Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Stop and Listen: What Are People Saying about Your Language Program?

by Ann Abbott

We rush so much. The semesters are a blur. In understaffed language departments, there is a lot of motion, a lot of commotion as we attend to a myriad of tasks, sometimes pulling us away, sometimes pulling us toward our passion and our goal: to give our students an excellent education. We pass our colleagues in the hall with a quick nod and wave to students across the quad. We race through the days then disconnect during breaks.

Part of the busy-ness that makes us rush are the myriad ways in which we evaluate and asses our programs: surveys to write, administer, analyze and report; data to feed into the College's software that measures departments' strengths; annual activity reports that need to hefty enough to show you are working and meeting goals.

But sometimes, when you slow down, when you least expect it, you will hear vital feedback.

Here are some unsolicited comments I heard this semester:

  • "I love Spanish, but I don't want to major in it."
  • "I know a lot of students take all the courses in the Spanish minor except the required intro to linguistics, literature and culture courses. They only want part of the minor: the courses that focus on the language."
  • Summarizing several different students' words: students love their Spanish professor, like being in their class, but the course material doesn't resonate with them.
  • "The advanced Spanish courses are repetitive. In every class you read and discuss, read and discuss."
These people were just talking, not consciously providing feedback. They weren't filling out a survey that framed the questions and their responses in a pre-determined way. These were spontaneous comments in free-floating conversations. And while we obviously don't want to make assumptions based solely on individual comments, when you stop and listen, you'll often receive valuable feedback.

Now, what to do?

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