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What Students Write When You Ask

August 27, 2013

I ask students to give me written feedback on a variety of things:

I hand out daily sheets that ask students to reflect on what did and didn’t make sense today

I hand out mid-semester feedback that ask students to reflect on what is and isn’t help them to learn.

One thing I haven’t written about is that I ask students at the beginning of the semester to write to me about their professional learning goals and their student benchmark goals. I ask the questions the following way, usually after I’ve framed the course a little bit for them.

Professional Learning Goals

If you’re not focusing on yourself as a “student” (who might be worried about grades and such), but rather you are thinking of yourself as a future professional, what are you hoping to understand better, learn more about, or become skill at doing through this course?

Student Benchmark Goals

Given that you are a student, what grade would you be satisfied with in this course? What kind of grade would signal to both you and I that there is trouble?

This feedback helps me get a sense for how students are making sense of what this course might offer them, how they view themselves as a learner, and what their hopes for the future are. It also gives me a benchmark for talking to students about their performance in class. I approach students who are not on target for their own goals, rather than me having to judge which students are struggling according to my own standards. It also can be helpful knowing which students have low grade expectations as well.

Opening the Flood Gates: Self-Efficacy, Science Anxiety, Science Identities

One thing that happens is that these invitations for written feedback often open up a flood of statements about self-efficacy, science identify, and science anxiety:

I was never good at the many science courses I’ve taken before, so I’m hoping this will help

Last semester I took physical science… I almost failed to course because I couldn’t understand anything. I would love to improve my attitude toward science.

A’s aren’t realistic sometimes… I’m not that smart and I don’t have a lot of time.

I’m not much of a critical thinker, so…

I just don’t really understand science…

Given that most of these kinds of statements come from my class for future elementary school teachers, I’m thinking about this in the context of research on Math Anxiety, Elementary School Teachers, and how math anxiety develops in children.

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3 Comments leave one →
  1. August 28, 2013 6:33 am

    Hi Brian. I pay attention to at-risk students through some helpful indicators that I have found from previous courses, but your “What kind of grade would signal to both you and I that there is trouble?” question is one of those “what didn’t I think of that?” type questions. Simple and elegant. Thank you for that.

    • August 28, 2013 10:59 am

      What kind of indicators do you attend to?

      • August 28, 2013 4:05 pm

        I have done some correlation studies looking at relationships between course components (homework grades, lab grades, fraction of clicker questions answered correctly, diagnostic pre-tests, etc) and student behaviours (attendance, fraction of clicker questions answered while present, self-predicted grades, time on task for homework, etc) compared to final exam performance or final course grade. After the first few weeks of a course, I scan through my gradebook and other data and see if I can identify at-risk students. Although some of the indicators aren’t something that the students can do anything to improve (such as a diagnostic pre-test), there usually are some behaviours where I can suggest they concentrate more effort.

        The big thing that I can add from your “trouble?” question is that I have only been using their predicted grade, and as you can imagine that tends to be quite inflated. Knowing for which grade they would consider themselves in trouble in the course makes it so that I can look not only for students that are at risk of failing, but also at risk for earning their “trouble” grade.

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