“When the cook tastes the soup, that’s formative.
When the guests taste the soup, that’s summative.”

–Robert Stake

Formative Teaching Evaluations

Formative teaching evaluations give instructors the opportunity to monitor student learning and gather feedback to improve their teaching. In contrast, the primary goal of summative teaching evaluations (such as end-of-course evaluation forms) is to measure instructors’ teaching effectiveness so as to guide personnel decisions.

Why use formative teaching evaluations? Formative teaching evaluations can provide actionable information that faculty can use to make adjustments during a course, something that is impossible to do using end-of-course evaluations. Formative evaluations allow instructors the opportunity to gather feedback on their teaching without having to share it with one’s department, colleagues, or reappointment, promotion, or tenure committee. Also, as students respond to formative teaching evaluations, they get to think about their own learning. This meta-cognition contributes to their self-awareness as learners and helps them better engage with their learning.

Mid-Semester Evaluation Forms

One way to collect formative information on your teaching is to ask students to fill out a short survey form during the middle of the term. So as to encourage students to answer honestly, these surveys should be taken anonymously.

Why use them? Mid-semester evaluations tend to positively affect the way that students perceive the course and instructor [3] and increase instructors’ end-of-semester evaluation scores [2,5,6]. Student evaluations can provide information that can be used to improve teaching, and that process is enhanced when paired with some form of consultation about those evaluations [1,5].

How to do it? There are a variety of questions that you can include on your mid-semester evaluation forms. The CTL recommends the following set of general-purpose questions (available as RTF, Word, or PDF) that are suitable for most situations:

  1. What aspects of the course are best contributing to your learning? Please try to be as specific as possible.
  2. What aspects of the course are detracting from your learning? Please try to be as specific as possible.
  3. Based on your answers to the previous questions, what can I do differently to make this course a better learning experience?
  4. What can you do differently to make this course a better learning experience?

Other questions that you could include:

  • What did you find of most value from the readings/assignments in the course and why?
  • What is the most important/valuable thing you have learned in this course so far?
  • What is the least important/valuable thing you have learned in this course so far?
  • What, if anything, is still unclear?
  • Is the pace of the course too fast/slow/about right?
  • How many hours per week, on average, do you spend on this course outside of class time?
  • What suggestions do you have for improving this course?

To get maximum participation from students, leave a few minutes at the end of class for them to fill out your questionnaire. We strongly recommend not asking students to do it outside of class time. If students are concerned about you being able to identify them via their handwriting, offer electronic submission of feedback as an option (via Google Forms or some other tool).

Minute Papers/Exit Tickets

Another way to collect formative information about your teaching is to collect small amounts of it at the end of every class using so-called “minute papers” or “exit tickets.” These forms are usually collected anonymously.

For example, at the end of your class you can ask students to answer one question, like one of these:

  • What is the most significant [useful/meaningful/surprising] thing you learned today?
  • Is there anything you didn’t understand from today’s class?
  • What questions are on your mind?
  • What was the muddiest point during today’s class?
  • Based on your understanding from today’s class, ___[ some content-specific question ]___?

Why use them? These exit tickets give you immediate feedback on your teaching. The information that you gather can also be used to determine if you’re going at the right pace for your students or if you might need to review a particular topic/concept that students found confusing. You can use responses from a prior class to motivate or launch a subsequent class.

How to do it? Usually, only one question is asked to reduce the time required for students to answer and for you to process their responses. If you write a question relating to class that day, aim for a question that is quick to answer, but that will reveal something important about their understanding so as to inform the way you approach subsequent classes or assignments. (Refer to Bloom’s Taxonomy to craft a question with the desired level of cognitive demand.)

Once students get in the rhythm of these daily minute papers/exit tickets, it doesn’t take much effort to make it happen. You can set up a pile of paper (8.5″ by 11″ paper cut into quarters is a good size) at the entrance to the class and remind students to pick one up when they walk in and to leave completed responses at the same location on the way out. Alternative, you can use technology to collect this information electronically using tools like Poll Everywhere or Google Forms.

It is a good idea to display your question on the board or screen, as opposed to just saying the question out loud or having to print out new sheets of paper for every class.

Tips for Responding to Student Feedback

  • Develop a tender heart but thick skin.  Try to empathize with students’ concerns, but don’t take things too personally. Keep in mind that there are lots of reasons (not having anything to do with you) that could have caused a student to have a bad day. Don’t let extreme outlier comments get to you–look instead for themes in the comments.
  • Respond in a way that feels right to you. You can discuss survey results with the whole class, or you can prepare an email to the class if you don’t want to use class time. Remember that you do not have to share all of the information that you received on the survey. You can be strategic about the information that you share.
  • Make sure that students feel that they were heard and that you care. Thank them for giving you feedback. Clarify any misunderstandings or questions that they might have had. Explain how they can ask for help or get their questions answered. Present the positive aspects of the course that students appreciated and talk about how you will continue or augment those practices. Summarize the negative feedback and describe concrete, specific changes that you will make as a result. Avoid having a defensive or overly apologetic tone.
  • Respond in a timely manner.
  • Get advice from people you trust. Ask a trusted colleague to review the feedback with you and get suggestions on your plan of action. Remember that CTL staff are available to help as well!
  • Be strategic about what to share with your dean or reappointment/promotion committee, if anything. If you got some nice encouragement from students about your teaching, file those notes so you can find them later. Demonstrate your growth as a teacher by documenting how you responded to any negative feedback and what effect your actions had on students or their learning.

CTL staff are available to support faculty in their efforts to enhance their teaching and learning. Whether you need help interpreting and acting on the feedback that you receive, or you want to dive deeper into some aspect of your teaching, we’re here to help you enhance your teaching. For more details, look at the services that we offer to faculty and send us an email ctl@claremont.edu.

Selected References

[1] Benton, S. L., and W. E. Cashin. “Student ratings of teaching: A summary of research and literature” (IDEA Paper no. 50). Manhattan, KS: The IDEA Center. (2012).

[2] Braunstein, Daniel N., Gary A. Klein, and Mark Pachla. “Feedback expectancy and shifts in student ratings of college faculty.” Journal of Applied Psychology 58, no. 2 (1973): 254.

[3] Brown, Michael J. “Student perceptions of teaching evaluations.” Journal of Instructional Psychology 35, no. 2 (2008): 177-182.

[4] Keutzer, Carolin S. “Midterm evaluation of teaching provides helpful feedback to instructors.” Teaching of Psychology 20, no. 4 (1993): 238-240.

[5] Murray, Harry G. “Does evaluation of teaching lead to improvement of teaching?” The International Journal for Academic Development 2, no. 1 (1997): 8-23.

[6] Overall, J. U., and Herbert W. Marsh. “Midterm feedback from students: Its relationship to instructional improvement and students’ cognitive and affective outcomes.” Journal of Educational Psychology 71, no. 6 (1979): 856.