As I anxiously anticipate beginning my new job as a high school Spanish teacher, I’ve spent the last few days truly beginning to plan in earnest for the upcoming year. As I’ve done so, I’ve been not only trawling my PLN’s tweets on Twitter and looking at the wonderful resources beginning to appear in the #wldropbox, but also looking back on my own teaching at UC Davis to consider which practices I wish to continue and which I feel I would be better off leaving behind.
One such practice involves a polarizing aspect of teaching at the university level that seems to be slowly but surely trickling down to secondary and even primary schools: the Dread Pirate Roberts Student Evaluation. Now, it may just be me, but my experience with evaluations my first few classes led me to react something like this:
Simply put, students responded with such unexpected vitriole for me, the class, and my subject area that I felt like I was reading my Ratemyprofessors.com entry all over again (which, by the way, you should never, never do if you want to maintain your teachesteem larger than that of Polly Pocket). While I readily admit that I wasn’t likely the absolute best teacher ever in my first term formally teaching, I like to think that I wasn’t so bad that I “made [the student] never want to study Spanish again.” I stopped being quite so hard on myself once I realized that such statements tended to be accompanied by others of this variety: “I hate how we have reading and homework every day!” …Is this exceptional among college courses? Or high school courses? Or elementary school courses?
Of course, not all of the evaluations were terrible, even those first few groups, and they got better over time. But I would argue that the students weren’t really what changed; I changed. One important change that I made was to institute my own student evaluations. Yes, I was not satisfied with one auto-da-fé of my merit per class, I wanted FOUR! (Kidding.)
What I realized was that there were a lot of very valid criticisms and concerns being expressed in student evaluations—hidden among the complaints about my speaking entirely in Spanish in, um, Spanish class—that I could do little to nothing about only hearing them after the class was over. Comments that flew in the face of the others I just mentioned above. Comments like “Signature activities don’t really help me learn the language because you just read what’s on the sheet twelve times.” Or “I needed extra practice on the subjunctive.” Or “Why do we have to use the textbook every day? I want to be able to really SPEAK the language.” Whoa. Are these really the same students who were just saying
So, after having a long heart-to-heart with a dear colleague of mine with a few more years of teaching experience than I, I found the solution: Three times during the quarter, students would be given anonymous evaluations to fill out about how the class has been so far. These evaluations would be given at a reasonably spaced interval of about every three or four weeks (don’t want to annoy or overload the students!), and they would be given on days when a regular homework assignment was not assigned on the syllabus, giving ample time to complete the four questions. Students could respond in either English or Spanish, but the questions were given in English for simplicity’s sake (and because I was using the same survey for Spanish 1, 2, and 3). Below, I include the questions that I shamelessly ripped off from said colleague:
1. Which specific class activities (or types of activities) have been most helpful or most engaging to you? Why?
2. Which specific class activities (or types of activities) have been least helpful or least engaging to you? Why?
3. What sorts of changes would you like to see implemented in class and/or in the instructor’s teaching methods? [Note: The students were informed ahead of time that tests and other assignments were set by the department and couldn’t be changed by the lowly instructor before them.]
4. What concepts and/or vocabulary have been most difficult for you? Which ones do you need more practice with in class? Which ones do you need more practice with outside of class?