Mid-Semester Feedback Strategies

Student feedback is routinely gathered at the end of the semester, but getting it at a semester’s midpoint is even better. When we collect students’ perspectives partway through a semester, we still have time to address their impressions and implement their recommendations. These midpoint reactions and insights can help us make some adjustments, straighten out some confusion, and improve our instruction in ways that students recognize (on end-of-semester ratings and elsewhere) as valuable to their learning (McGowan, W., & Osguthorpe, R. 2011).

Why collect mid-semester feedback on writing assignments and instruction?

Teaching with writing, developing course-relevant and productive writing assignments, and assessing writing in valid and equitable ways are neither intuitive nor masterable practices. We ask for student reactions because we want to:

  • Confirm students' understanding of writing assignments (both formal and informal) and learn more about their writing processes. This is an essential component of inclusive and equitable instruction. 
  • Learn whether students find feedback on their writing (as provided by course instructors or peers) and grading criteria just, germane, and useful.
  • Model reflective practice and demonstrate commitment to student success.
  • Ask students to reflect on the current and future relevance of writing assignments and the writing processes they’re developing, providing opportunities to develop metacognitive capacity.
  • Initiate a dialogue with students about the course and their learning in it.
  • Avoid the ‘too little, too late' scenario when we learn of students’ concerns and questions in end-of-semester course feedback, i.e., when it’s too late to address them.

Priming questions around learning and self-efficacy

When considering students’ mid-semester feedback, your first option might be to begin with the course’s learning goals, identifying which of the course goals or objectives have been the most important. 

You might ask students about the relationship between the first several weeks’ activities and those course goals for more detailed information. Some potential options include:

  • Which of the course learning goals seems the most important so far?
  • How has the work you have done for this class connected to the course's learning goals? Are there any activities in the course where you need clarification about the connection?
  • Now that you are halfway through the course, do you have any new learning goals or questions?

A second potential strategy is to ask students to self-assess their learning related to stated course goals. Based on their work on early assignments and assessments, students can identify what they are learning and how they connect to it. It’s helpful to frame such questions as descriptive of the students’ experience rather than evaluating the course goal itself. To maintain focus on students’ sense of self-efficacy, you might combine self-assessment questions with reporting on students’ activities and study habits. For example:

  • On which of the course learning goals have you made the most progress? What has helped you learn it?
  • Which of the course's learning goals do you feel you have the most room to improve? What could support you as you learn?
  • Which learning goals have you struggled with? What strategies and activities have helped you meet that challenge?

Ask specific questions about student writing

After responding to opening questions around course goals and themes, students are primed to answer questions about specific teaching and learning activities, including their writing assignments. Here are a few questions you might select.

  • How are writing activities in the course (assignments, instruction, discussions) helping you learn?
  • What, if any, writing assignments or activities are the most valuable to you?
  • If you could change an aspect of writing in the course (more or less of a particular writing activity, different options for assignments, etc), what would you change?
  • What is challenging about writing in this course? How are you addressing those challenges, and what could help you succeed?

What sorts of questions should I include?

While you may be tempted to ask many of these questions, students will likely provide more thorough and thoughtful answers if you ask fewer questions. You might take class time to have students respond, but if you ask for feedback outside of class, give students some guidance on how much time you hope they will spend. Suggesting 10 or 15 minutes strikes a balance between depth and practicality. 

Here’s a customizable student-facing survey pre-loaded with possibilities.

For smaller courses or courses with TA-led sections, asking open-ended questions that can be delivered via survey or hard copy index card is an option. Here is a previous Teaching with Writing blog post providing multiple question options. Finally, Yale University’s Poorvu Center for Teaching and Learning provides lists of questions that can be adapted to focus specifically on writing-related aspects of course instruction.

In large classes, you might reframe questions to allow scaled responses or use a multiple-choice option (ie, Which of these activities has supported your learning?) by creating a Google form. This strategy also allows for greater anonymity and can assist in identifying trends across large data sets. Even in large courses, an open-ended question will increase students’ sense of agency and can increase students’ engagement with the course.

Closing the loop: Summarizing and sharing responses

After receiving feedback from your students, look for patterns, trends, and recommendations. If there are popular recommendations that you can implement, mention how you plan to do it.  If you receive suggestions you cannot implement, explain what stands in the way. If students’ preferences and recommendations conflict with each other, consider providing options for activities to allow students to use their preferred modes of learning.

It’s helpful to provide a summary to students shortly after they have completed the exercise. Acknowledging the feedback is crucial to illustrating your commitment to your students’ learning.