Saturday, June 19, 2010

Improving Instruction Through Course Evaluations

At the end of the year I ask my students to complete a course evaluation. They typically enjoy this because I tell them that this is their opportunity to give me a grade for my performance as a teacher. I take this survey seriously and try to make adjustments the following year based on the feedback that I get. In typical high school fashion some students leave suggestions that are completely ridiculous ("let us play video games all the time"), impossible ("don't give homework"), and just plain funny ("get warmer tables"). Others, are helpful.

Of all the questions that I ask, these are the ones that I pay most attention to:

  • What was your overall experience in class this year? 
  • Did you have to think in order to do well in this class?
  • Did Mr. Sowash teach using a variety of different methods?
  • How difficult was this class? 
This year I also added a question asking students to describe my class using one word. There were lots of creative responses! You can see the results in the word-cloud in the infographic below (click to enlarge). 


These responses help me gauge the effectiveness of my teaching. I also include three free response sections for students to provide more specific responses. Here are the most common (and helpful) comments that were left this year:

One thing I really liked about this course was...
  • "How you made us think about stuff and not just memorize things".
  • "I liked how we did a lot of differennt projects and different types of assignments."
  • "Field trips"
One thing I really didn't like about this course was...
  • "The fact that you put the ACT practice questions on tests and then graded them"
  • "I thought that some test questions had multiple correct answers"
  • "The tests were hard"
This class would be even better if...
  • "We had more time to study for quizzes and tests."
  • "This class would be even better if you had demanded more respect from the students early on so the students wouldn't always be talking and out of control. And if you told them to stop they would right away. Sometimes class was a little crazy and you didn't get the respect that a teacher should."
  • "If we did more interactive things"
Reviewing the results of my evaluation is always a humbling experience because it reminds me that I have areas that I need to improve. Teenagers are brutally honest and will tell you what they think.

Based on the results of this year's evaluation, here are three action points I will seek to improve upon next year:
  1. Class Management: As one student commented, I need to demand the highest level of respect early in the year so that later in the year, as we become more familiar with one another, things don't get out of hand. 
  2. Study Time: I need to get my study guides out earlier so that students have the information they need to study. Many of them won't, but at least they have the opportunity to do so! 
  3. ACT Questions: I regularly have my students complete what I call "ACT questions" to help them learn how to interpret data and ignore unnecessary  information. These are the hardest questions on my test and I got lots of complaints about them, however I know that they are beneficial and useful therefore I need to do a better job explaining the purpose of these questions and slowly ease students into them over the course of the year. 
I would strongly encourage all teachers to give course evaluations on a regular basis. We assess our students all the time, it's only fair that we give them at least one chance to assess us. Good assessments provide a unbiased snapshot of someone's ability and can lead to tremendous growth. 

I have posted the evaluation that I used in the Google Docs Template Gallery. Please feel free to use it!

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