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At this point in the semester, both you and your students probably have some ideas about what is working well and what could be improved in your classroom.  If you have not done so already, take some time this week to check in with your students.

As I was speaking with a couple of my students last week, they told me they had no idea how they were doing in most of their classes.  Even without giving formal grades, you can still give your students feedback about how they are doing in your course and what they might do to improve.

In discussion-based courses, you might give students a participation grade update. A variety of formats could work, but I prefer to give each student a slip of paper with their current participation grade and a few sentences containing specific observations and a targeted suggestion for improvement. For example, I might write something like, “I see you gaining confidence each week. You did a particularly good job bringing us a new perspective on X in our discussion on Y. Keep working on it, and remember that it can be easier to chime in when you bring a specific question or two to class.”  (Hint:  To speed up the process, write the feedback on a computer and keep a “comment bank” of general statements to adapt to specific students.)   Participation grades can seem subjective to students, so this kind of exercise helps you be transparent about how you calculate grades and does not leave students surprised about where they stand.

In other types of courses, you might opt to give students a low-stakes or no-stakes quiz to help them measure the efficacity of their study strategies.  Again, the format can be tailored to your classroom; it might be a brief. self-graded quiz taken in class or an online quiz worth few or no points.  As learners, we often develop a false sense of competence about material we have encountered but may not have actually practiced or understood.  Asking students to practice retrieving information will provide them with a reality check about their capabilities and can help them learn the material for the longer-term. (For more on the “retrieval effect,” see Lang, ch 1.)  You can also collect the quiz results to help you address common areas of confusion.

While you’re taking stock, ask your students for their feedback. I have been successful pairing feedback I give to students with a request that they give me feedback in return.  It offers you an opportunity to demonstrate your commitment to teaching and open up a conversation about your teaching philosophy.  Surveying students now can also help you improve your teaching during the semester and will allow you to respond to some student observations before the formal CIF period.  The Kaneb Center recently offered a workshop on Gathering Early Semester Student Feedback.  You can check out the resources from that workshop or read several of our previous blog posts about eliciting feedback from your students.  You are also welcome to contact us for help in developing, administering, or interpreting early semester feedback surveys.

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