The end of the year provides a unique opportunity for reflection. As teachers, we are now looking ahead at next year and back at this past year simultaneously. We’re asking ourselves questions like, ‘What worked this year?’ and ‘What will I do differently next year?’ Don’t forget to ask your students to do some reflection of their own—what they say can be just as useful to your own development as it is to theirs.
There are 2 types of questions I like to ask students at the end of the school year. The first set of questions will prompt your students to reflect on their personal development in your class. The second set of questions will help you to develop the way you teach the class itself.
I also created a ready-to-use, student reflection and course evaluation that you can download for free by clicking here.
Towards the end of the school year, it can be difficult to find the motivation—and the time—for going the extra mile with your evaluations. At this point, you are likely thinking more about the end of classes this year than the beginning of classes next year. And certainly, you’d rather your students be celebrating the achievement of getting through rather than dwelling on the ways they could have done better.
But the end of the year presents a unique opportunity for you to help your students to develop from, and beyond, your class. By taking the time to ask your students to look back and reflect on their learning over the past year, you are helping them to absorb key takeaways about the class content and their performance with it. This will have long-term benefits for them, including the way they approach the next school year.
Here are a few examples of self-reflection questions to ask your students:
Ask this question first. It’s direct and gets at the heart of this overall exercise in reflection. By asking them to candidly consider their own performance at the outset of this evaluation, you are establishing a tone of sincerity. This question encourages the student to be honest and to be accountable for their work in the course. It invites them to juxtapose the way they performed and behaved in your class with their own sense of potential—’Did I really do the best I could do?’
Encourage your students to elaborate on their answers for all of these, but especially for this one. Although they’re only being asked to reflect on one thing, in particular, they should be able to pick something that allows them to make connections to the course more broadly.
This question isn’t meant to make students wish that they could change the past year. Answering this will instead help your students prepare for the years to come. Encourage your students to dive deep into their learning habits here. Maybe they realize that they could’ve managed their time better, or they might reflect on how they could have been more attentive in the classroom.
Your students’ answers here will similarly be helpful for you in the years to come. Their responses can make a great first-day activity! Each year, make a point to show your new class a selection of anonymous answers from the previous year. This will help your new students think ahead to avoid common pitfalls.
This makes for a great transition into the second kind of question…
If the mere thought of course evaluations sends a shiver down your spine, I promise you are not alone. Handing out questions that ask your students what they thought about your class—and the job you did leading it—is an incredibly vulnerable act. And let’s face it: some students can be brutally honest. Emphasis on the brutal.
When you ask your students to answer course evaluation questions, you are bound to get a couple of (perhaps unfairly) critical responses. One or two might sting. Sure. A few others might provide little in terms of helpful feedback. But you’ll be surprised how helpful and positive the majority of these responses will be. Thoughtful course evaluation feedback will help you craft your teaching skills.
Make a point to do course evaluations at the end of every year or semester. Over time, you’ll become increasingly comfortable with this part of the teaching process. Here are a few examples of course evaluation questions to ask your students:
This might initially seem like a softball question—or an appeal to flattery on my part—but it’s actually critical for you to know what worked in your class. Encourage specificity here. In my experience, I’ve often been surprised to learn what really resonated with them. Sometimes, it’s not what you’d think. Knowing what simply worked one year is a great way to prepare for the next one. Ask this question now and you’ll thank yourself later!
Ok, so this is the question that invites the most critical responses from students. It’s worth noting, though, that before this, you’ve asked the students to be (constructively) critical of themselves. Here, you want them to stand in your shoes. Hopefully, they take time to answer this question thoughtfully, so that what they say will be of benefit to you and the course. And though it can sting, a little bluntness here can also be useful—and often funny!
Although there are really two questions here, they both get at the same thing: the nature of the coursework itself. These questions collectively prompt the students to give you more information about what they thought about the way you challenged them this year. Was it fair? What was enjoyable? You’re sure to get a wide range of responses here that you can use to inform your future lesson plans.
For both the self-reflection and the course evaluation questions, it’s important to express your genuine interest in the students’ responses. These evaluations will provide invaluable information for the development of your class and your teaching more broadly. The more the students know you care about what they have to say, the more care they will put into writing their responses.
If you’re ready to distribute these questions to the students, click here and get the free printable file.
You might also be looking for ways to celebrate the end of the year with your students. If so, check out my blog post “6 Virtual Ways to Celebrate the End of the School Year.”
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