One hot minute

The best1 minute in my class is often just before my students leave. And no, it’s not because they are leaving! This is when I sometimes ask them to fill out a ‘One Minute Survey’. I can’t remember where I got this idea, and I don’t do the surveys frequently enough, but it is always revealing when I do. It has always seemed odd to me that, at least in most university classes, we only ask students what they think in the end-of-semester evaluations — too late to do anything to change their experience in the course.

When I focus on mathematical concepts, the ‘One Minute Survey’ goes something like this:

  • The most important concept I learned today
  • The most confusing concept/word from today
  • An unanswered question I still have is
  • Any other comments.

Sometimes I explicitly want their views on their learning experience:

  • What is working well for your experience so far in this course?
  • What is not working well for your experience so far in this course?
  • What would you change about this course?
  • The course is too fast/too slow/just right (circle one).
  • This course is very challenging/about right/not at all challenging (circle one).
  • Any other comments.

Most of the time, I use these prompts:

  • The best thing about the course so far is
  • If I could change one thing about the course it would be
    One thing you could do to help me learn better is
  • Any other comments.

It’s only meant to take one minute, so I deliberately make the survey sheet small; three or four are cut from one A4 page. Students’ responses are anonymous, unless they want me to follow up with them individually.

Usually I throw the surveys out after I’ve read them, but I’ve kept some over time. I want to share some of the responses that have prompted me to make changes, small or large, to my teaching practice.

An unanswered question I still have is ….

This selection is from early in my teaching career (more than 10 years ago).

  • What is the difference between ( ) and [ ]? Responses like this prompted me to be more explicit when introducing new notation, particularly when it’s used in different contexts.
  • How are e and ln related? Responses like this prompted me to spend more time making connections and explaining where we are in the ‘story’ of the course, and of mathematics.
  • Why do we need to know calculus? Responses like this prompted me to make more links with their primary field of study (engineering, medical science, …).
  • Why is math so boring? Responses like this prompted me to find out what interests my students mathematically. (More on that in another post.)

One thing you could do to help me learn better is ….

Sometimes students list things they need from me. Often they are things I hadn’t considered, like posting more practice exercises. Sometimes they ask me things I can’t easily change: the timing of the class, the room, the number of assignments. Sometimes they ask me to challenge them more: ‘keep asking more questions; keep working through strategies with us; keep challenging my thinking’. That I can do!

Sometimes they acknowledge things that I am already doing that helps them learn. Often, they point out what they could be doing to help themselves learn better. I’m glad that this prompt helps them reflect.

Other comments?

Students often write compliments here (which is nice for an anonymous survey) or mention the pacing (usually, both ‘too fast’ and ‘too slow’ appear in the collection of responses). Although the compliments help me check whether my intended strategies are having an effect, it is the suggestions for improvement that make me reflect. Sometimes I wonder why they don’t tell me at the time, which makes me wonder about the bravery required by some to ‘speak up’, particularly in a large lecture class. But I’m glad that they tell me eventually!

  • Use a darker marker. Well, sure. You can’t learn if you can’t read what I am writing.
  • Turn off the air-conditioner. Same again. You can’t focus if you are hot/cold/hungry or otherwise distracted for any number of reasons.
  • I need to read my textbook. Thanks for the honesty!
  • Use examples with smaller numbers. I interpret this as ‘make it easier to follow the main idea; don’t confuse me with the other bits’.
  • Important topics aren’t highlighted as important. Must be more explicit about the big ideas.

The best thing so far …

I love reading the ‘best thing’ in my puzzle-solving course for pre-service teachers; it makes me feel that I am making a difference. I should dig these out more often when I’m having a bad day.

  • We look at maths in different ways, because I don’t always understand just one way.
  • Learning to see how others think about working problems out.
  • Working in groups creates a positive and engaging environment.
  • Finding ways to tackle difficult problems.
  • Puzzles, and thinking outside the box.
  • The fact that I am not anxious to come! You are very welcoming.

Actually, the word that appears most in the ‘best thing’ for this class is probably ‘challenging’. I want to get to the point where students in all my classes think ‘challenging’ is a good feature!


Do you ask your students for feedback? What are the prompts that elicit deep responses? How do they make you feel? What do you do differently in response? I’d love to hear about it.


[1] The title is ‘hot’ as in ‘good’ or ‘best’. Of course, if you have to explain your title, you probably could have chosen a better one — but I couldn’t resist the opportunity to make a reference to the Red Hot Chili Peppers.

8 thoughts on “One hot minute

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  1. I love this idea to get more regular feedback! There is something about paper and pencil too.. We have asked some of these types of questions in our online semester and end-of-year surveys as well and found the information helpful. I just participated in a webinar last night with @TracyZager and one of her ideas was to ask questions like “What does ____ have to do with _____?” That may not be a one-minute survey, though.

    I also agree that this #MTBoS30 thing is getting harder…


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