Over the last year or so, I’ve been rapidly growing as a young educator. In that time, I’ve had to find various ways to get feedback on my teaching, so I could continue to grow. Now, I’m passing off those lessons to you.
As it turns out, there are several ways to get feedback on your teaching. In this list, we’ll cover 5 which include observing body language, administering in-class assessments, developing surveys, requesting peer reviews, and hosting external reviews. In the sections below, we’ll take a look at each of these solutions in more detail.
Table of Contents
What Is Feedback?
When we talk about feedback in an education context, we have to ask: what are we trying to assess? Or even better, what are we trying to improve?
In other words, feedback isn’t as simple as asking: how can I improve my teaching? We have to ask ourselves what it is we want to learn or improve about our teaching. That’s how we get to the real answers.
Of course, knowing what to assess and assessing it are two completely different challenges. For example, if I want to improve my peer instruction activities, I need to know the best method of assessing them. Is gathering feedback through student body language enough, or do I need to do more?
While I don’t plan to tackle these sort of nuanced questions in this article, I do plan to at least share a toolkit of feedback methods. It’s up to you to decide what you find useful.
In this article, we’ll take a look at five different ways to get feedback on your teaching. To help you out, I’ve ordered them by increasing levels of investment (time, energy, etc.). In other words, the first couple methods should be low hanging fruit. If you want something more involved, move down the list.
One of my favorite ways to get direct feedback is by observing student body language—particularly faces. It may seem silly but being aware of body language is a great way of gauging the engagement level of a class.
Here are few things I look for:
- Faces in laptops/phones
- Note taking
- Confused looks
- Head nods
- Eye contact
- Attendance (not a form of body language, but it’s data)
Now, these behaviors in isolation aren’t enough to indicate lack of engagement. For example, you might have students who are just tired because it’s late in the semester and the flu is going around.
That said, these behaviors can be a great indicator of engagement if observed in context. In other words, if 10% of the class is asleep and another 30% of the class has their faces buried in laptops, you might want to rethink your teaching strategies.
Likewise, engagement isn’t the only type of feedback you can get from body language. For instance, confused looks and a lack of questions could indicate that you’re way too deep in material. If that happens, it might be time to move on to our next form of feedback.
If you’re curious about how you’re teaching is going, a great way to find out is to ask your students to answer some questions. If they can’t answer them, or their answers aren’t satisfactory, it might be time to revisit some material.
One way I like to do this is with regular leading questions. For example, if I’m teaching about recursion, I might ask a question like “how would you implement this method normally (read: iteratively)?” Then, I might follow up with other leading questions like “what if there’s a method that already does this?”, “what if that method can only accept ‘smaller’ input?”, “are these changes enough to get this working?”
In essence, these guiding questions force students to think ahead. If they can’t answer them, it’s possible that they lack context. Alternatively, the questions could just be poorly worded. In either case, I find value in involving the class in lecture process. In other words, can my students predict what comes next? If yes, we’re on track. Otherwise, it’s time to backtrack.
In addition to leading questions, I’m a big fan of peer instruction—as evidenced by my massive peer instruction article. In essence, peer instruction is the process of administering multiple choice questions where students can discuss their answers. On one hand, it’s a great tool because students who don’t understand something can lean on their peers for support. On the other hand, it’s just a great way to check up on class understanding.
If you find that students can’t answer your questions, there’s one of two possible issues: either the question is poorly written, or the students don’t know the material well enough to answer it. If you add a debrief stage to your peer instruction questions, you can find out which one it is by asking. Then, you can adjust accordingly.
If body language and in-class assessments aren’t doing the trick, it might be time to ask your students to fill out a questionnaire. Personally, I do this just to mine for testimonials, but our department also sends out an end of semester evaluation.
As with all of the methods in this list, it’s not useful to just ask for feedback generically. Your survey should include questions which target specific aspects of your teaching that you’d like to improve. For instance, my survey includes rating scales for the following topics:
- Skill and Responsiveness of Instructor
- Course Content
- Level of Effort
In addition, I like to leave some space for long form questions like “what aspects of this course were most useful or valuable?” and “How would you improve this course?” That said, these are probably a bit to broad to get anything useful.
Keep in mind that you don’t have to make semester review surveys. You could just put together a survey because you have a specific issue you’d like to address. For example, I once put together a survey for course and exam alignment. In this survey, I asked questions like “do you feel the exam lined up with what you expected?” and “what exam topics do you feel needed more emphasis in class?”
Again, OSU has great resources for this. For instance, they have a survey creator tool which you can use to generate PDF surveys. If you prefer an electronic survey, you might consider using this tool to snag example questions.
Another way to get feedback—although probably my least favorite—is to ask a peer to observe your class. The idea here being that you would ask someone with teaching expertise to actually watch you teach in some capacity (e.g. lecture, lab, office hours, etc.). Although, it’s possible to have a peer review other aspects of your teaching like your assessments.
At any rate, for a peer review to go well, I recommend asking your peer to focus on specific aspects of your teaching. Otherwise, you might get a ton of random feedback in return. For instance, I was once told I move around too much.
Now, I always create a rubric for my reviewer. For instance, I once asked a reviewer to only critique me on my peer instruction. That way, I wouldn’t get comments about my teaching style. Here’s what portions of that rubric looked like:
|Peer Instruction (PI) Question(s)||Relates to lecture content||Stretches students’ understanding but doesn’t address any misconceptions||Challenges key misconceptions relevant to lecture content|
|PI Multiple Choice Answers||Relate to question, but some are obviously wrong||Force students to carefully consider their response but don’t target misconceptions||Include “traps” that target misconceptions|
|PI Discussion Learning||Facilitates peer dialogue related to question responses||Challenges students to consider another student’s perspective||Challenges students to consider another student’s perspective|
Of course, if you don’t know what you want reviewed, it might not hurt to have a veteran sit in on your class. That said, as I’ve alluded to already, every educator does their job differently. In other words, the feedback you get probably won’t not align with your personal teaching philosophy. As a result, it’s probably not worth the headache.
Another option for getting feedback is to find an organization which does teaching reviews. For example, The Ohio State University (OSU) has an office call the University Institute for Teaching and Learning (UITL), and they offer a program called Small Group Instructional Diagnosis (SGID)—yes, I’m aware that’s a lot of acronyms.
At any rate, a SGID is basically a feedback collection activity held by an instructional consultant at UITL. First, they’ll sit down with you to gather context around your situation. Then, they’ll facilitate an activity for about 20 minutes which collects feedback on your teaching. Then, they report back what they found.
When I did it, I was teaching a software components course. At the time, I had a couple main worries. First, I felt like I still wasn’t doing a good job of managing my graders. In particular, I knew we didn’t have good alignment in terms of expectations, so I expected that to come up. Second, I had a stronger class than usual, so I sometimes went down rabbit holes. As a result, I anticipated complaints about moving too fast or not focusing on the expected material.
As expected, the SGID came back with all the same feedback I anticipated. That said, the cool part about the SGID is that it includes a section that’s actionable. In other words, students get a chance to suggest how they would change things which saves me the time and energy of figuring out solutions myself.
If you’re interested in seeing an example report, here’s mine. In it, you’ll see the three questions they ask along with a breakdown of each groups’ responses. In addition, you’ll see each comment includes a number of students who agree with the statement. That way, you can figure out if the issue is effecting everyone or just a student or two.
All that said, when getting an external review (or any review for that matter), it’s super important that you report back to your students, so they know their feedback isn’t going to the void.
While I’m happy to share five ways to get feedback on your teaching, I’m sure there are dozens if not hundreds of other methods. Why not share some of your favorites with us in the comments?
While you’re here, I put together a brief list of feedback related resources from Amazon below (ad):
- Supervision That Improves Teaching and Learning: Strategies and Techniques Fourth Edition
- Better Than Carrots or Sticks: Restorative Practices for Positive Classroom Management Paperback – August 25, 2015
Likewise, you might enjoy some of the following related articles:
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