Gauging Student Learning

How can I tell if my students are learning?

Ask Questions

Asking your students questions and encouraging them to ask you questions lets you assess what they know and can help keep them focused on the class.   It is okay to not be able to answer a question on the spot.  You can always ask if other students know the answer or how they might find the answer (and then let them search for or discover the solution).  The key is to get back to them at the next class with more information.  When asking questions it is helpful to remember:

  • Give students ample time to respond to questions.  Some students take a moment or two to mull over an answer before they are ready to speak.
  • Vary the kinds of questions you ask. 
  • You can collect questions ahead of time or after class, using a class discussion board (or wiki, email, etc.) or 3x5” cards in the classroom.  Consider asking students to answer a question or respond to what they are most confused about or interested in from the day’s topic.
  • When a student asks a question, engage the rest of the class in your answer (e.g., repeat the question so that everyone has heard it, seek answers or input from other students in the room. 

Hold Office Hours

Office hours can be helpful to you as an instructor as they provide an opportunity for you to get to know your students and get immediate feedback on their backgrounds and progress in the course. For students they provide a chance to experience personalized teaching and learn through discussion with an expert.  You can consider taking a poll to see what times might work for students and encouraging your students during class to seek out office hours.

Solicit Feedback on Your Teaching

Mid-semester feedback can provide valuable information about the progress of your course and help you improve your teaching mid-semester. Consider:

  • Asking your students for feedback (e.g., in a survey).  Students appreciate knowing you are interested in their opinion and can feel more invested in the course.  Making your own feedback form can be useful later on when you are looking for information to include in a teaching statement for a job applications or tenure/promotion review.
  • Asking your faculty supervisor (if you are a TA) or a departmental colleague (if you are a faculty member or postdoc) to observe your class and give you feedback.  An impartial observer can help you concentrate on your student’s learning experience and provide useful feedback. 

Learn more about getting feedback on your teaching.