From the Archives: Grading the Teacher

I just had my yearly reviews. My student evaluations were lower than I expected during the spring of 2012. I pride myself on my teaching, what the heck? I was frustrated and very disappointed in myself at first. I now see it as an opportunity to find out what is not working and improve; it is humbling to say the least.

Image source: LIFE archives online

Hey, It happens. Evaluations are a good thing in the sense that they keep us on our toes. However, I feel that our University standard end of year evaluation is flat in terms of what it asks my students and what it can offer me in terms of guidance for improvement.

Upon compiling the data from our standard student evaluations I was struck by the lack of student feedback in the form of comments. Comments from students, I find are most helpful in terms of improving my teaching. I imagine the student on the last day of class, having to fill out the required evaluation in every course. If I was a student I might not put so much of myself into it, what are your thoughts?

I am going to test out a few strategies for additional methods of evaluation and I would like to share them with you. How do you assess your effectiveness in a way that is meaningful for you? Here are few things I am attempting:

Midterm talks:

The midterm talk is a casual 10-minute discussion between the student and myself.

1. Looking back on the past 6 weeks, what is a lesson, tutorial or technique that you really resonated with? What excited you and why?
2. Looking back on the past 6 weeks, what is a lesson, tutorial or technique that you disliked, what was it that made you miserable and why?
3. What grey areas are there in the course? What do you not understand? What do you want to learn that you have not?

I found that sitting face to face with one student and going over the semester was engaging for both of us. I was interested in student stories reflecting on the daily tutorials, what they really responded to, what was not working. Since it is mid-semester, I have time to turn around the aspects that are not working and continue the aspects that are effective for my students. It was great to sit down and get to know my students and hear about my course in there own language. I have a studio class of 18; I know that this would not be possible in my larger lecture courses. Some iteration of the casual face -to -face talk could certainly be developed and I recommend it.

Google Survey:

I created a Google survey requesting additional feedback from current and former students and advisees. What is great about Google survey is that it is easy to set up and the information can be organized in many different text based and visual formats.

Here is an example of how I compiled and used the data in my teaching dossier.

FASH 233: Fashion Drawing and Rendering

This is one of my favorite courses to teach, as well as one of the most challenging. Effective visual communication is essential to a designer’s success in the Industry. Confidence in communicating visually is often not intuitive and therefore must be taught. Overall, 93.3 % of students find that taking this course is valuable. One student wrote: “We learned to sketch the fashion figure and use different media. I use my sketching skills in almost all of my design courses.”

Being Organized and Prepared (Item 4) is one aspect of the course I continue to improve upon. I’m interested in both allowing space for creative experimentation, and adhering to a structured learning environment. (E.g. student reflecting on improvements that could be made to my teaching: “I would say her directions at times about the class projects were a bit vague. Even after the class asked about it, there was still some interpretation left and some students would not interpret the way she wanted the project to be. So I would say if she could find a way to communicate the directions in a clearer manner that’s really it.”) Student ratings on this item have increased from 16.7% in the spring of 2009 to 100% in the fall of 2010 adoption of a more appropriate text (SP10) and daily studio briefings (F10).

The Google survey is a free and optimal way to garner student feedback and is very user friendly in terms of set up, collection and organization. Here is a YouTube video that describes how to set a Google survey up:

Daily Briefs

Why not touch base daily? I discuss my daily brief idea here and I have found this framework to be very effective. At the end of each studio day, I touch base and ask:
1. Are there any points you need clarification on from the lecture? Any grey areas?
2. Are you clear about the homework and what I expect of you during the next class?
3. Do you have questions for me?

Of course, all of the information is on the syllabus and course timeline but it does not hurt to ask! Do you have strategies for feedback? I would love to hear from you! Happy Teaching.



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1 Comment

  • Christina Catherine October 05, 2013 05.18 am

    The truth is, sometimes students use evaluations to “get back” at a teacher for not getting the grade they think they deserve. Especially if there are no comments to explain the negative feedback / disappointment.


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