Tip 48: Evaluation Jedi Mind Tricks

I would like to get excellent evaluations, rather than simply good ones. So I have been reading the CHE fora, mining for gold, and have found some good suggestions.

1) Say phrases you want students to write on their forms, then write these phrases on the board. “We have worked on critical thinking skills with assignments A and B.” The phrases remain on the board while students fill out the forms.

2) I give the evaluations on a good day — never on the first day of class after students return from vacation, never on the day after an exam.

3) I bring cookies.

4) I distribute my own evaluation forms; students complete them before the standardized forms. On my forms, which go into the tenure application, I have items like:

The reading assignments helped me understand the subject of the course.
I read the assignments listed in the syllabus.
The course content was challenging.
Writing assignments (reading responses, etc.) were clearly related to course content.
The instructor asked and encouraged questions.
I attended class regularly.
The instructor’s presentation of the material during class was clear.
I am better at locating and using scholarly publications as source material for research
The instructor and the assignments caused me to think critically about the course’s topic.
I have contacted the instructor outside of class times (in person, phone, or email).
The instructor responded promptly when I contacted him outside of class times.

I think that is a good idea.

This post had a lot of the same information, but other suggestions that were strong as well.

Look very carefully a the actual questions in the eval and directly address those issues in the class or two before giving the eval. For example, does eval ask about your availability for consultation outside of class? Most students will never have tried to meet with you, don;t even remember if you have office hours, and thus they won’t have an opinion and could give you any sort of grade, probably a middle of the road one. But if you’ve very recently given a pep talk encouraging students to to meet with you, and your willingness to make appointments to meet with them outside of office hours if the office hours don’t work for them [don’t worry, very few will take you up on it], then they’ll remember that and give you top marks on that question.

Do questions use phrases like secondary sources, or critical thinking, or current discourse, or anything that a student might not completely understand or recognize when they see it? In the class or two before evals, USE these phrases to review what the class has been doing. Talk about how [insert activity] is helping them develop critical thinking, why critical thinking is important, how today’s discussion showed that their critical thinking skills are developing, how they should use that critical thinking when we move on to xyz. You’ll get top marks on that question too.

IS there a question about the course being well-organized? Take a few minutes to explain how you’ve organized the course (otherwise students just won’t know if it’s well-organized). “We started off by studying x, so that gives us a solid groundwork for studying y–and you’ll find your knowledge of x and y very useful when we move on to z next week,” or “By the way, Text Q may seem a little out of place here, but I didn’t want you to have to read the two longest most challenging texts back-to-back” Top marks on that one too.

You probably ARE doing the things that the eval asks about, but students don’t always know that. Let them know it! Not on the day of the evals, but shorlty before (I would never write terms on the board during the eval. That is just too heavyhanded, and I think it might backfire).

Another thing that can be very effective is a feedback questionnaire that you do a week before the eval. Make it very specifically about your class. Be sure to ask students opinion about the aspects of the class that you know are popular–visual aids, field trips, policy of dropping the lowest quiz score, pre-exam review sessions, whatever. This reminds them of what they like about the class. But also ask about things that you know are not so popular, so that they have a chance to tell you where they perceive problems. Otherwise their only outlet is the official eval. And if there is a general complaint, it’s something that you can discuss next class. And you can also discuss what students like. Show you take their answers seriously. “Some students didn’t like the group work, but quite a few said they found it very helpful. Different people learn different ways, so I guess we need to continue having a variety of methods. And thank you all for giving me this feedback; it’s been very helpful” Students will like that you value their opinion–and will reward you on the official evals, rather than venting their complaints again.

This one also seems like it would work:

Another technique is, right before the evaluation period, do an easy assignment that will give lots of people A’s. When you hand it back, don’t forget to praise the ones who did well privately. Students have short term memory. They often don’t recall the rest of hte semester. It’s how they feel right before the evaluation that counts.

Being a scholarly bunch, a forum of scholars for scholars, we got some good information about the research as well:

1) Is the teacher clear and organized?
Organization, clarity, ability to learn from teacher, student performance on exams, course neither too hard nor too easy, uses class time well, etc. Clarity and understandableness are the #2 item predicting overall rating.

2) Is the teacher likable and enthusiastic?
Expressiveness, enthusiasm, energy, warmth, makes material interesting, good interaction with students, instructor likes students, leadership, flexibility, extent to which student learned, etc. Teacher’s stimulation of interest in course and its content is the #1 item predicting overall rating. Perceived outcome or impact of instruction is #3. (Nuhfer 2003)

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