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Tuesday, February 21, 2006
Glory be! I finally got my evaluations today. Yes, from last semester. Yes, that semester that ended, like, two months ago.
Short version: on a cursory look, they actually seem pretty good--or at any rate, better than I expected. My assessment of them may be skewed, though, by the fact that so much time has now passed & I'm no longer particularly emotionally invested in these classes, or perhaps by the fact that I'm teaching WAY more students than I ever have before (which means that the bad evals don't stand out as much), or possibly by the fact that I'm more psychologically and pedagogically secure than I used to be (that last one seems unlikely, but let's keep the dream alive).
The way that Big Urban presents the information from the evals may also be affecting my sense of their content: the evaluations are, primarily, Scantron forms with about 20 questions on them that ask students to respond with, "strongly agree," "agree," "neutral," "disagree," or "strongly disagree." Then the back of the forms have five or six questions to which students can write in comments. When I receive this information, the Scantron scores are consolidated, so I see each individual question, and then both the number of students and the percentage of students who gave each answer. To my mind, it's MUCH easier not to obsess over the smaller number of negative reactions when one can say, "Hey! 80% of the class agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, 'this instructor taught this course well'! And 65% said that they learned how to better analyze and critically evaluate arguments!" And to hell with the 10 or 20% who responded negatively.
That may not be the best response, but it's the easy one, allowing me to feel that I'm doing, basically, okay. The write-in portion of the evaluations was much more informative, even though only some 2/3 of my students bothered to complete them--and there are things in there that I need to think seriously about.
I've already gotten past the two evals that described me as pretentious, the one that said, "she went to INRU and she needs to realize that the standards she has for INRU students are beyond us" (which frankly rather pained me), and the usual handful of completely contradictory responses (e.g., coupla kids said that discussion wasn't useful and there should have been more lecturing, coupla kids said that there was too much lecturing and there should have been more discussion). But two negative comments kept resurfacing: my students disliked the reading quizzes and they thought that I was really, really mean on their papers.
And, okay: reading quizzes suck, but I'm not getting rid of them. Maybe I'll reduce the number to 8 per semester rather than 10, but I think they serve several very useful purposes--giving diligent kids who aren't great writers a chance to improve their grades; ensuring attendance; and letting me know who's keeping up with the reading.
As for the paper grading: I don't care if my students think I'm too hard on their papers; I don't believe that I am, and it's not my problem, really, if they've been coddled by their other instructors. I also got very high marks for accessibility and availability outside of class, and I think that my positive overall evaluations suggests that, whatever they think of me as a paper grader, it didn't completely tank their impression of the class as a whole.
BUT. One remark that came up in many of those grading complaints was that my comments on papers were "rude," "condescending," and "unprofessional." This does concern me, quite a bit. However, I'm not entirely sure to what these remarks refer. I do have a tendency to write, "Huh?" in the margin when I get completely lost, and if a paper is really a disaster I might say, "I have no idea what you're talking about!" Or, "This is a total cop-out." That's not typical of my paper comments, by any means, but they're there. Are colloquialisms unprofessional? Or expressions of exasperation? Well, maybe I need to cut them out.
I also suspect that I need to work harder on emphasizing the positive--as someone (Bardiac?) recently observed, when we write comments on papers, we often think of them as our justification for giving a low grade, rather than as useful and constructive advice. I happen to think that all my criticisms are BOTH, but I can appreciate that it may not seem that way, especially now that I use a grading rubric for my final comments. This rubric is a form with five categories (thesis, argumentation/structure, use of evidence, introduction & conclusion, and writing/mechanics), next to each of which I've provided a short explanation for what a sucessful paper does in that category. In the space below each category I write specific, brief comments by hand. I think this demystifies the grading process and provides essential information laid out in a helpful way--but I suspect that it may be true that, when I get, let's say, a B-minus paper, the comments sometimes range from the negative to the lukewarm. When I used to type up my comments in the form of a short letter I always led with the positive (even if the best I could do was saying, "you've chosen a really important topic to write on"), but the rubric format doesn't lend itself to that very well. Maybe I should write a final sentence, next to the grade, saying something along those lines? Or "don't be discouraged! you have really good ideas, and you just need to express them more clearly"?
Sigh. I wish I hadn't just returned a set of papers today.
link | posted by La Lecturess at 10:17 PM |
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