A Time to Every Purpose

For last year or so, I’ve been getting back into vinyl records. My wife and I dug out our old albums, dusted off our old record player and have been playing some of the classics from our youth. My kids have also caught the bug and have started buying records when we go shopping at vintage stores. While our house has always been full of music, it’s now alive with songs from the Smiths, the Velvet Underground, and the Violent Femmes. Oddly, my children have also taken to some of the classic albums from the 1960’s. They’re playing the Beatles, the Beach Boys and even the Mamas and the Papas. It’s definitely an eclectic musical mix at our house.

One song that has been in heavy rotation recently is Turn, Turn, Turn by the Byrds. If you don’t know the song, it was originally written by Pete Seeger, but he pulled most of the lyrics from the Book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. The song starts out:

“To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time to every purpose, under heaven.”

If you’re a music lover, you may be humming the song in your head right now.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the phrase “a time to every purpose” lately. It’s the first week of the semester on campus and new classes have begun. It’s the season of introductions and syllabi and book lists. It’s the time when faculty outline their expectations and their assignments. And it’s the season for students trying to figure out how they can meet those expectations considering their other classes, their jobs, and their other life commitments.

To everything. (turn, turn, turn)

Even though it’s early in the semester, I’ve already provided some feedback on the first set of assignments. When providing feedback, I try to remember the work of Grant Wiggins who offers Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. These include:

  • Effective instructor feedback is goal-referenced.
  • Effective instructor feedback is tangible and transparent.
  • Effective instructor feedback is actionable.
  • Effective instructor feedback is timely.
  • Effective instructor feedback is ongoing.
  • Effective instructor feedback is consistent
  • Effective instructor feedback progresses towards a goal

The challenge is that since it’s the first week of the semester, students (and maybe some faculty) are feeling their way through a new set of classes. While it’s the season for faculty outlining their expectations, it’s also a time when students may not fully understand those expectations. While we all try to make our expectations tangible and transparent, students come to our classes with experiences with other professors, other courses and other assignments. These experiences may cloud how they interpret our expectations and assignments.

Which makes effective feedback so critical at this stage of the semester. While some may be inclined to go a little easy this early on, providing consistent feedback early in the semester is more important than ever. Drawing back to Pete Seeger’s lyrics, there’s “a time to plant, a time to reap.”

And what we plant in week 1 of the semester, we can reap later on.

(turn, turn, turn)

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