As the fall semester draws near, many educators will begin to prepare and plan. Perhaps, lecture and powerpoint presentations need to be updated. Maybe, you are revising your syllabus or assignments. As you prepare, do you consider feedback you gained from students at the end of the semester?
Sometimes reading feedback that students give regarding your teaching performance or effectiveness in the classroom is painful. It’s personal; a negative evaluation! You think to yourself, “did a student really write that?”. You begin to consider who could have said such a hurtful thing. It feels like a punch in the gut.
When I started teaching, I was devastated by negative comments on my end of course evaluations. In fact, I would completely ignore all of the positive things that students said and just focus on the on negative comments. There were even times when those comments would haunt me as I moved into the next semester. Now, I read my end of course surveys more critically! I focus in on the specific behaviors that students liked or disliked and consider the following:
Is this something I want to address or change?
Is this something I can address or change?
For example, some students don’t like that I spend the beginning of class on student announcements, but I also get overwhelming feedback that supports that students like building a classroom community, which is enhanced by this activity. Therefore, I choose to continue to begin class with announcements.
There are many ways to collect feedback from students. Sometimes, I ask just by a show of hands. Sometimes, I create a quick survey (paper/pencil or electronic). Online tools can be very effective for collecting data. Survey monkey is an online tool you can use to create surveys to gather feedback from students. This tool allows you to collect data from students anonymously. Additionally, some universities survey students at the end of each class; however, some institutions only do this annually. This anonymous method for collecting feedback can also be very useful. If this data is collected, inquire about how you can gain access to it if it is not share with you. This will help as you prepare for future semesters.
So, after the initial blow that comes from reading comments that you may consider hurtful, stop and reflect. Is there anything constructive in the feedback? Are there areas where improvement is necessary? Can I take something away, learn something, or change anything to make my next class better? Can I improve the learning environment and experiences offered to future students?
I have learned to look for value in the feedback I receive. I work hard to remind myself that not every student in my class has to like me; however, they do need to learn from me. Do their comments provide feedback regarding my pedagogy? Should I consider adjusting strategies that I use to enhance their learning? I work hard to feel less offended and more empowered, because I have the power to make changes. I have the ability to select feedback that could make the course better. I have learned to read through the comments and identify nuggets of information that I can use to improve my teaching.
“Dr. XYZ was probably one of the best Professors I’ve had at UUU. I had her at 825am and it really was an engaging experience to have her lecture. She also let us print out/ use a note card on the tests/quizzes which was great since I would basically print out the whole study guide on both sides of it. Making those helped me memorize + understand.”
“Professor XYZ was great. She made the classroom environment extremely comfortable. She’s fun and encouraged everyone to join in, but still kept the course professional. What started out as being a required course I dreaded ended up being my favorite class of the semester.”
What makes this feedback helpful? It points to specific eliminates of lecture, the classroom experience or interaction between faculty and students that can be cultivated or eliminated. Further, it explains what materials were helpful and what students expectations are of required courses.
“She is my fave prof. of all GCU. She is so nice and compassionate towards all of her students. Even if xxxxx isn’t your major, you will learn a lot from and enjoy her class. Its not an easy A or a hard A kind of class. You have to put in some work but overall not hard to pass at all. I’ve never met a UUU student who didn’t absolutely LOVE Prof. XYZ.”
“She was so fun! She is personable with the students and she keeps us all interested in the class. The class itself was super easy! I would definitely take a class by from her again!”
While this feedback is flattering and it makes you feel good to get it, everyone…including us…wants to hear they are loved! But this feedback won’t make you a better teacher. There are no behaviors to cultivate, there’s no mention of activities, lectures, assignment or study materials and let’s face it! There is always room for improvement.
Teach Students How to Provide Feedback
Ask students for feedback. And ask them frequently! I learned that rather than fearing what they may say, I could learn from them. What did they like about a lecture, activity, or assignment? What didn’t they like? I often ask my students “Should I do this activity again next semester?”.
We also discuss effective feedback. For examples, we discuss the difference between not liking the method of delivery and not learning. Just because they didn’t like the delivery method doesn’t mean that the teaching or experience was ineffective. Teach your students to recognize the difference. This helps them to self-reflect. It also helps them to provide more constructive feedback.
Learn from every class and every evaluation! You are a brilliant critical thinker, one bad lecture and one poor evaluation shouldn’t keep you down. Let it go! Channel your energy into making the next class even better.