Thursday, September 24, 2009

Instant Feedback

While I tend to obsess over formal course evaluations (rate me! rate me!) I do often find them of limited use, if no other reason than that they reflect the vagaries of a distinct group of students after I have finished working with that group.

And so, I have begun to put more emphasis on the midterm course evaluation, which has been creeping incrementally forward from midterm, so that I tend to administer them around week 5, when there's been enough get-to-know-you time, but there is still plenty of time to make adjustments that will really affect the workings of the classroom.

The format I use is the stop/start/continue rubric, where students make two columns on the page (one for things I can control, and one for things they can control, individually and collectively). Then they label three rows: Things they'd like to see stop happening (group work, quizzes, classroom chatter), things they'd like to see start happening (candy, more group work, even participation), things they'd like to see continue that are already working (group discussions, paper feedback, tapdancing).

I've taught 9 or 10 sections of this particular course since I've been at BRU so on the one hand, I can anticipate many of the responses (as many students say less group work as ask for more), but that frequency often breeds ossification, and so I really do need to be responsive to trends in the feedback. This semester, for example, students would prefer that we slow down with the material, and make more time for a free-form discussion. This indicates a level of comfort with and respect for their classmates' opnions that--especially with a strong group such as this one--I'm thrilled to oblige. I also picked up a significant, if not overwhelming level of anxiety about the upcoming midterm, which is easy enough to address.

What bugs me, though, and has me even a little rattled, is the response that seeks to debunk the mechanism of the midterm eval itself. I got one response that insisted that the exercise was a joke, and that I was just "getting my jollies" by finding out what class really thought of me, and that I could tell everyone by their handwriting anyway, so it wasn't even anonymous. And while yes, I could correlate handwriting if I were trying, and I do enjoy getting positive feedback, this student is missing the point. Because I will say, I've focused more on hir individual response than any of the "love this course" responses that I get.

The rhetoric of "You're the teacher; stop asking us to do your work for you" is equally troubling, because of course this student is buying into an educational model that is at once passive and at the same time consumerist: "I've paid for your labor; now do the work for me." (The response also mentioned that the close-reading quizzes were little more than bs-ing).

Sigh. The feedback was overwhelmingly positive, but I can't help focusing on the one or two students who really are not responding to the work. But because the eval responses really are pretty anonymous, I'm not even sure whom to contact to check in with, nor am I sure if such a reaction would even prove worthwhile. So for now, I'll institute the tweaks to my classroom management, and hope that this person finds a way to obtain hir own education the way ze wants.


Laura said...

When my co-teacher and I did the midterm eval last spring, we actually were forwarded an email from a parent(!) about how we weren't doing our work because we were asking the students for input on the class. I think there's always an element of that in every class I've taught, where the students want information dumped into them somehow without their engaging in it. And if that's not your style of teaching, they get really frustrated with you and are often vocal about it.

Tom said...

If you have only one or two students who are "buying into an educational model that is at once passive and at the same time consumerist," I'd encourage you to be fully delighted. Teaching a couple of courses where we deal not only with literature, but also with what can only be described as "textbooks," I have been reliving my continuing frustration with the passive consumption of textbooks, as if they did not need to be read actively and critically. Somewhere students seem to have missed the point that the most valuable material their education provides is access to expert opinions, rather than facts.

michele said...

Thanks for posting this - I really like the start/stop/continue rubric and might adopt something like that this semester.

Although I've never done midterm evaluations in the way you describe, I do usually have a day where I distribute cue cards and ask everyone to write a question or comment related to the class, then address them.

Sometimes I get "stop" or "start" type comments, but I usually don't get "continue" kinds of comments, which I could see being useful. I do get a sense of the trends as far as class concerns go because I often have three or four comments or questions that are the same, but they usually are about things the students want to change, not the things they want to stay the same.

I hope you don't mind if I use your rubric this term - it might give me some more useful midterm feedback.

Horace said...

Use with impunity--I myself got it from someone many years back, and it's been serving me well ever since.