Using A Course Evaluation to Improve AP Instruction

As the year draws to a close, many of us are eager to head off for summer vacation and leave this year behind.  I think it’s important, however, to take some time to reflect on the year past and determine ways to improve your AP course in the future.  Being reflective about your practice is definitely the mark of a teacher who strives for improvement, one of the many qualities we see to instill in our students.  Asking students to fill out an end of year survey is one of the tools teachers can use to provide fodder for that reflection.  The survey below and the following rationale were provided by Paul Forester, AP teacher extraordinaire, recently retired from Alamo Heights High School in San Antonio, Texas.

 

Please answer the following questions. This will give you a chance to
consolidate your thoughts on what it is that you have learned this year.
It will also provide information for improving the course next year. It is
preferable that you do not sign this sheet.

1) What is the one most important thing you have learned as a result of
taking this course?

2) What was the most interesting part of the course?

3) What was the most difficult part to understand?

4) What (excluding the instructor!) should be changed the next time the
course is taught?

=====

Here are some annotations explaining the wording of the questions and some
responses I typically get.

Length: The questionnaire is deliberately short, so that students can
complete it in five minutes or less, usually at the end of the last day of
class.

Intro. paragraph: Explains the purpose of the questionnaire. The reason
for not signing the sheet is that students will be more candid with any
negative comments they may have if their anonymity is preserved.

Paragraph (1): I deliberately limit them to one thing only (although some
out-of-the-box thinkers go ahead and write more than one). Because a
number of students complete the questionnaire, I get a number of different
“important things” in response without having the students get bogged down
in multiple answers. The words “as a result of taking this course” are
deliberately chosen to give students the latitude of giving non-content
information, such as “I learned the importance of keeping up with
homework,” or “I learned to keep my pencil moving on tests,” or “I learned
never to give up.”

Paragraph (2): Sequenced as #2 to have something good for them to respond
to early in the questionnaire. The responses give me some insight on what
not to change next year.

Paragraph (3): The words, “… to understand” are deliberately used to
steer students to a mathematical topic. In BC Calculus the response is
usually “series,” although students often follow up by saying things like,
“… but I finally caught on.”

Paragraph (4): This question comes last so that students will have had
time to think about other things first. Responses are sometimes trivial
like, “easier tests,” and sometimes conflicting, like “more explorations,”
“fewer explorations.” But often they point out things I really need to
address the following year. The clause, “excluding the instructor” usually
draws a laugh!

 

I love the simplicity of Paul’s approach and appreciate greatly his sharing of this tool.  I think it’s a good idea to have a student collect the surveys, put them in a sealed envelope to be opened well after school has ended and grades are turned in.  Don’t be defensive as you read the responses, but consider ways that you can address issues that are raised or make more transparent to the students the reasoning behind some of your decisions.

 

If you have any good tools that you use to improve your AP class, please share them by posting a comment.  Until next time, I hope you have a very smooth end to your school year!

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One Response to “Using A Course Evaluation to Improve AP Instruction”

  1. Philomena Hughes Says:

    In some reading I was doing to prepare for a conference I was attending, I read an interesting study that determined that students paid more attention to their peers comments on their writing than to their teacher’s. Applying this to my AP calculus course this year, I decided to have my 2011/12 class write letters to my 2012/13 class. I told my present class that their perspectives, comments and advice (and no doubt humour!) would be very worthwhile and they were happy to oblige. I will let you know what we learn when we open them in September!

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