The Value of an End of Year Course Evaluation
It’s sometimes difficult to navigate research and statistics on effective strategies in education because every school, class, and teacher has a unique set of challenges to overcome. Whenever I see a percentage or a number, I think, is that number high enough to justify change?
I remember a professor telling me that teaching gets easier every year. It makes sense. You learn from your mistakes and learn how to make life easier by avoiding time consuming activities that don’t yield results. Every time I revisit my handouts and lesson plans, I think about what went wrong or a better way to approach the topic.
At the end of one of my first years of teaching, my colleague mentioned giving a course evaluation. At first, I thought, how formal. I don’t remember many courses where I had to fill out a course evaluation (besides some bubble sheets in college), but I decided to try it anyway. The first few times I tried it, I felt like the responses were meaningless. I wasn’t sure what to do with the numbers. I asked my students to fill in a high or low number for their favorite text or activity. Then, I decided to just let them write anonymous responses on a few topics. It was the end of the year, so they could be honest. I strongly believe that authentic narratives from my students are the most useful information to improve myself, more useful than professional development or books.
Early in my career, it was easy for me to imagine or really, pretend, what strategies worked for my students. The evaluations made it hard to face the reality. Sometimes, it’s hard to read the criticism, but not if you want to reach every child. I’m always amazed at how one student will love a certain text or activity and the next will hate it. For that reason, I do keep track of patterns when I see them so I know if changing something will impact enough students. For instance, if six of my one hundred and twenty students dislike a text, I try not to worry.
I take notes on their responses about my activities, the literature, writing instruction and assignments, reading assignments, teaching style, and grades. I emphasize the importance of suggesting alternative activities in addition to criticism.
The negative criticism may ruin the end of a year, but more often than not, a student will take the opportunity to express their gratitude and appreciation, and that inspires me when I get a fresh start in the fall. There’s nothing better than hearing that a child enjoyed being in your class.
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