I know that this is a rare post for me. This blog hasn’t been action-packed this year. However, this experience motivated me.
At this time of year, many of us teachers, particularly those of us in Korea, are likely dreading end of semester student evaluations. Not only are these painful due to their impact on our employment status, but they are often worthless in terms of beneficial feedback. Student evaluations can be wonderful sources of feedback on our teaching methods, materials, and overall classroom environment. However, most evaluations focus more on what the administration cares about: Did you teacher come on time, where the materials good, and so on. These are so vague that they are unlikely to help any concerned teacher improve their practice.
I’ve taken a number of approaches to this problem over the years, most included direct questioning, additional surveys (Google Docs is great for this), and even anonymous notes slipped under my door. I don’t know why it’s taken so long for me to come to my most recent approach.
I teach quite a few writing classes, which are some of my most popular courses (not necessarily my favorite to teach). I’ve been doing the same courses long enough that I have my approach down, but I’m always in need of feedback on the topics, classroom management (grouping strategies), and new technologies or tasks. This semester I taught a couple courses that focus on preparing students to take the Korean English teacher exam. The class focuses on writing 2-3 paragraph responses to prompts relating to SLA, TESOL, and classroom management. I had the class write their feedback as a final in-class, timed writing assignment. I was amazed with the feedback.
Now, first let me say that I was nervous before reading each one. It’s tough to get feedback. I don’t think anyone likes negative feedback, but it was required for this assignment. They had to write 2 paragraphs: what should stay the same in this class and what should change in this class. I knew that I was going to get some good criticism….and I did.
I generally don’t take isolated criticism to heart unless it is something that I was worried about previously. There were plenty of these isolated problems that I really didn’t give too much thought about: too many/much reflections for the portfolio, provide detailed outlines for your lectures (never really a lecture in actuality), and so forth.
However, when I start seeing the same ideas/categories repeated, I take note. Some are things that students universally agreed on where the benefits of peer review (this is the first year I’ve seen this agreed on), the number of assignments (this has been the biggest complain in the past…this year I had more), the creation of portfolios, and my “teaching style” (of course, they did this before I had given them a grade, LOL). Agreement on what should be changed was a little more elusive: student presentations (as content for papers) were seen as a waste of time that could be better spent discussing (I see this being a group prepared handout next year) and many people commented on a variety of ways that peer editing could be improved (checklists, modeling, grouping, etc…).
There were many more suggestions that spanned the two categories. Some were more commonly positive like writing topics and the class website, while others were more commonly negative like pacing and Twitter. The Twitter feedback killed me.
I personally love Twitter. I’ve been using it with my writing classes for about 3 years now. It was really difficult at first because nobody had heard of it, much less used it. These days, few are using it, but everyone has heard of it. I get more people each semester who find the value of authentic written interactions in Twitter. These people, however, don’t make up for the masses who would rather not be bothered using it. At this point, I think I will take the hint and kill it for this course. I have other writing courses that are more general in nature and it will likely remain a requirement in those courses. There is more room for using Twitter than in this course.
This kills me not because I like it but rather because I feel that students are missing out a great opportunity. I’ve always justified using Twitter as a way for students to experience daily writing (a sentence a day) and to practice expressing themselves concisely. I still think there are good reasons to use Twitter with a writing class, particularly Korean writers of English. These novice writers are more likely to write confusing, 20 clause sentences.
Facing inconvenient facts is one reason why I love this process. These are things that I would never change if I didn’t have such overwhelming feedback. I love my students for being so honest (at least I’m assuming there is a lot of honesty in there) and I am proud of them for not only providing feedback but doing so with such diplomatic language. The harsh, blunt language I see with many of my novice writers was magically replaced with much softer, modal-rich language. I must be doing something right when they can tell me to go to hell and I appreciate the way they say it 🙂