I once asked a high school class to anonymously assess the course I was teaching. I asked them to write down how I could, in their opinion, improve my instruction. The first response read, Lose the scarf. The second read, Lose 10 pounds. The rest of the evaluations were not much better. At the time, I decided these students were perhaps just too immature to assess a course effectively.
As a university instructor, I assumed my students would be mature enough to assess a course effectively. Last week marked mid-term at my university. In the interest of gauging how my students were feeling about the course, I encouraged my students to assess the course using a response format. I chose to use a Start Stop Continue. I explained to them that this was an anonymous response format in which they write down what they would prefer I Start doing in the course (that I am not doing), Stop doing something that they do not like, and Continue doing something they enjoy or are learning from. Most students admitted they had never been invited to use a response tool to evaluate a course. The following is a small sampling from the three classes I invited to respond:
Start serving snacks Start treating us like adults Continue treating us like adults. I love that you ask us what we need. Stop using instruments to get our attention Continue using all the instruments to get our attention. I love it. Stop giving us silly activities to do that I learn nothing from. Continue giving us so many creative tasks to do in class. I hate lectures. Continue being passionate about learning and teaching.
I was fascinated. The responses represented such a range it was hard to determine what I should address. In the end, I decided to hold an open-circle discussion with each class to discuss the responses and what these could mean to us as teachers. The response to the responses was remarkable. My students could see how helpful or unhelpful the comments could be. Some found the responses amusing, while others were annoyed by them. I shared one insight I received from the comments: that the student who identified the tasks I set up for them as “silly activities” probably didn’t understand the theories and purpose behind the tasks. And that, I acknowledged, was my fault. As a result, a very intense discussion ensued in which we dissected many of the tasks and activities we engaged in.
In the end, we all learned from this experience. And it was not the assessment tool that provided the learning- it was the assessment of the assessment that mattered.