A high school Spanish teacher embraces feedback from the audience that sees and knows his teaching most intimately – his students! No longer reserved for college courses, mid-semester and end of course evaluations can serve as important tools for teacher reflection. As with daily closure activities, unless a teacher takes the time to make an “action plan” based on his/her reflection on the feedback, it does not serve its truest purpose.
Rick Benitez asks his tenth – twelfth grade language students to respond to course surveys four times each year: halfway through each semester and at the end. His surveys vary depending upon what he is hoping to glean from his students. He has learned to “put his ego aside” and move from asking questions that “validate his teaching” to questions that get at the heart of how students are learning and experiencing his course. With a combination of “Likert Scale” questions and more open-ended inquiry (*see suggestions for how to create your course survey), Rick is able to gather valuable information which helps him analyze and change his teaching to best meet the needs of his students.
After taking a few moments to look through the summary of responses, Rick usually sets them down and comes back to them in a few days. Over time he has become aware of having an emotional/affective response to the feedback, and finds that a little space gives him greater ability to react productively. Rick’s next step is to summarize the students’ responses to scaled-item questions (extent to which students agree or disagree with each question, the spread of responses to each question, the extent of agreement or disagreement across each of the areas he is seeking feedback on, and finally, he notes strengths and areas for improvement). In summarizing students’ responses to the open-ended questions, Rick looks for key words and phrases and groups them into themes. He notes how the themes arising from the open-ended questions support or contradict the scaled items. He looks for trends, insights, and the unexpected. He also makes notes of any additional insights that they offer. From this, Rick prepares a summary of the main strengths and areas for improvement. He then uses the following questions to help guide his own reflection on the feedback: What did I learn about my teaching? What worked well? What didn’t work so well? What do I know more about? What do I need to know more about? How will I find this out? What could I do differently? Where do I go from here?
Rick insists that this final move to “action” (where do I go from here) is what makes the use of course surveys/evaluations so valuable to making progress in his teaching and strides in his students’ learning. In this move to action, Rick finds it most helpful to find a colleague to discuss the following with: desired outcomes (long and short-term), strategies to achieve these outcomes, actions to achieve each strategy, timeline for implementation, sources of assistance and resources, criteria for achieving these outcomes, and thoughts for future directions. Admittedly not much of a writer, Rick turns to “dragon dictate” on his Mac to create a “speech to text” document of his reflections and plans for action. Finally, Rick asks what he deems the most challenging question of all: If I do act on my reflections, how will I know that my shift in teaching has had the positive outcomes that I seek? What can help or assist me in this process? By asking the hard questions, Rick knows that he is on his way to making course evaluations/student surveys an integral part of improving his practice and his students’ learning.
- How to Foster Student Feedback, how to format a student survey, what questions are worth considering, and how to then consider and use the feedback.
- This short video shows how a high school English teacher uses course evaluations to get important feedback from her students. She has designed this particular evaluation sheet so that it aligns with research completed in The Initial Findings From the Measures of Effective Teaching Project. As a result, she focuses on the “7 C’s: Care, Control, Clarity, Challenge, Captivate, Confer, & Consolidate.” You can find a link to her course evaluation on the site.