Final Learning Reflection

Your final assignment for the course is a bit different from previous assignments.

Sorry for the long instructions here—I’m just trying to be as clear and explicit as possible. Let me know if you have any questions! There is a thread on the discussion board just for finals questions, Slack is always good, and email, too, if that’s what you’re most comfortable with.

I’d like you to write a ~1600-word argument for what letter grade you should get for the course. Most importantly—as a final exercise and justification for your grade—your essay will describe your learning experience throughout the course, including providing SPECIFIC EXAMPLES FROM THE READINGS. How has your perspective on diet and health changed? How is your understanding of expertise any different than before? How can you analyze the rhetoric of diet and health differently now? How can the history of nutrition tell us something about contemporary dietary debates?

I can’t emphasize enough that your final reflections should be personal statements about YOUR LEARNING EXPERIENCE, not just a recitation of course topics and themes. If all you do is summarize some readings without including your reaction to them (unfavorable reactions are fine!), I can only assume that you didn’t put in very much effort into the course.

You will do well if you describe HOW and WHY your thinking about diet/health/expertise/rhetoric has or has not changed, and using specific examples from course readings and the BIG POINTS as they’ve been highlighted. ALSO: bear in mind that a successful final can argue (wholly or in part) that the course (or some aspects) did not meet the course learning objectives—just be sure you describe specific examples of how the readings and/or assignments did not help you. Needless to say, arguing that you are disappointed you didn’t learn anything while not demonstrating your familiarity with course material—meaning it looks like you just didn’t make much of an effort—will not go over well.

This isn’t a writing class so you’re not getting evaluated on elegant prose. BUT, your writing must be clear enough that I can follow your argument and your survey of course themes. Your final reflection should be well thought out and carefully written, not a stream of consciousness off-the-cuff here’s-what-I-remember type thing. MAKE SURE YOUR POST HAS CLEAR PARAGRAPHS BEFORE SUBMITTING IT (which most of you do already). I’ve given you LOTS of time to make these good, and I will be evaluating them with that in mind.

Why make an argument for a grade?

It’s maybe a weird way to frame a final, but there is a specific reason. I recognize that your effort to learn, and what you actually did learn, might not be represented in your final point tally. This assignment gives you a chance to argue that you’ve learned more the numbers indicate.

To be clear, you aren’t necessarily going to get whatever grade you ask for. But, as someone who must (trust me, I’d rather not) judge your effort and accomplishments in the course, your final gives me an important qualitative description to consider that the quantitative metrics might not. If you have gotten lower scores, but write a very smart final that uses lots of examples from the readings as evidence for your familiarity with them and covers the BIG POINTS I’ve mentioned throughout the course, you will likely get a higher grade than your raw point total suggests.

It turns out that about 90% of student argue for more or less the same grade they were going to get anyway, and about 7% (the humble, perfectionist overachievers) argue for a lower grade than they have already earned, and only about 3% argue for a grade that they didn’t come close to earning. Crucially, about 20% of students raise their grade from what I otherwise would have assigned because a strong final. Note that these 20% of students are never among the highest scoring students in the class going into the final, because that group is already at the top of the grade scale. TAKE ADVANTAGE!

A ridiculous sample

A VERY skeletal but hopefully suggestive example (which condenses a whole essay into a paragraph, and so is a model more in spirit than in execution):

I think I earned a B+. I never thought about how the history of diet could change my thinking about A or B. I learned to think about X more carefully because of E. I realized I hadn’t ever thought about Y in terms of F before, but that it’s important because of Z. Those issues are also relevant to F and G, because of H and J. I also was really interested in reading about Q because of T; I liked how the reading on R made me think about U differently, even though that was contradicted by S. I enjoyed the readings A, B, and C because of X and Y, as they made me question assumptions M and N that I had initially. I disagreed with the D reading because of O and S. I disagreed with the B reading because of X, but liked how it described Z. I would have liked to spend more time with some of the topics, such as P, Q, and R, but I had to pick up extra shifts at work, so some of my reflections were a little thin on those days. I had a hard time following the lecture on F, so my quiz score was low, but I thought it was interesting how A and B from the lecture connected with M and N from the earlier C and D readings. I thought the readings on J had some good ideas but I found the writing hard to follow (for example when the author discusses G), and so I didn’t incorporate them into my reflections. But I was really into J and K, and thought I wrote some of the more interesting posts of the class, particularly my analysis of G and H. I thought it was interesting how topics L and M from the first week intersected with T and U from the third week in the sense of P and Q. And so on.

Obviously you’ll have SIGNIFICANTLY MORE DEPTH to your description in the sense that all the letters above will be well-explained and specific examples from the readings—and they won’t all be crammed into a single sentence as I have done. What is one sentence above should be a whole paragraph in your reflection.

The point here is that this final learning reflection will CONNECT DIFFERENT TOPICS AND THEMES AND READINGS for the course. I hope it’s obvious that the sample (even in its intense vagueness) gives specific examples from the readings to illustrate a learning experience. In NO WAY does it resemble a week-by-week summary of the syllabus.

Pro tips for success

Take time to review

Before you start writing, over the next few weeks, you should invest a few hours time to REVIST THE READINGS—not necessarily re-reading them—to remind yourself what you’ve read, or maybe reading a little more of something you could only skim before. You should absolutely use the DISCUSSION BOARD to remind you of what was going on over the many weeks of class. ALL THOSE POSTS are more than just assignments for you to do—they are our course archive that makes the key ideas from the course and the readings easily accessible. The VIDEO LECTURES can be tedious, but they all try to pull together broader themes and explain how different weeks fit together. If you just clicked through these quickly (I see that average view time are quite short), you’re missing out on a lot of the course (which I’m looking for in the final).


I may have mentioned this once or twice in the course already. Specificity and clarity (in thinking and organization) is what separates excellent from mediocre work. To say that “I learned to think more critically about fad diets” will sound unconvincing unless you provide several specific examples of the issues that you think are important to think critically about and WHY. If you just make a vague statement that you learned about a topic on the syllabus (“I learned the sugar industry likes to suggest that sugar isn’t harmful; or, I learned about the dangers of GMOs”), and you don’t provide any examples from the readings, or don’t connect different readings together, I can only assume it’s because you didn’t read or learn very much.

Think holistically

The more you can tie themes together and speak about the course as a whole (while giving specific examples from the readings—yes, I’m going to keep repeating it), the higher your score will be. Essays that speak very generally about one topic after the other in the order of the syllabus will make a case that you haven’t really made any connections. Almost every single reading can be related to at least a handful of others on the syllabus. Many of you have been doing this in your posts of late—keep it up! When I see those connections in your final, I know you’re putting in the work to make them.

Make an impression; 30 points go a long way

This exercise is your final assignment. Duh. And it’s worth only 30 points (something like 12% of your grade, so it’s not a huge chunk), but crucially they are the LAST 30 POINTS you can get. 30 points might not seem like much at the very end of a long course with lots of assignments, but that’s roughly the difference between an A and D. Even if you’re going for a C, this is your last chance to make sure you get at least that.

AGAIN: No matter how you have fared on assignments or quizzes previously, a smart essay here can make a significant grade difference. Please note that a strong performance can get you a better grade than your final point total might suggest (because I think effort and improvement should be reflected in your final grade). On the other hand, a lackluster performance can definitely lower your pre-final grade from what it was (but never lower that what your point total suggests).

I know everyone is fried at this point, but thinking back through the course makes a big difference in what you take away from it and the quality of your critical thinking about diet and health, and hopefully just in general. I wouldn’t bother if I didn’t think it made a big impact.

One last time: telling me what you were SUPPOSED to learn (that is, paraphrasing the syllabus) is very different from describing YOUR LEARNING EXPERIENCE.


  • 28-30: Excellent. Presents an original, expressive, and sophisticated analysis of what the student has learned and how the readings relate to each other. It combines many specific examples from the readings with a detailed personal narrative of how they affected (or didn’t) the student’s thinking about diet and health.
  • 25-27: Very good. Provides excellent coverage of course topics, themes, and readings, with more than a few specific examples, connects readings from throughout the course, and demonstrates a clear emphasis on creating a learning reflection rather than course summary.
  • 20-24: Good. Provides solid coverage of course topics, themes, and readings—with some examples—but tends more towards summary than a learning narrative.
  • 15-19: Fine. Shows some evidence of thinking critically about core topics from the course, covers a wide variety of course themes, but does not demonstrate much knowledge of course content beyond superficial descriptions.
  • 10-14: Marginal. Basically summarizes or paraphrases the syllabus, but shows enough familiarity with the majority readings to get some points.
  • 0-9: Not good. Incoherent, overly general summary of some topics, many topics missing, minimal examples or engagement with readings.