By Meg Marquardt
Every instructor has had that moment: midway through the semester, and the class still doesn’t seem to be gelling. It is a frustrating moment, but it is also a moment to pause and reflect along with your students. They probably also realize that something isn’t quite working.
In this post, I share four strategies for gathering and incorporating student feedback when this happens. Not only is gathering feedback a way to get a class back on track, it’s also a way to build community and trust at any stage or situation.
This activity asks students to fill out an anonymous note card with one thing I should start doing, one thing I should stop doing, and one thing I should continue doing. I often use this when I can’t figure out what is going on with a class. On their notecards, students tend to be super candid, and this helps me make adjustments. The only restrictions I place on the activity is to be constructive and in line with the course. (They can’t, for example, suggest that we stop writing.)
Meaningful Writers’ Memos
Because English 100 is scaffolded through the semester (with small assignments building into bigger assignments and revisions), I ask students to identify a challenge in their writing or researching and how they might have been proactive in fixing this problem. I take that feedback and read it across the board to see how I could have been more proactive in addressing some kind of hole. I then build that skill into whatever the start of my next sequence is. For example, this past semester we were having issues talking critically about podcasts as a meta tool rather than as content—which they identified as “didn’t feel like they knew how to mimic examples.” So I redesigned discussion to more directly focus on the meta. And I made sure to tell students that we were doing this because of the feedback in their memos.
I am also a big believer in asking what is working and what isn’t in big group discussions via think/pair/share. This past semester, I tried using whole group workshops, and they just were not working. So I came in to class, told them they weren’t working, and then we brainstormed what was helpful and what wasn’t. I was really explicit in telling them that it wasn’t a punitive talk. It was a “something’s not right, let’s adjust” talk. We think/pair/share it, and after they gave me feedback, I told them I would get back to them about what changes I wanted to make in order to make it better. I ended up totally revamping how we were running workshops, and I think it went much better.
Talk It Out
In all of these activities, my biggest push is for transparency. I let my students know that I realize maybe something isn’t working, but that I need to work together with them to figure out how to adjust. I know that asking for feedback and adjusting can be seen as a moment of vulnerability, especially if the instructor feels like they already don’t have authority or don’t feel comfortable shifting authority. However, in end of semester reflections, I always have a couple students who note that this was a helpful moment to let them see that I was really thinking about what I was doing in the classroom space.
- Adapt your approach depending on the dynamic of the class
- Be transparent about collecting and incorporating feedback
- Set expectations early, and reset expectations as needed
About the Author
Meg Marquardt is a PhD Candidate in the Composition and Rhetoric program at UW-Madison and the current Assistant Director for English 201. She is interested in Writing Across the Curriculum, specifically writing in and across the sciences.