it saying, “if you want to achieve a higher grade, here’s an idea of what some of your classmates did.” chart-low-high-performance

Once I had a student who honestly reported on the exam wrapper that she had studied zero time. She had not looked at any material in preparing for the midterm exam. She apparently didn’t implement the study methods we talked about after the midterm, and performed poorly on the final exam. Then, at the end of the course, she challenged the grade. The exam wrapper served as evidence that she hadn’t put in the effort needed to achieve a better grade.

Do you have a way for students to refer back to their reflection? How do you administer the exam wrapper?

They always have the wrapper available on Blackboard. Right after the midterm exam closes, the exam wrapper assignment opens up. I tell them it is not graded, but it is required. Most students complete the 10-15 minute reflection within the 24-hour window.

Here’s the sequence: students take the online exam, receive the score immediately and then are asked to reflect on the exam and their studyingexam-wrapper-assignment-sp2017

I tell students that I use exam wrappers to identify areas where I can help them improve, and that they should use it for looking at their learning and areas for growth.

How have you used exam wrappers to help students?

Several students have mentioned stress anxiety. This gives me an opportunity to guide students to the Counseling and Wellness Center. In the past, they could have struggled without me knowing, but now I can pick that up at midterm.

Here’stwo-answers-multiple-choice another example. I can see from exam statistics where students get it down to two answers and can’t pick the right one; this is very typical for nursing exams. That tells me that I need to be more explicit in helping them choose between the two. There’s always something in one that makes it better than the other, and they’re just overlooking it. So we do practice questions that are specifically close in two answers.

Sometimes they say, “I just didn’t know the content,” which suggests that they didn’t prepare enough and I outline the way high achieving students study.

Before the exam, I also provide a study template. It just lists the course objectives and tells how many exam questions will be related to each objective. It shows the importance of sections. When there is a lot of material, it’s only fair for students to know how to prioritize their studying.

I like that way of tying it to the course learning objectives.

I also do frequent quizzing – which helps them gauge their learning. I don’t give them answers for items they miss, but just indicate the reading chapter it came from. That forces them to go back and find it.

Do you have any suggestions for your colleagues? Is anyone else doing it that you know of?

Several faculty colleagues have asked me for this assignment, and they have started to implement it. Others use a similar kind of method that they have created.

Do you tie this assignment in with a nursing competency?

I haven’t, but that would be a good idea. I never thought of that. It would fit under “professionalism and growth.”

Related posts: Helping Students Learn from Returned Tests   The Finals Lap: Tips and Ideas for Final Exam Review


  1. Approximately how much time did you spend preparing for this exam?
  2. What percentage of your test-preparation time was spent in each of these activities?
Activity Percentage of Time
Reading textbook section(s) for the first time
Rereading textbook section(s)
Reviewing homework-quiz question/concepts
Reviewing in class practice questions
Solving case study questions from textbook
Reviewing your own notes
Reviewing additional materials/websites posted in class weekly folders
Other: (please specify)

3. Now that you have looked over your graded exam, estimate the percentage of points you lost due to each of the following (make sure the percentage add up to 100):

Reason for lost exam points Percentage
Did not know/remember the content on the exam
Did not understand the question
Did not read the question/item carefully
Missed key words in the question
Did not read all distractor /potential answers carefully
Had difficulty choosing between 2 answers
Read/inferred more into the question than what was stated
Careless mistake (selected the wrong response accidentally)
Changed the answer
Experienced test anxiety/ inability to focus
Other: (please specify)

4. Based on your responses to the questions above, name at least three things you plan to do differently in preparing for the next exam. For instance, will you just spend more time studying,  change a specific study habit or try a new one (if so, name it), solve more case studies, practice more questions, or something else?

5. What can I do to help support your learning and your preparation for the next exam?



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Representation Matters

IMG_4948by Taylor Cavalovitch, a recent graduate from Duquesne University’s School of Education. Taylor was this year’s recipient of the Award for Undergraduate Research offered through the Center for Teaching Excellence.  He was recognized for is research project, “Representation Matters: How Representation in Children’s Literature Influences Children of Different Ethnicities,” presented at the 2016 Undergraduate Research and Scholarship Symposium.

Representation Matters

In a society where all students are subjected to watching and reading the same stories about white men, why and how can educators break past this single story narrative and share the manifold stories of our diverse student population? As a future educator, I have seen firsthand the lack of a diverse curriculum being taught in our schools. Through this realization and reflecting on my own schooling, I wanted to gain insight on how I can better serve my students, understanding that they too come from various backgrounds.  With the help of my professor, Dr. Sandra Quiñones, I was able to develop an action research project that I hoped would improve the engagement of a student from a non-dominant population. The idea for this project was cultivated over the course of an eight-week field placement in a first grade classroom at a suburban Pittsburgh school.

Through my initial observations, I noticed that my host teacher was selecting literature that represented the dominant population: the white students. While this was not a conscious decision my host teacher made, I could tell that three students who were part of non-dominant groups, Venezuelan, Korean, and Chinese, were tired of hearing the stories of one group. In particular, I noticed that my student participant, the student from Venezuela, was much more disengaged than his fellow classmates. I believed it was because this was his first year in the United States and his first experience being under-represented in a classroom. To test my hunch that under-representation and internalized oppression might be the reason for his disengagement, I showed my student participant two pictures, one of Joe Biden and the other of Leopoldo López, and asked him who he thought the smart man was. He selected Joe Biden; although, he was unable to provide a rational reason for his selection.

To positively impact his engagement and self-perception, I decided to read children’s literature that represented this student during the read-aloud portion of the day. As I was searching for appropriate literature, I found texts about Venezuelan culture but had difficulty finding a text that focused on a Venezuelan main character. Therefore, I decided to select the children’s book Niño Wrestles the World by Yuyi Morales; a book about a boy from Mexico pretending to wrestle his toys as his twin sisters slept. I thought this title would be a perfect choice due to it mostly being about the imagination of a young boy. However, I did make the decision to adapt the book to make the boy from Venezuela instead of Mexico. During my reading, the student was unable to take his eyes off me. When I asked a discussion question, his hand was the first hand raised.

The following week, I decided to read the book Dream Carver by Diana Cohn; once again, I needed to adapt this book to better represent my student participant. As with my previous read-aloud, the student was much more engaged with the text because the book acted as a mirror, my student participant could see himself in the text.  I then revisited my “Who is smarter?” question. This time, however, he selected Leopoldo López to be the smarter man. I believe that since my student participant was able to see himself represented in the classroom, he then in turn believed that Leopoldo López could be smarter than Joe Biden. My student participant and I developed what I would call an authentic relationship, because he could tell that I took a genuine interest in his culture; therefore, validating his existence in the classroom.

But my student participant was not the only one who benefited from this exposure these books. The other students were able to experience a perspective other than their own, and truly appreciate a different story. I believe that representation encompasses many facets of students’ lives: their linguistic and cultural background, gender identity, sexuality, differences in physical and mental abilities, family dynamics, etc. No student should feel lesser because they may appear to be different. As educators it is our responsibility to value and validate each and every one of our students. Representation matters, and it does play a pivotal role in students’ self-worth and engagement.