Did You Learn Anything?

“To use the Minute Paper,” Angelo and Cross write, “an instructor stops class two or three minutes early and asks students to respond briefly to some variation on the following two questions: ‘What was the most important thing you learned during this class?’ and ‘What important question remains unanswered?’ Students then write their responses on index cards or half-sheets of scrap paper . . . and hand them in.”

That technique, as the authors explain, provides “manageable amounts of timely and useful feedback for a minimal investment of time and energy.” If every student mentions some trivial but entertaining point from your lecture as the most important thing they learned, you know you need to revisit the main idea next time. If a significant number of students list as an unanswered question one that you covered during a lecture, it’s time to review.

Angelo and Cross describe the Minute Paper as an instrument designed to give feedback on a single course session, but you can use it to gauge student opinion on an entire unit or the course as a whole. In any case, the student responses take just a few minutes to read and will help you see whether the ideas, concepts, and skills you are teaching correspond with what the students are learning. —James M. LangDid You Learn Anything? (Chronicle of Higher Education)

I know from experience that students get very tired of filling out end-of-term evaluation forms in the last few weeks of classes. I’ve had students duck out early rather than fill out the forms.

I’m fortunate at Seton Hill that each year, my dean makes it a point to sit in on at least one classroom period for each tenure-track faculty member, so she has first-hand experience that she can use to help her interpret the impersonal numbers. (She has told me informally that she is not in the least concerned about students who complain that my courses are too hard, since she has heard good things and seen good results — such as conference papers and acceptance to grad school — from students whom I’ve mentored.) And my division chair has noticed in the past few years that the English faculty members get rated higher by the students when we teach courses in our specific subject area — he has specifically asked me to teach my Drama as Lit course again, and was beaming about the student response to my News Writing course.

Perhaps I will try a Minute Paper directed towards the course as a whole. I am more likely to ask students to write a short end-of-class response to a specific lesson. For instance, last week I asked my Intro to Literary Study students to write down questions they have about the resumes they are writing for a professional-development unit. In Lit Crit, where most of the class actively participates in intense and productive discussions, I have asked students to write down a quick anonymous response about what they felt we accomplished. Many of their responses had as much to do with the class dynamic as the course material, which I take as a good sign that the students are paying serious attention to a resource — the class discussion — that takes constant attention over the course of a 2 1/2 hour class period.

I’m very grateful that we’ve started student oral presentations, so that I don’t have to be “on” in the same way for the entire class period. It’s not that I talk the whole time — far from it. But it’s intellectually exhausting to make sure everyone’s participating and following along. It is rewarding, so I end up with that “tired-but-it’s-a-good-tired” feeling. But it is a welcome break when a student has the floor for 20 minutes; I can spend more time thinking and lining up future conversation topics in ways that relate directly to what the student has just said. More important, I get to listen, and just enjoy the classroom culture.