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Ask students to write a "minute paper." Just before the end of a class session, ask: "What is the most significant thing you learned today?" and, perhaps in addition, "What question is uppermost in your mind at the end of today's class?" These "minute papers'' should be collected as students leave class. Reading these will help you to evaluate how well your students are grasping the material, and you can respond, if needed, during the next class period.
Ask students to jot down three or four key concepts or real-world connections about a recent topic, then start a class discussion by having students compare their lists.
Ask students to keep a learning journal in which they write, once or twice a week, about things they disagree with or how what they are learning is reflected in other things they read, see, or do. Collect and comment on the learning journals periodically.
ASSESSING YOUR COURSE
It is common practice to wait until the end of the term to ask students how successful the course has been. An alternative approach is to request informal constructive criticism throughout the term, when classroom presentations organization, pacing, and workload can be adjusted. Instructors can gather information about the effectiveness of their teaching strategies, the usefulness of instructional materials, and other features of the course (e.g., the turnaround time on exams and assignments or number of problems assigned as homework) that can be changed during the semester.
Soliciting Students' Opinions About Your Course
It is a good idea for faculty who are teaching a course for the first time or who have significantly revised a course to solicit feedback from students soon after the term begins. Faculty who are teaching a course they have taught many times before may want to wait until midterm before asking for student assessments, although if feedback is solicited immediately after an exam, most of the comments will relate to the exam. If your students are having obvious difficulties with the material or with other requirements, try to find out why, using some of the quick techniques mentioned earlier. Many teachers now use electronic mail. Give students your e-mail address and ask them to mail questions, concerns, or comments about the course (see Chapter 7 for more ideas). Other faculty find it helpful to ask, after the first month, that students bring a sheet, which can be anonymous, with their answer to the question: "How are you getting along in this course? Any suggestions?" This free-form feedback, of the most varied sort, can be extremely valuable in diagnosing what is getting across or whether the pace is right. However, at some institutions, feedback during the term must be anonymous, to minimize any perception that a student's comments influenced his or her grade. In this situation, you might ask a colleague to collect the comments and summarize them for you.
Some faculty members feel awkward soliciting feedback and reporting back to the class. Many find it helpful first to look over the positive things students have said about the course (this step is reassuring and puts the negative comments in perspective). Then they consider the suggestions for improvement and group them into three categories: those that can be changed