We all love to complain about those end-of-term student evaluations. And while there are undoubtedly problematic pieces, we shouldn’t be surprised by the outcomes. How do we avoid those numeric surprises (or disappointments) linked to job performance? Well, we integrate early reflections on teaching and learning–that’s how.
It is becoming common for instructors to add mid-term evaluations to their classrooms. But what if we tried adding them earlier (or more consistently)? This post represents methods and questions you can adopt in your classroom to gain meaningful feedback earlier from your students, which should help you make changes to your instruction that reflect student need and autonomy.
Timing possibilities, reflective purposes
- Weekly: Thinking about strategies, activities, and texts are perfect opportunities for reflection. For example, maybe you introduced a new reading you hadn’t taught before. Allow students to share how they felt about the article, its readability, and how it was taught and integrated into the curriculum. Here are some other ways you can use reflections weekly in your class:
- Check in on student mental health
- Learn what other academic, organizational, or social commitments might be weighing in on student success
- Consider specific strategies you’re trying out for the first time
- Provide space for instructional growth
- Learn about topics of interest of students that could add to the course
- Get text suggestions
- Quarterly: One of the most opportune times to ask students how the class is going is at the quarter marks. This allows for students to reflect on more than one week, but also not too much content that they are then able to reflect on specific instances that were impactful for them. For example, you may ask students about consistency or connections between and among a course after the first quarter of a course. Here are some other ways you can use reflections quarterly in your class:
- Identify specific strategies that worked and should be continued
- Learn about how students are making connections
- Find out what types of assessment are working and what types aren’t
- Think about deadlines or workloads
- Find out if students feel heard or if they feel they have autonomy
- Focus on technologies and how students are using or experiencing them
- Think about your feedback and how students need it or use it
- Mid-term: Arguably the most common timing here, mid-term reflections provide a stopping point for us as instructors to see if our students are being heard and internalized. What is a more significant challenge is not just getting the content but trying to find out from students what instructional choices you are making are impactful to their learning. This requires us as instructors to differentiate between the “curriculum” (aka the content) and the “instruction” (aka the pedagogy). Here are some ways you can use mid-term reflections in your class:
- Model after your end-of-term evaluation to see a benchmark
- Reflect on DEI goals and initiatives
- Think about teaching resources and how they relate to student need
- Find out what students have learned and what they are still curious about
- Think about the status of major projects or how students are feeling about course goals and outcomes
- What are the future-focused needs of students to succeed in the second half of class
To help with questions, I’ve created a question bank here for readers to pick and choose from to get started. I would encourage not asking students more than three questions in a reflection and choosing questions poignant to what you want to grow from–not just ask for the sake of asking.
When choosing from these questions, consider how you will grow from them. When you are committing to getting feedback, then you must be committed to using it. Just because students say something you disagree with doesn’t mean they are wrong. It requires introspection to identify how you can and will respond in your curriculum and instruction based on how students reflect.
Creating your reflections will help combine Likert questions (scales) and short responses to get what you need. The questions included below can be modified to do either.
- Questions about course content
- What is your biggest takeaway from class today?
- What is the most lasting bit of information you’ve learned in the lecture? in the reading? in discussion over the last four weeks?
- What content would you like more support to better understand or grasp it?
- What connections are you making between the course content and your life?
- How can I best improve your learning of __topic__?
- What activity was the most memorable for you in __time__?
- What is a strategy we used in class that you would like us to use again?
- What have you read/listened to/watched recently that you think would be suitable for this class?
- Summarize what you learned today.
- Describe how you worked in your group today — what worked well for you and how did you contribute to the group’s success?
- Questions about assessment
- Describe how you manage your time.
- Discuss where you are in the process of your final project.
- When you worked on __assignment__ what did you struggle with? what did you think went well?
- After completing this activity, what could be a different way to show you’ve learned the same information?
- How accessible were the instructions for this assignment?
- Describe how you would use the skills you needed for this assignment in your future work.
- Reflect on my feedback. How can I improve it to better your future work?
- Questions about technology
- How does technology help you learn?
- What technologies could I be using to help improve your experience in class?
- How accessible was this technology?
- Describe how you could do this activity without the help of technology.
- How can I improve our course learning management system?
- Suggest a technology you use consistently that could help improve a lesson or this course.
- Questions about you/you
- What am I doing that you would like me to continue doing in class?
- What can I improve on to help maximize your learning experience?
- How can I make office hours/drop-in hours more welcoming? more accessible?
- What can I do to help motivate you?
- What specific learning needs would you like me to be aware of to maximize your learning in this class?
I deliberately did not include questions about mental health and wellness. You must be informed and educated about the limits of that type of questioning and that many of us aren’t licensed mental health professionals. I encourage you to work with your mental health service providers on campus and in your schools to help understand what a practical question for classroom needs that also help you understand your students’ mental health is.