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Grade your teaching with early feedback

There's no better time to collect student assessments than early in the semester — when you can use their input to improve. Early semester feedback uses two-way communication to examine how and what your students are learning, as well as how your teaching methods and strategies influence that learning. You ask your students for feedback, then share your interpretation of their input and your plans for using it.

We've answered some common questions below, and you'll also find links to guidelines, a self-analysis tool and sample feedback forms for a variety of situations. You can adapt the process to fit your needs. If you have questions or need help, just email CIE@purdue.edu.

Why use early semester feedback?

It's an easy way to monitor the connections between student progress and your performance. By involving students in the process, you demonstrate your respect and concern for their learning. It requires you to take some risks — listening, reacting and making changes — but early feedback can be motivating and rewarding, too. It's a chance to treat your own teaching as a topic of inquiry and may present new intellectual challenges or stimulate discussions with colleagues.

When is the best time to gather early feedback?

It depends. When you're teaching a course for the first time or using new methods or materials, you may want to get feedback as early as two to three weeks after the start of the semester or after you've introduced the new methods or materials. When you're experienced and comfortable teaching a course, you may want to wait five to eight weeks.

If you sense a problem in a course, consider asking for feedback right away. Anytime there's a serious issue — like in-classroom discipline or students' inability to grasp an important concept, develop a skill or make sufficient progress — you want to assess and possibly restructure quickly.

How do I gather student feedback?

Questionnaire: Give your students a one-page form that includes 3-12 scaled items specific to your course and 1-3 open-ended questions. It's easy to administer and quick to complete.

Written comment form: Give your students 3-4 open-ended questions that require brief, essay-like responses, or provide questions on 3x5 cards and have students answer them outside of class.

Group interview: Have an educational specialist interview all your students or a representative sample during 10-15 minutes of class. The interviewer will prepare a summary of the comments, identify themes and improvements, and discuss them with you.

Q&A session: Question your students out loud during the first or last 10 minutes of class. Record their comments and reflect on them later (instead of reacting and responding immediately).

What should I ask my students?

Diagnostic, descriptive feedback helps you determine specific areas for improvement. If you want to know students' perceptions of what they're learning and what teaching strategies are effective, ask them to describe their problems, how they're spending time on assignments and what parts of the course are most effective. Regardless of how you collect the information, the most useful information in early feedback is obtained when students are asked to describe:

1. What about the environment, activities, and structure of this course are helping your learning?

2. What specific suggestions do you have for changing the environment, activities, or structure of the course to better help your learning? We don't recommend asking students for a general evaluation.

Their overall opinion of your teaching isn't useful for making mid-semester changes. Plus, that kind of feedback can be difficult to accept, especially if it's unfavorable. Focus on what you can change — assignments, homework, pace or activities.

What do I do with early feedback once I have it?

First, try to interpret your students' feedback objectively — don't be drawn only to the negative comments — to determine what changes you can make. Consider discussing the input with a colleague or one of our consultants, who can help you decide on the best plan of action. Then, share your interpretation of the feedback and your action plan with your students. Doing so indicates that you listened, took their input seriously and care enough to respond. Here are some guidelines for handling that discussion:

  • Thank your students for their time and comments.
  • Share both a positive and a negative set of comments that are especially relevant.
  • Only discuss a few comments. Don't draw out the discussion so long that students lose interest. This isn't a time to preach.
  • When discussing a teaching strategy you can't change, explain why.

Remember that your students gave you input in good faith. If you can't maintain a positive, accepting attitude when discussing the results, you may need to reconsider how you use the early feedback process. You can start by just asking students for information — over time, you'll like become more comfortable discussing the results with your classes.

For more information, please check out the following document(s):