Recent Adventures in Increasing Student-Teacher Feedback

I'm not sure who is "A" and who is "B", but it still works.

I'm not sure who is "A" and who is "B", but it still works.

Folks might remember that one of my goals for the current school year is to increase the amount of dialogue that I’m having with my students about the courses I teach. At the end of the last school year, I had written about my implementation of an anonymous “suggestion box” Google Form that I created to help any students who might have discomfort letting me know what issues were developing in class that there were, in fact, issues developing. On the whole, that has been a great success. It has been used occasionally, to broach all manner of concerns stemming from the structural (bad assigned seat) to the trivial (anonymous professions of love for a course).

With that firing along just fine, I decided to try a few other modes of increasing dialogue. The first, stemming largely from a conversation that I had with my father in the spring, was to deploy an anonymous survey about the course at the end of the first quarter. In the past, I’ve waited until the end of the year to get student feedback, but I hoped that doing this a bit sooner might actually allow me to act on student feedback during the time that the students who left that feedback were still in my class (what a crazy idea!). So I made a shorter feedback survey for my classes, and deployed it during the last week of the first quarter. Following submissions, I compiled student responses, and wrote up a “State of the Classroom” report for both AP Biology and Honors Chemistry, which I posted to my school website, and sent out to students via Remind. I was very impressed with the feedback that students provided, and I thought that this provided a great, genuine opportunity for the kind of dialogue about my classes that I want to provide to my students.

On another level, I’ve decided to write up some observations for my AP Biology students following my analysis and scoring of summative exams (though this idea didn’t hit me until this past exam). The inspiration for this came from my perusal of the new David Foster Wallace Reader, which contains a good section of his materials from the courses that he taught at Pomona. Seemingly, DFW provided a weekly summary of his notes on his student’s language usage (or more appropriately, misusage), which he titled “Your Liberal Arts Dollars At Work” (you’ll have to enlarge to read). My title is nowhere near as clever, my notes are not as well composed, and my frequency is going to be monthly, but I thought this was a nice structure to give students the thematic feedback on exams that might escape me, if I limited myself to just individual notes on exams (though there are still plenty of those, too). I’ll be handing out the first version this week, and I’m eager to see how it goes.

I’ve written a lot about how important feedback is to my practice before, and I’d like to think it’s a central goal for me as an instructor, generally. Hopefully, structures like the one’s I’ve described above will help to provide students with new opportunities for dialogue about their progress, and our classes, in ways that they feel like are useful and that value their progress as learners engaged in difficult coursework. And perhaps, if you are a teacher, you might find a smidgeon of a good idea here or there, too.

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