August 11th, 2009

Sharing Really Bad Ratings


I had an email last week asking if I’d recommend sharing “really bad” rating results with students. The note came in response to last week’s blog post, which identified several benefits gained from sharing and discussing rating feedback with students.

To begin, if a teacher is sharing rating feedback, it is likely formative feedback, collected at some point during the course, as opposed to at its end. Chances are good that the teacher is using an instrument for which there aren’t published norms, so how would the students know that they are bad? For that matter, how would the teacher? The ratings may not be what the teacher wants, but deciding that they’re “really bad” probably rests on a subjective assessment.

In bringing those results to students, I would not recommend that the teacher describe them as “really bad”—I can’t see many teachers doing that—but a better approach would be to say that the teacher is not satisfied with the results, that she thinks she can do better and she’d like to ask the student to help her try.

It takes courage to share average or not very good rating results. It’s a lot easier and safer to blame the students and wait patiently for the semester to be over. But there is much that can be learned from this feedback especially if students are asked to elaborate, to provide examples, and to suggest alternatives.

Besides this being an opportunity to improve teaching, a discussion of feedback that isn’t the greatest gives teachers a chance to model how mature professionals respond to negative feedback—how they try to understand it and learn from without getting defensive, and then use it to make changes. This is exactly what we want students to do with the less than positive feedback we provide them.

Bottom line: Yes, I would recommend sharing “really bad” rating results with students. I would ask students to provide more feedback after having implemented some changes. I’d share those results, pointing out any improvements and telling students that their feedback made a difference.