Informal (Early) Evaluations

This week, I’ll be giving my students the chance to assess my teaching early. They will each receive a printed questionnaire and time to fill it out in class. The questionnaires will be anonymous and voluntary, and they are composed of only 4 questions:

  1. Do you find group work useful?
  2. What do you like about this class?
  3. What do you dislike about this class?
  4. If you could change one thing, what would it be?

If the course were a seminar, I would also have added questions about the best and worst readings, but as I’m currently teaching 3 sections of a lecture-based class, I’m sticking to the basics.

Why am I surveying my classes when I’m already terrifyingly behind, you ask? I mean – really – who has time to read an extra 105 hand-written sheets of paper this time of year? Well, this is an old trick I used to use when I was a new teacher. I did it with every class, and then used the feedback to get a sense of what I was doing right, and what was a huge flop. You know, back in the days before the universities started giving me 150-seaters. These informal surveys gave me information before the course was over, when I still had time to do something about it, and to make the course more pleasurable for the students and for myself. They also had the handy side-effect of giving me cold, hard data that proved that someone’s love affair was another person’s nightmare  – by which I mean that the most popular items on the “what do you like” and the “what do you hate” lists are always the same damn thing.

I’m resorting to my old ways again for several reasons. First and foremost, my classes are much smaller and so I feel like I can – and should – start doing this again. When I only have 35 opinions to consider for each section, I feel like I have a responsibility to see how things are going from their perspective and to try to adapt my lectures and small-group activities to their needs. End-of-term evaluations might be important to my career, but early evaluations are important to my classroom, and it’s this kind of informal document that lets me best serve my students in the moment.

If I’m being entirely honest though, I’m also unusually concerned about my performance because I’ve switched levels. I’m thoroughly accustomed to teaching at the university level, so teaching for a pre-university CEGEP program for the first time means that I’m anxious and that I live in fear of pitching the class either too high or too low. Knowing me, it’s the former that’s the danger and not the latter, but you never know. From my perspective, my students seem to be keeping up, making breakthroughs, and being generally awesome (yeah, ok, so I have particularly good classes right now). That having been said, I still want to know what it feels like to them.

As with end-of-term evaluations, you need to have a thick skin for these things, and I’m sure I’ll get my share of painfully blunt statements. But at least I’ll know where I stand, and I can add or reduce the amount of group work as the term progresses. I can also change up how I format my lectures, if not the topics themselves. Maybe a few more case studies? Maybe less quotes but more definitions? And almost invariably, I will be asked to slow down. Speed is my Achilles heel, and I can’t imagine that my weakness has magically healed itself since last semester.

I’ll report back and let you know how I’m feeling about this next week, after I’ve digested the usual mix of thoughtful feedback and pure vitriol. Hopefully, this semester, no one complains about the sound of my voice…

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2 thoughts on “Informal (Early) Evaluations

  1. A fantastic idea and very useful exercise to help you evaluate how the class feels. In addition to a “check up” survey I do an optional early introduction survey in class 1 or 2 with questions like:

    1) Why are enrolled in this class?
    2) Have you taken similar courses or done outside reading? <– aka, what level of preknowledge can you, as a teacher, assume?
    3) What would you like to get out of this class/ideally what grade do you want?
    3b) Is this a feasible response? <– I want a thoughtful response. Very rarely have students unthinkingly just answered "obviously an A+!"
    4) What would you have to do to achieve these goals?
    5) What can I do to help you achieve these goals?
    6) Is there anything further you'd like me to know?

    I'd say 95% of students complete the form; they're free to answer just a couple questions or none at all. I've found it a great way to help me get to know students, their fears, their goals, and any impediments they foresee early on. I think too, it makes for a smoother, less awkward, first couple weeks of class!

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