Hot Spots: don’t wait until the end of the semester for student feedback.

hot spotsMy inner voice upon reading student evaluations of my courses at the end of each semester: “Aw, man. I wish I’d known about these issues earlier.”

Assessments go into 2 categories: Formative: low stakes quizzes and “dipsticking” to see if students are on track; to give us a “heads up” for students who need intervention or additional support. Summative: the final exam. In many schools, teachers get a summative assessment in the form of course evaluations. But it’s hard to do anything about it by the end of the semester. After four months, we’re locked into our habits: good and bad. Whatever troubles our bad habits have cause are entrenched. Lets do formative assessments on ourselves! Low stakes, simple, easy check-ins!

Hot Spot Check-in


Just as a “hot-spot” is a place where your shoe is rubbing and about to form a painful blister, a hot-spot is something you’re doing (or not doing) in class that students want to bring to your attention.

I use Socrative every three weeks for this purpose. It takes three minutes to do, builds trust, and allows you to improve your practice month by month, and not just year by year.

One note on anonymity. I have always been a fan of feedback with names. (For an interesting article on the down-side of anonymous e-feedback, click here).

Before the first hot-spot check in, I speak with the students about the goal of the check in. I tell them I hope to gain their trust so that they can be honest with me, that no harm will come from sharing their experiences, and that they are assisting me in my growth – as I assist in theirs. We talk about my response to the check-in. I may offer more support, “parking-lot” the complaint to see what happens down the road, or immediately change my approach.

It also allows me to send an email like this:

Dear (student) Thanks for the honest and open feedback today!

Would you like to come in for an apt. so I can give you clarification on: (insert issue here)?

Q: Students and teachers learn and teach each other?

A: You betcha.

If you would like access to a Google Form version of the Hot-Spot Check in (to copy and adjust for your own needs), click here. 

Teacher Self-Assessment

exittixv2It takes a lot of guts to be a teacher.

It takes even more guts to ask the students for feedback on an activity. Every teacher wants to believe that they “rocked the house,” but it’s easy to convince yourself, in the absence of actual data, that an activity was fun and helped students learn because…well…it looked fun.

And it looked like students were learning the material. Recently, my students needed to learn a timeline for a history unit. I “gamified” the process by breaking them into teams, instructing them to design games which would incorporate essential information. The next week, we played them. Finally, they took the quiz. I don’t a 10 year longitudinal studies with a control group to determine if Gamifying the Timeline was objectively effective in teaching the material. But I am very interested in whether the students perceived it as fun and productive.


Candy Land – but all intellectual.

It certainly looked fun.

But it was a 2 class investment, and if it didn’t meet the goals, well — I needed to know.



Was it actually fun? Did they learn anything?

exittix text

4 Choices, using the website

I used a non-graded “ticket” from  (an excellent platform for formative assessment) to ask:

  • Did you have fun?
  • Did it help you learn the material?

(Caveat: some students may have said “yes” because they prefer making and playing games to whatever they imagine the alternative to be – but I generally find that when they don’t like something, they’re happy to tell me. Very happy to tell me.)

Here’s what I learned about “Gamifying the Timeline.”

exittixv2The second question asked, “What would you do to make it better, next year.” From the 10 minutes it took to create the poll on, I gathered enough feedback to know that it was worth investing 2 classes into the activity and I gleaned 5 ways to make it more efficient next year.

What activities have you designed that you’d like fast-feedback on?