Mid-Term Evaluations

I tried a new form of mid-term evaluation this year. Of course I dutifully recorded a mid-term grade on the Archway by the deadline. That letter grade was a compilation of some of the papers they’ve written thus far, and a few other assignments. But besides a breakdown of the grades they already knew that they had received, how else were they doing?

At the start of the semester I handed out index cards. They were asked to write down their personal goals for the course. This was after I had gone over mine for the course (writing, speaking, etc.). I told him if they did not think about a goal, but were spurred by something I had said, they could use that.

On Tuesday, I handed them back the cards at the end of class (I left about 10 minutes for this, but some of them needed a bit more time and stayed to finish) and asked them to assess how they were achieving their goals on a sheet of paper. If they had any new goals based on what had happened thus far in the class, they should include that, too. I read them all and was impressed by how seriously they were taking the course and their development of skills and content. I, in turn, was able to write a response to their reflections about how I think they are doing and how they might improve. This has made me rethink the mid-term evaluation process, as well as evaluation of students in general.

Do any of you do something similar?

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4 Responses to Mid-Term Evaluations

  1. Bob Trader says:

    I am teaching a class this semester in which all assessment is based on self-reflection and feedback. I have course goals. Students set course goals for themselves in 4 specific areas: oral communication, written communication, visual communication (the course title), and contribution (adding value to the course in visible and invisible ways). They wrote these goals on the first day of class. They were asked to reflect on whether or not they were meeting their goals during the course of the semester. At midterm, they were asked to complete another major self-assessment not only about how well they were meeting their goals, but also on how well I was meeting mine. Students also had to provide evidence that their goals were being met. This week we have been doing individual consultations about how to make progress in problem areas and the students have also provided me with feedback on how to make the course better.

    I would not do this for every class. However, it is completely appropriate for the present course. I find that students are honest about themselves and their performance. Grades have been about the same as always (perhaps this is because students have been conditioned into believing that they can only perform at a certain level, an idea that worries me at times). One thing that surprised me is how lacking in confidence students claim to be. They are afraid to speak out for fear of censure either from classmates or the instructor. They are afraid of looking stupid for not having the “correct” answer. They seem to feel rather vulnerable. It’s not so bad with written work because that is usually outside the public eye.

    One of the questions I had students answer was, “How would the course have been different if you hadn’t been there?” Answers included: 1) I provided a unique point of view that helped everyone to gain a better perspective on the topic and I took a leadership role during group work, 2) my ideas got shot down, but at least I had some ideas that sparked better ideas in other people, 3) I was a leader in group work and talk to people outside of class about the material, but I don’t feel comfortable speaking in class or in front of the class, 4) I always pay attention and am prepared for class, but I am very reluctant to speak out because my point of view is so different from everyone else’s, and 5) it wouldn’t have been much different at all, but I promise to contribute more in the future.

    I believe that we often do not give students enough feedback about how to improve or how to learn or how to approach problems or how to communicate or how to… And then we just punish them for not knowing. On the other hand, sometimes I feel like I have shown students how to do/learn/communicate something enough, and they are just not making the effort. I think we need to tell students this also. We have to have high expectations and hold our students to these expectations. But, our expectations also have to be realistic.

    Anyway, this is a topic that greatly interests me, and I would also love to hear what others have to say. 🙂

  2. gretchenmckay says:

    I love the idea of them assessing how you are meeting YOUR stated course goals. I have not thought of that, but I really like the idea. When I had the students reflect on their own performance, I should have asked them to comment on mine.

    However, do you wonder if some of them are fearful of criticizing you without it being anonymous? I would not want “oh it’s all great” – or something to that effect – on every sheet (because I know that can’t be everyone’s opinion, nor should it be). Have you figured out a way around that?

  3. Bob Trader says:

    Hey Gretchen. On the last page of my exams, I always put a section for students to give their reactions to the test, to comment on their preparation for the test, and to give their reactions to the course (what have you liked/found useful and what have you not liked/found unhelpful). I ask them also in class. Trust is an issue, but students seem to trust me and are very honest usually about what they think. I hate to stop at just critique, and so I always ask them if they know of a better way to do something and this yields good ideas and strategies. Sometimes, they admit there is no better way to do something and sometimes I make changes because they have made very valid points. I use the GPA system (goals-plans-actions: what are the goals, what strategies could we use to reach the goals, how do the strategies translate into concrete doable actions).

    I try to stress that feedback is important for innovation and for improving a system. I generally take a cybernetics approach to teaching. I also stress that the more honest the feedback, the more likely that positive changes will take place (within reason). I admit to my students that I am not a Delphic oracle. There are things I don’t know and things I don’t do well. I emphasize that I am always striving to improve, and that I have the same goal for them. There is no one formula that works for every class, every type of content, every group of individuals. Often, there needs to be a kind of negotiation (dialog, reflection, analysis, experimenting until the right balance is struck) to make a system work. And people become more motivated and engaged when they feel like they are an important part of the system (they have a voice and have some influence over what happens).

    I’m not sure I’d like to create an environment that encourages anonymous critique. Anonymity seems to provide an outlet for critique without opening up a channel for negotiating the solution. I also don’t like the idea that evaluation equals punishment. I don’t think the purpose of evaluation is rewarding or punishing performance. I do want to make sure that people understand that sometimes we have to do things that we don’t like in order to improve. Learning (change) is uncomfortable. It’s all about making people think and do things in new ways. This isn’t easy, and there are bound to be times when people feel overwhelmed or angry. Scholarship isn’t easy. It’s all about making people think and do things that are unnatural. Critical thinking is unnatural and that’s why we have to train ourselves how to do it and to motivate ourselves to do it.

  4. gretchenmckay says:

    I think what you create with your class to get that kind of honest feedback is unique and should be applauded. I am finding that I often don’t give my students enough credit and think that perhaps this could be fostered in some of my classes. I often have this kind of discussion at the end of my FYS, when we’ve bonded quite a bit as a group.

    I agree that assessment/evaluation should not be seen as punishing or finding out some horrible truth. It’s to gauge how we’re doing and I definitely want to know that! To keep saying I am teaching ___ (fill in the blank), but have no idea if I am really doing it seems very counter-productive to me. I want to see more evidence than a classroom evaluation produces.

    The dialogue that you are able to create in the classroom must take a lot of time, but I can also see that the fruits of that time will be very rich.

    I also think that your emphasis on the *process* of changing and developing is a good once since we try to foster that sense in terms of drafts for papers, learning for life, etc.

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