Having Effective Debrief Conversations with Your Students

Each VEX EXP STEM Lab Unit concludes with a student self-assessment in the form of a Debrief Conversation.  The Debrief Conversation is an opportunity for students and teachers to sit down together to discuss the student’s progress towards the co-created learning targets over the course of the Unit, using the Debrief Conversation Rubric provided as a tool.

This article will provide information on how to successfully prepare, facilitate, and follow up on Debrief Conversations, so both student and teacher have a shared understanding of the learning that has taken place, as well as a clear idea of next steps.

Preparing for the Debrief Conversation

At the outset of each Unit, you co-create learning targets with your students. The learning targets you created, along with the reflection questions provided in the Unit, provide the framework for the discussion.

When you are preparing for the conversation:

  • Create the conditions for a positive Debrief Conversation.
    • In order for students to speak candidly about their progress, they must feel comfortable with the idea of sharing where they are in their learning trajectory as well as where they need to go.
    • Frame challenges or struggles in a positive way, so that students continue to associate their mistakes as learning opportunities, not punitive failures.
  • Be intentional. Take each student’s strengths, weaknesses, and communication style into consideration before you talk with them. Thinking about specific reflection questions and learning targets you would like to focus on during the conversation can help make it impactful.
  • Help students prepare by:
    • Allowing them time to answer the reflection questions in their engineering notebook, and to use the Debrief Conversation Rubric to rate themselves.
    • Reminding students to be ready to provide evidence for their rating during the conversation, using their Engineering Notebooks or other artifacts.
    • Having copies of the Debrief Conversation Rubric ready to refer to while preparing, and during the discussion.

During the Debrief Conversation

Remember that this conversation should be a continuation of learning, not an end to it. As such, be mindful to use language that supports learning and partnership throughout the conversation. To support the flow of conversation, consider the following:

  • Invite students to discuss how they rated themselves using the Debrief Conversation Rubric, and discuss their progress towards learning targets you co-created.
  • Consider having students take the lead in the conversation. They may highlight learning targets or reflections that you would not have chosen, which can offer insights into their thinking and problem solving processes.
  • Require students to provide examples and evidence that support why they chose a particular rating. Be sure to refer to things like their engineering notebook during the discussion.
  • Ask follow-up questions that require students to dig more deeply into their own thinking. This conversation is an opportunity for the teacher to learn more about how the student approaches problem solving, what the student needs to move forward, and any gaps in learning that should be addressed.
  • If a students’ answer does not align with what you have observed during the Unit, ask questions to uncover their reasoning, and impressions of their learning. Be mindful that you are partnering with the student to develop a meaningful picture of their learning, and that you may need to continue to gently draw out their understanding in order to reach consensus.

Following Up on the Debrief Conversation

In order to make the Debrief Conversation part of the trajectory, or path of student learning, the things discussed, or action items identified, should be actioned by students and teachers alike moving forward. To support the ongoing nature of learning conversations, consider the following: 

  • Use what you learned to shape your teaching moving forward. Is there anything you want to continue to explore or revisit conceptually? Are there particular skills or areas where students are thriving that you can use to help support other areas that may present more of a challenge?
  • Continue these kinds of reflective conversations throughout the course of a Unit - what have you learned from the Debrief Conversation that you can apply to co-creating learning targets for the next Unit?
  • Be aware of patterns you may discover in students’ answers, especially regarding skills such as collaboration, creative problem-solving, communication and iteration, so you can help foster skill development in these areas in future Units.


For more information, help, and tips, check out the many resources at VEX Professional Development Plus

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