How’s It Going So Far?

Listen to Your Students • Gather Formative Feedback

Want to find out how your course is going before the semester ends? Want to know what’s working for your students, and what’s not? Want to find these things out in time to make the kind of corrections that will bump your students up a learning-notch or two?

Formative feedback will help. You get it from your students by observing them during learning activities, and by regularly requesting written responses to specific prompts regarding those activities. Once a week is recommended; Fridays are best.

When you can observe a discernable, if not explicit, pattern in a swath of responses from an entire class indicating an area about which you can do something that will improve their learning experience—or make changes to better meet their learning needs—you are getting formative feedback (Black and William, 1998).

Here are some "finish-this-statement" prompts from the Teaching Ideas section of the Virginia Community College System's Regional Centers for Teaching Excellence Web site that you might like to try.

  • My first impression was…
  • The part of the course that has interested me most so far is…
  • I am most successful when…
  • I was surprised that…
  • The problems that I have had in this course are…
  • I have noticed that I…
  • Strategies that work for me in this course are…
  • I am least successful in this course when…
  • I have to change…
  • I have discovered…
  • If I could start this course over, I would…
  • I wish this course was…

Hone in on one or two prompts, like the ones above, each time you ask your student for input. Ask them to be brief and honest and inform them of how vital a tool their responses are in developing the course and improving your teaching strategies.

Of course, anonymity is the name of the game so, no names please. As your students head out the door, collect their responses. Lastly, be ready to act. If students reply in large numbers that "I am most successful when the professor has a review session before a test," you may want to schedule a review session before each test.

If a number of students say: "I have noticed that I tend to lose track when taking notes," you may want to build in some periodic 2-minute lecture-pauses during which students can catch up, compare their notes with others, or respond to questions referencing the last 10 minutes or so of lecture, sending them to their notes for the answer.

Sources:

Black, P., & William, D. (1998), Inside the black box: Raising standards through classroom assessment. Phi Delta Kappan, 80(2), 139-149.

Virginia Community College System Regional Centers for Teaching Excellence. (n.d.). Making course corrections during your course based on student feedback. In Teaching Ideas. Retrieved August 25, 2008, from the Virginia Community College System's Regional Centers for Teaching Excellence Web site: http://vccslitonline.vccs.edu/mrcte/formative_feedback.htm.

Copyright and Permissions:

This Teaching Tip is adapted from material developed by the Virginia Community College System's Regional Centers for Teaching Excellence.

Contributors:

Peter Connor - TILT Web Content Writer and Editor