Blog Post

End-of-Term Evaluations are Learning Opportunities

"This moment is more precious than you think" - de la Vega

In addition to asking for course evaluations from my students (and Cathy N. Davidson has a great template and post about "Building a Better Course Evaluation Form"), and in addition to cautioning my students against gender bias (I tell them about a Rate My Professor review that describes me as 5'5" with brown hair and brown eyes and nothing about my expertise in the field of 19th Cent American Lit), I also ask my students to fill out self-evaluations and peer evaluations for their static group members.

My self-evaluation form guides students in meta-cognition, asking them to reflect on their roles as listeners, volunteers, and leaders in the class. This is how it starts:

"Take a moment to think about how you worked with your peers and how they worked with you this semester. Working in groups helps us practice listening and leadership skills as we organize different points of view through effective communication to achieve common goals."

The form basically asks students to think about how the skills they used in our class could be applied in any collaborative activity or community setting in the future. As a result, by the end of their self-evaluations, students start writing about their strengths and what skills they believe they could work on further in college and in the workplace.

I try to make the evaluations as open and non-judgmental as possible to demonstrate that active listening and taking collaborative notes in our class Google docs are valuable skills in addition to verbal participation. Here's the rest of the self-evaluation form:

Self-Evaluation

  1. How prepared were you to work in groups? Did you complete the readings every time, most of the time, some of the time, or rarely?
  2. Were you a good listener? Did you take your peers’ opinions into account all of the time, most of the time, some of the time, or did you most often dominate the conversation?
  3. Were you a good volunteer? Did you volunteer contributions to the conversation, take notes, or speak on behalf of your group to give the class a recap of what you talked about?
  4. What else would you like to share about your participation? Feel free to share any of your reflections on your skills (what you feel strong about, what you would like to keep working on in the future) or notes about what happened this semester that may have prevented you from being an ideal group member. Keep in mind that no one is perfect! We are all working on things and always getting better at what we set out to do!
  5. What grade do you think you earned for your participation in group work? (And if you feel that group work wasn’t your strength, but you shared your notes in the collaborative notes Google docs fairly frequently, take that valuable contribution into consideration, too!)

A friend and colleague called this a heuristic approach to evaluations, and I think it's a form of active learning, too, especially when students then fill out similar forms (slightly condensed) for their peers. 

Students took their time in class to write detailed, thoughtful, and kind comments about their peers. They were too good not to share (anonymously, of course) so I wrote every student an email with a subject line, "Kind words from your peers."

The bodies of these emails looked like this:

Dear ________,

Finals time is always tough. I thought you might like to hear some positive words from your peers so you can see what a valuable group member you were. 
 
"_______ was great to work with in a team because _____ would always add on to points I had made + gave a new perspective."
 
"Excellent listener and would add wonderful contributions to conversation"
 
" :) A+ " 
 
Your peers all agreed that your contributions were extremely valuable to the group, recommending ____ for your group participation grade, and an ____ it shall be!
 
Good luck with finals,
Christina
~~~~~
 
I didn't correct spelling or punctuation, I wrote them exactly as they appeared on the page, and did my best to capture drawings with standard emoji characters. I aimed to quote 3 comments (almost everyone but not everyone wrote comments for all their peers) and if there were only 2 (there were always at least 2), then I added a little bit of my own positive feedback in my sign-off based on what I had observed.
 
The replies I got back to these emails contained such warmth, joy, and gratitude for positive feedback during finals that I really can't even begin to describe it. The kindness and generosity of the class multiplied exponentially through this process. Regardless of what is written in my own course evaluations, to have facilitated such an exchange was enough for me.
 
If you would like to use my form, tweak it and make it your own, please do!
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2 comments

These are excellent ideas!

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Thank you!!

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