Loose ends

end of course feedback

Hay at harvest time

hay at harvest time by net_efekt

A few weeks back I finished off a six month course at a local high school. It was the first time the course had been run at the school, and it was the first time I’d taught on a course of that kind.  We were keen to harvest reactions from the students (sorry, cheesy link to seasonal image!), to find out how they felt about the course, what they’d got out of it, what we could improve on or consolidate for next year.  We really wanted as much feedback as possible so we decided to incorporate a  feedback questionnaire in the last class. There are pros and cons of course.  Even though the questionnaires would be anonymous, we would be present when they were being completed, facilitating discussion if necessary, and obviously this would have an inhibiting effect on some students.  But we wanted feedback from everyone and we wanted the students to invest time and effort in their answers, so the in-class option seemed the obvious way to go.

In an ideal world we would have taken time designing the perfect questionnaire, piloting it, retouching it, structuring it for statistical validity. But what happened in the end was fairly last minute, drafted and shared on google docs and by email. It was fine, it worked, more or less.  We got a lot of feedback, most of it predictable, a lot of it useful, but what struck me about it, looking back at it and teasing out trends and tendencies, was the way the structure of the questionnaire mirrored so closely a lesson shape that had emerged over the course of the six months. A shape I fell back on time and again as I tried to address the challenges of a multi-level group.

The questionnaire kicked off like this:

(Please answer in English if you can, but if you need to write in Spanish too, that’s OK).

This reflects a philosophy underpinning the course. There were students who were sometimes too shy to express themselves in English, or simply didn’t have, or didn’t believe they had, the language to say what they wanted to say. They could approach me in Spanish and ask for help or express their ideas and together we’d transpose them into English. Spanish was not outlawed. It wasn’t the medium I used, but bilingual conversations and negotiations were common.  The students’ ideas and contributions came first, encoding them in English then followed.   I wanted to do the same with the questionnaire – to give them the opportunity to express themselves in Spanish if they felt they needed to.  In the end, very few did, and those who did mixed the two languages, only resorting to Spanish when they felt they really wanted to.

So, on to the first question:

1  Can you remember  three activities or topics from the course?

1  ___________________________________

2  ___________________________________

3  ___________________________________

This question was a kind of open brainstorming stage. In fact in one class where the energy levels had seemed particularly low, we’d done this part of the questionnaire as an everybody-on-their-feet, up-at-the-board activity.  The question was purposefully vague because the aim here was simply to capture impressions from the course. It didn’t really matter what they were.  It was a kind of tuning-in, turning-on kind of stage.  Everybody could contribute whatever they wanted to, a specific warmer, a generic activity type, a text, a topic, a discussion, a task, anything that they remembered.  And that’s what we got, a kind of mish-mash, but an interesting one. And quite telling.

The next two questions were a kind of processing stage, where we asked students to look at the three things they’d remembered and explain why they’d been memorable.

2 Why do you remember them?   Write a, b, c or d next to each activity.

a)      Because I thought it was useful

b)      Because I thought it was difficult

c)       Because I didn’t like it

d)      Because it was interesting

3 Write a sentence explaining your choice.

1 _________________________________

2  ________________________________

3  ________________________________

This mirrored the processing and categorising stages that followed in our classes, taking the raw material that was thrown up in the brainstorming stage and looking at it more closely, justifying choices, gauging personal reactions, moving from one word, one chunk utterances to more complicated texts.  Mainly sentences of course, when answering the questionnaire, but still sentences that needed teasing out, meanings that needed negotiating. And this is where a lot of the most interesting feedback was recorded.  Information about their perceptions of classroom activities, their preferred learning modes,  the two sides of memorableness, the good and the bad, the successful tasks and activities and the boring ones, the ones that failed to engage.

The next question involved less investment for the students, a kind of mental break and an inevitable winding down:

4 Do you think the classes helped you?  Tick any statements you agree with.

 1  They helped me write better.

2  They helped me read better.

3  They helped me understand the exam.

4  They helped me feel more confident about the exam.

5  They helped me feel more confident about my use of English in general.

The last two questions were very open. Students could make as much or as little of them as they wanted.  I encouraged discussion and collaboration.

5  Was there anything in particular you enjoyed about the course?  If yes, what and why?

6 Was there anything you didn’t enjoy? If yes, what and why?

Some students came to these last questions still full of enthusiasm and energy and gave some interesting, fleshed out answers.  Others gave very little. Some students felt they’d already said what they wanted to say earlier and wrote a totally acceptable “nothing to add”. We had gleaned what we wanted in question three and from the boxes ticked in question 4. The last two questions was just the cherry on the cake, there to give students a chance to moan about too much homework or to say how much they’d enjoyed the cooperation involved in the pair and group work.  This stage opened out into a general class chat and exchanging to ideas and banter. A kind of winding up and signalling a time to move on.

So, a slightly rushed questionnaire, but one that worked well in class and yielded a lot of interesting and useful information.  Here’s a copy  in case you want to use it, or adapt, it for one of your classes.

End of course questionnaire

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16 Responses to Loose ends

  1. Sandy Millin says:

    Hi Ceri,
    I really like this approach to end-of-course questionnaires. It looks a lot more useful than the ones we use at our school. I’ve bookmarked it for future use.
    Sandy

  2. Andrea says:

    Great post, Ceri!
    We use these end of course feedback forms in my school, but they only ask the students to tick boxes and to rate criteria on a scale of 1 – 10. I like your open questions and would definitely recommend a similar format in my next school.
    Thanks!

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Andrea,
      Yes, not so sure about the 1-10 really. Answers are so subjective. I guess it depends on the number of questionnaires you’re processing. Open questions are obviously far more time consuming. I only had about 70, and that took long enough. They gave us loads of interesting information, but it was difficult to quantify. Swings and roundabouts I guess, the plus side here being that it worked well in class.
      Thanks for the comment!
      Ceri

  3. ALiCe__M says:

    Bonjour Ceri !
    I like your questionnaire. Did you do only *one* in six months ? at school we have one questionnaire a week (each course only lasts 15 days) and we do ask to answer them in class.
    (enjoying your top photo at every visit).

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Alice!
      Yes we only did one for this particular course. We only had one lesson a week. It was supplementing the main core English classes and we administered the questionnaire out of our own interest as teachers and course designers. We did periodic ad hoc feedback sessions in class throughout the course, but nothing on paper. One a week sounds a lot, but I guess the courses are intensive.
      Been thinking about changing the image, but not sure what to go for! Got a sunflower growing on the balcony. I wanted to add a close-up of that, but it doesn’t work in the banner. I might have to go out and find a field of them sometime this weekend! Or choose one from eltpics maybe – but then that would feel like cheating!

  4. Don’t know much about feedback questionairres but APPLAUD your approach to the use of mother tongue in class. Some learners need this! Hear hear!
    Naomi

  5. CoffeeAddict says:

    Nice! I think I’ll “steal” this to use with my grade 8s for next year. Thanks!
    :-)Karin

  6. Dina Dobrou says:

    Hi Ceri,

    I must say that for what you called a last minute questionnaire it covers lots of areas.

    We normally have questionnaires at the beginning of the academic year to identify students’ needs and then from time to time, unofficial ones and student-DoS meetings to check if needs are met. But your idea of an end of year questionnaire is one we would benefit a lot from and I will bring it up at my school next year.

    Thanks for that!

    Dina

    • Ceri Jones says:

      Hi Dina!
      Nice to *see* you here! Yes, it was worth it. I must get round to writing about what I learnt from it too! Problem is I learnt so much it’ll take more than one post.

  7. David Warr says:

    Hi Ceri, I like this because, as you say, it requires different types of responses. Just circling 1-5 agree strongly – disagree strongly is not very helpful. Asking for activities they enjoyed is useful, and the reasons why. I suppose there is a real science to writing good questionnaires.

  8. Pingback: Last Semester’s Survey | The Breathy Vowel

  9. Pingback: Why I (often) prefer non-anonymous feedback | ELT Rants, Reviews, and Reflections

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