Thirsty for a Strong Instructional Practice?
We are all here to help students learn, but have you ever thought to ask students how they learn best? When we work to include the student voice in pedagogical decisions, it is a win-win; they know we care about their learning, and they help make the class better for themselves and for future learners. We also teach them to be metacognitive about how they learn. We can also increase student engagement in courses by asking them what they need from us to learn best in each of our courses.
Take a SIP of this: Including the Student Voice in Pedagogical Decisions
Instructors have a variety of ways that the student voice can affect pedagogical decisions. What you ask and how you ask it change depending on the time in the semester that you are eliciting student feedback on pedagogical decisions.
1. At the start of the semester, provide a survey that asks students how they learn best. You can do this online, with a 3×5 card or in hard copy. Some questions you might consider:
- Do you prefer to work in groups, in pairs or alone?
- Do you prefer whole-group or small-group discussion?
- Do you like to turn work in online or on paper?
- What have instructors done in the past that helped you learn best?
- What have they done in the past that take away from your learning?
Then you can take that information and tweak your course to meet their needs. This does not mean doing each of these things every class period, just that you take them into account and mention to students that you are, for example, doing small groups on a certain day because so many students said they prefer to learn in small groups. This shows you are listening to their feedback and implementing it into the class.
2. Midway through the semester, have a formal check-in period where you ask students to reflect on how the class is going for each of them. You can ask questions such as:
- What am I doing that is helping you learn the material?
- What could I be doing to help you better learn the material?
- What am I doing that hinders your learning in class?
Read through these responses and then spend a few minutes in class or offering an online response to highlight what helps students learn, what you are going to change based on their feedback and then what you are not going to change and why leaving that aspect of a course in place is pedagogically important. Again, sharing with the students that you have made time to listen to them and to change class based on their feedback helps them know that their voice matters in their learning. Letting them know what won’t change and why is equally valuable. Often, we know why what we are doing is valuable but they don’t. This is a good time to let them in on the usefulness of what you are asking of them.
3. Near the end of the semester, do one last push to see if there is anything else they need to successfully make it through the semester. You can ask:
- What do you need from me to make it successfully to the end of the semester?
This question highlights that you know they are under profound stress and you care that they do make it successfully to the end of the semester. Often students just want to be make it known that they are stressed out. Sometimes, if enough students point to an assignment that they are struggling through, this is a reminder to reteach a point, go over the details of an assignment or perhaps even cancel an assignment if it will not affect the learning goals of the semester.
4. At the end of the semester, ask about what worked and did not work in the class so that you can improve it for next semester’s students. Remind students that this is not the University course evaluation (and that you do not even get those comments back until midway through the next semester); this is for you to make the course better for future students. This is a great reflection point for them and for you as the instructor. You can hand out the syllabus and ask pairs, small groups or individuals to:
- Go over the syllabus and star the readings/ videos, etc., that were especially meaningful. Cross out the ones you feel could be left off the syllabus in the future.
- Go over the assignments and star the assignments that helped you learn the content best. Cross out the ones you feel could be left off the syllabus in the future.
As you scan the documents, you will see many readings that students agree affected them or did not affect them and then can decide what is important to keep in the syllabus as is, what to keep but explain the relevance of more completely and what to change or delete in future semesters.
Each of these touch points throughout the semester helps improve teaching and learning in the college classroom.