Tuesday, October 18, 2016

It's Time to Adjust: the Mid-Semester Evaluation

By Lew Ludwig, Editor-in-chief, Denison University

As a student, I was frustrated by course evaluations. Course evaluations are supposed to allow students the opportunity to provide feedback to improve the course. However, my comments were never received in time to improve my course.

As an instructor, I am frustrated by course evaluations. I do not get a chance to discuss them with my students – to understand their concerns and needs better or to explain my pedagogical choices.

To address these frustrations, I have turned to mid-semester course evaluations. While many such evaluations exist, I use the following in my classroom:

  1. What is going well for your learning in this course? Be specific as you can. 
  2. What is not going well for your learning in this course? Be specific as you can. 
  3. Based on your answer to question 2, what can I (the instructor) do differently? 
  4. Based on your answer to question 2, what can you (the student) do differently? Other comments?

I email these questions to the students as a text document that they type responses to, print, and return in the next class. To ensure honest feedback, it is important that student responses are anonymous. (One could also use a Google Form to anonymously collect this information.)

I use 20 minutes of the following class to share and discuss the results. It is very important to respond to the evaluations in a timely manner. The sooner you respond to these questionnaires, the sooner your students feel heard and the closer you are to having a meaningful dialogue about what could be done differently on both sides of the classroom.

The short article Taking Stock: Evaluations from Students from the Teaching Resource Center at the University of Virginia newsletter gives some tips on how to interpret and respond to this type of qualitative data.

This particular questionnaire works well for a number of reasons. First, it gives you an opportunity to address student misconceptions or learning difficulties. I am often surprised at my students’ honesty with question 4 and their willingness to take ownership in their learning. Secondly, it gives you a chance to make small changes to the course schedule, assignments, or other activities. This process also helps give students perspective. If one student does not like working in pairs, but the rest of the class benefits from this practice, this is useful feedback. Lastly and most importantly, it communicates to the students that you care about their perspectives on the course, their engagement and learning, and your teaching.

I find that students respond well to the process and enjoy the opportunity to have a constructive hand in their education. As an instructor, I enjoy the chance to openly engage with my students about their learning process.

Related Links

Yuankun, Y. and Grady, L. M., (2005), How Do Faculty Make Formative Use of Student Evaluation Feedback?: A Multiple Case Study, Journal of Personnel Evaluation in Education, Volume 18, Number 2 / May, 2005.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

How to Deal with Math Anxiety in Students

By Jessica DeshlerContributing Editor, West Virginia University

As a mathematics instructor, you’ve seen the symptoms: the look of panic, avoiding the material, the lack of confidence. These are all symptoms of a student suffering from a condition known as mathematics anxiety.

Students can respond to anxiety in different ways - some being spurred into action, others feeling overwhelmed and unable to function in their mathematical situation. As instructors, we need to acknowledge when our students are anxious toward mathematics and find ways to help them build confidence and move past anxiety to achieve success in their studies.

What can we do to help? A few tips to help you alleviate the anxiety your students may be facing:

  1. Let them work together. Cooperative groups provide students a chance to exchange ideas, to ask questions freely, to explain to one another and to clarify ideas in meaningful ways. Students working in groups can increase their mathematical self-efficacy (one’s belief in one’s ability to succeed) while reducing their mathematics anxiety compared to students working on their own. Implement group activities if you don’t already or try a group quiz.
  2. Let them learn from their mistakes. How we respond to errors greatly affects how our students learn to communicate within our classrooms. Our students will make mistakes, and it’s up to us to avoid consoling them and to make sure these become opportunities for learning. How? (See our previous post with tips about how to respond to student errors!)
  3. Give them lots of feedback. The creation of high stakes, summative assessments may have its place in a mathematics curriculum but it fosters anxiety in many of our students. Using a variety of assessments is one suggested technique for helping students overcome anxiety.

    Communicate with students to gauge their understanding often - don’t wait for exams after a month of class to find out if they’re struggling. Check in with them during class - ask students to volunteer their solutions or present alternative methods to problems. This provides a great opportunity to have rich discussions and give students a voice in the classroom.

    A daily (or weekly) problem is a good end-of-lesson check in technique - it doesn’t have to be graded, but quickly glancing through student responses after class can help you plan for the next class and give you insight into student understanding more often.

Related Links

Ashcraft, M.H., (2002). Math Anxiety: Personal, Educational, and Cognitive Consequences. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 11 (5) pp 181-185

Beilock, S. & Willingham, D. T. (2014). Math anxiety: Can teachers help students reduce it? American Educator, Summer, 28-32,43.

Mevarech, Z., Silber, O., & Fine, D. (1991). Learning with computers in small groups: Cognitive and affective outcomes. Journal of Educational Computing Research, 7(2), 233-243.

Zemelman, S., Daniels, H., and Hyde, A. (1998). Best practice: New standards for teaching and learning in America’s school (2nd Edition). Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.