Just like a journey, every course begins with a plan and a destination in mind. However, experienced instructors (and navigators) know that circumstances, opportunities, and unforeseen challenges often produce small changes that can lead to significant consequences. One slight shift in a deadline for a writing assignment or one extended conversation and discussion can have repercussions down the road. This tip offers suggestions on how you can reorient students to how their experiences with writing in your course connect to your course goals and how you might make minor ‘course corrections’ based on their feedback.
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.
Option 1—about the course goals: 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 seem the most important so far?
- How has the work you have done for this class connected to the learning goals of the course? Are there any activities in the course where you are unclear 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 your stated course goals. Based on their work on assignments and assessments so far, students can identify what they are learning and how they are connecting 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 learning goals for the course have you made the most progress? What has helped you to learn it?
- On which of the learning goals for the course do you feel you have the most room to improve? What could support you as you learn?
- With which learning goals have you struggled? What strategies and activities have been helpful for you to 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 from which you might select.
- How, if at all, are writing activities in the course (assignments, instruction, discussions) helping you to 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 to be successful?
Limit the number of questions and time commitment
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.
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 can plan to do it. If you receive suggestions that you are unable to 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 a crucial step to illustrate your commitment to your students’ learning.
CA Hurney, NL Harris, SC Bates Prins, and SE Kruck. The impact of learner-centered mid-semester course evaluations on students. Journal of Faculty Development 28.3. 2014.
M VanDinther, F Dochy, and M Segers. Factors affecting students’ self-efficacy in higher education. Educational Research Review 6.2. 2011.
See the Teaching with Writing pages for teaching resources, including sample assignments and syllabi. As many of you know, our WAC program also hosts the popular Teaching with Writing event series. Each semester, this series offers free workshops and discussions. Visit us online and follow us on Twitter @UMNWriting. To schedule a phone, email, or face-to-face teaching consultation, click here.