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Feedback is Key to Reflective Practice

By Mel Young, Curriculum Designer, Cambrian College

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Photo by Nicole De Khors from Burst

Fundamentally, we know how valuable feedback is. We can’t escape businesses seeking feedback when we visit their websites or place of business. Consumers value feedback of other patrons to help them make decisions on where to eat, where to stay and what to buy. If society values feedback so much, why do we overlook feedback from our students in our courses?

I remember the first time I ever received student feedback for my course. The positive comments had me smiling and my chest puffed up in pride, but then I got to negative comments. I instantly felt defensive. I wanted to defend myself against each and every negative comment. I wanted to contact my Dean to say, “This isn’t me! I am a good teacher”! I shoved the evaluations into my desk drawer with the intent of forgetting all about them.

About a week later, I brought out those evaluations again. I prided myself on being a reflective practitioner but wasn’t practicing what I was preaching. I decided to start with the negative feedback first and view it as constructive criticism. The first comment was about the lack of timely feedback on assignments. At first thought, I always gave the students their feedback and grades before the next class (1 week turnaround time); however, at the end of the semester when my full-time role became hectic with projects, my feedback was given approximately two weeks after an assignment was due. With this in mind, I made a few mental notes on what needed to change:

  1. I need to be upfront with the students at the beginning of the semester about our institution’s policy on evaluation feedback that states all assessments will be evaluated and returned to students within 15 business days, so that they are clear about the time limits set by the college.
  2. I will tell the students that I will endeavour to get their assignments back to them sooner than the 15 day deadline, but that my full-time role sometimes gets busy with projects and that will impact my ability to return their work as quickly as they are used to.

The next comment was about the course assignments being irrelevant to their program. I found this strange since I had met with the faculty and program coordinator before I drafted my assignments for the course. I knew they were in line with the type of English/College Communications content that the program faculty wanted covered (summarizing, paraphrasing, essay writing with medical research, problem solving and critical thinking). In hindsight, I don’t think I explicitly told the students that I had met with their program teachers to get ideas about assignments and how those skills transferred into their vocation for the future. What needed to change in response to this comment is:

  1. Tell the students that I met with their program team to discuss what they felt was important for students to learn in a College Communications course and why they felt those skills were important to the vocation.
  2. For every assessment, I need to be more explicit about the purpose of the assignment, the skills it is meant to foster in them and how it will help them in their future.

One of the biggest takeaways from this experience is that I need to view the feedback from students as a way to enhance my professional practice in the classroom. Also, I need to incorporate more frequent feedback into my course design so that I am not blindsided by the comments on the course evaluations at the end of the semester. Here are a few great ways to get feedback from students throughout the semester: Start of semester:

  • Student survey/inventory (example of student inventory for my English class)
  • Diagnostic of course material (example of faculty orientation diagnostic)

Feedback from lesson:

  • KWL chart (example)
    • You can see using a KWL chart what the students knew (or didn’t know), the types of questions they were wondering about the topic and what they actually learned during the lesson — valuable feedback for you as the teacher
  • Ticket-out-the-door/Exit Ticket (example of questions you can pose at the end of a lesson to gather feedback about that lesson)
  • Attendance is a good indicator of how engaged students are in your day-to-day lessons
  • Muddiest Point (explanation)
  • Gather feedback about your assignments and tests:
    • Was the overview/outline detailed enough?
    • How challenging was the assignment/test to complete? (use Likert scale)
    • If the student could change anything about the assignment/test, what would they change and why?
    • What did the student like about the assignment/test? Dislike?

You don’t have to wait until the end of the semester to gather feedback about your course; likely the best feedback will have been forgotten by your students. Start gathering feedback at the beginning of the course and continue during the course. The feedback process doesn’t have to be huge, in-depth or time consuming, but it will all be beneficial!

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