End-of-Marking Period Feedback Is a Two-Way Street
At the end of a marking period, students’ grades indicate their progress and achievement in math class. It is also a great time to encourage reflection and feedback on what teaching and learning practices have played out in the classroom and what changes can be made so the class is more productive in the future. Here is how I have turned my end-of-quarter evaluations into valuable conversations about how to make math class better for all of us.
Whatever your grading system is — total points, percent weight for each type of grade or standards-based grades — communicate that at the start of the school year, and remind students of pertinent details along the way. Ideally, the students should have access to their grades during the marking period, so they aren’t surprised at the end of the quarter. I make sure that my students know the grade they earned in my class and how the different components contributed to that grade. Before we had an online grading portal for students to check their progress, I would print out grade slips so students could clearly see each test, quiz and project grade, along with ratings for homework and participation.
If I stopped after reporting grades to my students, our communication would be a one-way, dead-end street. Instead, I want to capitalize on the opportunity to have an ongoing dialogue about how the students interpret their results and how they view their learning and my teaching in math class.
Along with their grades, students are given a set of four questions to answer for me; more on that in a minute. Whatever evaluation questions you have for your students (about your class, your teaching and their learning) can be asked using an online survey or paper-and-pencil to be handed in. Questions can be open-ended or have a 1-to-5 scale that students can use to rate their level of agreement with a statement.
You might include questions about particular activities or content, if that is important to you, such as “What did you think of the graphing lab activity using the calculator?” or “How would you rate your understanding of polynomials after the unit?” You can also ask students about their mathematical disposition: what is their confidence level in math class, what topics they enjoyed the most or the least, or whether they feel challenged enough or too much and how often.
The survey can be anonymous to encourage students to give honest answers. If you want students to give their name (so you can follow up on their comments), be clear that what they say will not affect their grade.
My Four Questions
My students answer these four open-ended prompts on paper. Names are optional.
- 1. Tell me something specific you did well or are proud of this quarter.
- 2. Tell me something specific you want to improve for next quarter.
- 3. Tell me something you think I did well.
- 4. Tell me something you want me to change or improve.
I give students time to reflect and write, and the ground rules are that they can’t say “nothing” and can’t propose major changes like “stop giving homework/tests.” Because I require them to be specific, they have to find some details about their learning and my teaching to discuss. Most of the time, students write about things that are actionable in their evaluations.
I feel that this process makes evaluation a two-way street, since students are commenting on me and my teaching but also on themselves. By asking them to name what they are going to do differently for the coming quarter, I place the responsibility on their shoulders for making changes in their class performance. The set of four questions opens the door for us to communicate constructively about improving our math class experience for everyone.
Respond and Move Forward
After I read my students’ evaluations, I respond back to the class within a few days. I choose several comments suggesting changes to my teaching and read them out loud with my responses. For example, one request was for me to provide homework answer keys so they could check over the ones we didn’t discuss in class. Another suggestion was to allow students to choose their partners for group work; since I usually create random groupings, we compromised by letting them select their own groups on test review day. When it is warranted, I follow up with individual students privately as well.
This simple and flexible framework for class evaluations works very well for me and my students. It creates an environment that promotes individual reflection, supports personal agency about goals and outcomes, and sends the very important message that all of us in the classroom can revise and improve our practices to make the rest of the year as successful as possible.