The Power of Student Feedback

The Power of Student Feedback

If the only time you elicit feedback from your students is on course evaluations at the end of the term, you are doing it wrong. Imagine if you only got a performance review from your supervisor on your last day of work. Crazy, right? Then why wait till the term is over to get a pulse on your students.  In this post, I explain why student feedback matters, provide three key considerations, and suggestions for different types of questions.

Why Does Student Feedback Matter?

If you have been teaching for any amount of time then you probably know how charged the idea of student course evaluations can be. The fact that student course evaluations are often biased against women is not new information, and one recent Gender Bias in Student Evaluations study found this to be true even in online classes when male and female instructors teach the identical online course. Some schools, such as The University of Southern California have gone so far as to remove student course evaluations from faculty promotion decisions. While the role student course evaluations should play in employment decisions might be complicated, the role they should play in your own teaching practices shouldn’t be. Student feedback is more than just an appraisal of your teaching, it is one way to build trust and strengthen your relationship with your students.

The Three Keys to Student Feedback

There are three important considerations when eliciting student feedback: timing, content, and response. 

Key #1: Timing. You want to reach out early and often to elicit student feedback. Depending on how often you meet with your students, you may want to get feedback as early as the first week or after a few classes. Checking in with students early on sets the tone for the class. It communicates that their input is important. At the very least, you should also schedule a midterm check-in.  Some of the best instructors I ever met incorporated feedback as often as every week. 

Key #2: Content. If you are reaching out frequently, then you can change up the questions you ask. Below I provide different types of feedback you might want to elicit. 

Daily check-ins. Use the last 3 minutes of class to have students write out one thing they learned and one question that went unanswered. Whether you have them use paper and pen or apps like PollEverywhere, you might be surprised to find out what your students say they learned. Also, international students in particular are less likely to voice questions during class, so this provides them a safe way to let you know if they were left with any questions. 

Occasional check-ins. Student feedback forms do not need to be lengthy. Hone in on issues within your control.  Try open-ended questions like, what was your favorite activity this week and why? What was your least favorite activity this week and why? Do you have any concerns regarding this class that you would like me to know? As instructors, we usually already know the answer to what activity didn’t work well, but it isn’t always clear from our perspective why.  

Project feedback. Any time you incorporate a project for the first time, there will be some adjustments that need to be made. Create a brief survey and ask your students for feedback. How many hours did they spend on the project? Did they feel the project helped them achieve the student learning outcome? Do they have any suggestions for improvement? This invaluable feedback is not only meant to improve future classes, but also communicates your desire for the work they do to be meaningful.

Well-being check-ins. Occasionally, you may want to just check in on your students’ general well-being. Simple questions like, Have you been getting enough sleep? How was your weekend? can alert you to issues outside of class that may be impacting their performance in class. One time I asked this on a survey and learned that one student was living without electricity because he was having trouble communicating with the electric company. I was able to help him navigate the conversation and power was restored. From then on he became a class leader; he knew I cared. 

Key #3: Responding. There is no point eliciting student feedback if you don’t respond to it. This doesn’t mean you have to follow all of the suggestions. We know international students in particular are resistant to student-centered learning. You may get feedback that says, I wish you would just teach us instead of us having to work in groups. Now that you know several students have this concern, you can address the reason you use this pedagogical approach. Maybe you find out that the homework you are assigning is taking a lot longer to complete than you expected, modify and let them know you are changing this based on the feedback they provided. Seeing you respond to their input, whether by just acknowledging or by making changes, will make your students more invested in your class and in their own learning. 

The amazing thing about asking your students for feedback, is that it not only helps you improve your instruction, it opens relationships in the class. When students see you asking for input and, even more importantly, responding to that feedback, they begin trusting you as an instructor. You’ll also find that your end of term evaluations improve because students have had plenty of opportunities to give you feedback on what is impacting them during the term. It’s a win/win situation!

How do you incorporate student feedback into your classes? We’d love for you to share your experiences and advice on the IELTS Official Teaching Community on Facebook!

About the Author

Misty Wilson Based in Savannah, Georgia, Misty Wilson is an experienced English as a Second Language instructor.
She currently manages teacher training and research initiatives for IELTS USA.

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