Assessing and Improving your Teaching

Published: Tues., September 6, 2016

For many graduate students, working as a teaching assistant is part of their graduate school experience. For many of these same students, this is the first experience they have in the classroom. If you are teaching this semester, you may be wondering how you are doing. Maybe you just want to know if you are explaining the material clearly, or perhaps you have more specific questions about something going on in class that you would like some help on.

In either case, the best way to answer these questions is by getting feedback on your teaching mid-semester from your students.

Why should I get feedback now?

As a teaching assistant, you may receive end-of-course evaluations from your students. While those end-of-course evaluations provide great information about your performance throughout the semester, unfortunately, they come too late for you to change your teaching for your current students. For instance, if your students wrote on the end-of course evaluations that your grading practices were unclear, you can only attempt to change that for the next time you teach, but that will not help your current students. Addressing any problems now may even improve those end-of-course evaluations!

Using and responding to these mid-semester evaluations also lets your students know that you care about their success and are listening to them. Students appreciate classes where they feel involved in the learning process and that their instructors care about their learning.

How do you do it?

There are number of ways to assess your teaching. Here are some of the best strategies:

Teaching Documentation Program

One great opportunity that the Office of Graduate Studies offers is our Teaching Documentation Program. When applying for jobs, graduate students often need to provide evidence of both teaching development efforts and teaching effectiveness as part of the academic job application. In the ensuing interview process, candidates are asked to discuss not only their research skills and interests, but their teaching strategies and philosophy as well. The Teaching Documentation Program (TDP) helps graduate students teach better, now and in the future, and prepares them for the job search process by helping them focus on and document their teaching development efforts. Classroom visits are usually conducted between the 4th and 10th week of each semester, and are scheduled on a first-come, first-served basis. This program involves four parts:

  1. Initial Interview (optional): A short discussion with an instructional consultant about any concerns you have about your classroom.
  2. Student Feedback and Observation: An instructional consultant will come to your classroom, at a mutually agreed upon time, have your students complete the Teaching Analysis by Students (TABS), a short (10 minute) assessment of your teaching, and then the consultant will observe your teaching for the rest of the class period.
  3. Individualized Consultation: You will meet with that same consultant to discuss the feedback your students gave. You'll work together to identify your strengths and development needs, and identify three or four teaching goals to reach by the end of the semester. The consultant can help you design and implement strategies to meet these objectives.
  4. Evaluation and Documentation: After completing this process, you will be able to produce a document for your teaching portfolio reflecting on the feedback and showing how you have addressed the feedback. This document can be included as part of your Teaching Portfolio. We can also provide you with documentation of your efforts that could be included in a future teaching portfolio or other materials you produce for your future job applications, if you wish.

Instructional Consultants are available to help graduate students in all fields with their teaching. If you are interested in this program, please make a TDP Request here.

Create your own survey

If you are unable to participate in TDP, you can still collect information from your students about your performance. One way of doing so is to create a short survey for students to complete. These surveys often include two or three open-ended questions and commonly, questions include some variation of these questions:

  • What's helping you learn in this class?
  • What's getting in the way of your learning?
  • What changes would you suggest for this class?

Ask students to complete the form at the beginning of class, if possible, so they will not try to complete it quickly in order to leave early. This survey should be completed anonymously, so some TAs choose to step outside of the room while students complete the form to encourage them to more honest than they might be if you were sitting in the room.

Once you have your feedback from your students, take some time to look over and sort their responses. Do many of their responses seem to be saying the same thing? If so, those responses indicate that many students share similar opinions about what is effective or not in your class. Use this information to develop strategies for any changes you might implement in the classroom.

Videotaping your teaching

As part of the TDP, you may also request a video recording of the session to provide a student's eye perspective of your teaching. The video will be available for download later that day, and is only accessible by you. This can be particularly helpful for TAs who are concerned about their presentation skills and speaking in public. Instructional consultants will help you analyze this video along with your other feedback from the TDP process.

Even if you are not receiving feedback through the TDP, you can still use video recordings to get feedback on your teaching. You can use a smartphone or personal video camera to record yourself. Set it up towards the back of the class so that students may be visible from behind, but the focus should always be on you as an instructor. If you choose this option, remember let students know that you will be recording that class session and reassure them that this will not be used for any other purpose besides helping you improve as an instructor and will only be accessible by you.

What can I do with this information?

After you receive the feedback from your students and the consultant, if you do TDP, there are a number of ways you can use this information to improve your teaching.

Address the feedback with your students

Regardless of the method you choose to get feedback from your students, it is important that you make sure to discuss it in some way with your students. This does not need to take much time; three to five minutes is enough. First, thank them for their feedback. This demonstrates that you care about their feedback and them as students. Even if you can’t implement everything they mention, showing that you have listened builds rapport with your class and helps them feel more comfortable in your classroom. When you talk with your students after receiving feedback, tell them what you can and will change and what you can’t and why. Responding this way shows your students that you are listening to them and trying to improve their learning experience, even if you cant change everything.

Try a new teaching strategy

When you meet with the consultant to discuss the results, you may notice that your students identified issues in the same area. While talking about your teaching, your consultant may suggest new strategies you could try in your classroom. If you collect feedback on your own, it may help to meet with a trusted faculty member, instructional consultant, or peer to see if they have suggestions. There are also a wide variety of teaching strategies available on our website that you can use.

Teaching as Research project

If you have a specific problem in mind when thinking about your class, you can use TDP as part of a research project. Teaching as Research projects involve conducting a small research study on a specific change in your classroom. Often the goal of these projects is to study the effectiveness of any changes to your classroom. If you would like more information on Teaching as Research projects, please contact us.