Sunday, May 26, 2013

Naked in Front of the Class

Many teachers have had “the dream” – you know, the one where you are naked in front of the class. Have you had the one where you ask if anyone has questions and face a sea of silent faces?

Oh. That wasn’t a dream.

Here’s a way to avoid that nightmare, and at the same time, receive valuable information about your students’ learning and your instruction: The Critical Incident Questionnaire. 

Stephen Brookfield, author of a number of books on teaching, critical thinking, and the importance of reflection to instructors, originated the CIQ. It’s a short questionnaire completed by students anonymously at the end of the last class of the week. It asks students to reflect on the following five questions:
  •  At what moment in class this week did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in class this week were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took this week did you find most affirming or helpful? 
  • What action that anyone took this week did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about the class this week surprised you the most? (This could be about your own reactions to what went on, something that someone did, or anything else that occurs).
Students keep a copy of their responses and are asked to refer to them at the end of the semester when they write a reflection on their learning in the class, so they have a vested interest in completing the questionnaire well. The instructor summarizes the trends in comments and discussion at the beginning of the first class the following week. And, since the questionnaires are anonymous, students are more likely to reveal issues they are having with the topic or the class.

Brookfield has written an in-depth discussion of the CIQ as a teaching tool; check it out here. For now, I’ll mention just a few of the benefits he has seen as a result of using this tool and reflecting on his own teaching.
  • It alerts instructors to problems in the class or areas of misunderstanding before they blow up. 
  • It encourages students to be reflective learners, and thus encourage deeper learning. 
  • It opens the opportunities to discuss that students learn in a variety of ways and to consider the ways culture, history and personality can inform perspective and learning.
  • It builds trust in the classroom.
    It provides suggestions for development to the instructor.
  • It can help instructors understand and respond to resistance to learning.

I strongly encourage you to learn more about CIQ by reading Brookfield’s article or his book Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher.

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