Evaluating evaluation forms

My 10-year-old son attended a science workshop today, and when it ended he was asked to complete an evaluation form.

He did what most of us do when we’re given an evaluation form: he completed it quickly, without giving it too much thought.

I was struck by the ‘teacher-focused language’ that it used. I can’t help but wonder whether the children could reasonably answer the questions and whether there could be any consistency in the ways that the group of children would respond.

The children were asked to rate the workshop on a four-point scale, using the ratings: (1) not significant, (2) normal, (3) significant, and (4) very significant. The questions asked about the ‘practical experiments’, working with ‘like-minded peers’, and the ‘level of challenge’ offered by the tasks. My son gave ‘normal’ as his response to most of the questions – because, he said, the workshop was just like normal school. It was fun, but practical experiments and working with peers are just normal for him.

His experience made me wonder about the value of the endless evaluation forms that we use in workplace training. How meaningful are they? How often do they influence the content of future workshops? And how seriously are they taken by participants?

When I run writing workshops, I find that my clients expect me to give participants an evaluation form and report back to them with a summary of the findings. That’s fair enough: it’s an attempt to assess value for money and training outcomes. I just hope that the evaluation forms I produce are a little more appropriate for my audience than the form my son received today.

Pesky word meanings
I heard another example today of an incorrect word choice – probably due to lack of reading and writing practice.

On the news, I heard about a swimmer who will attempt to swim from Cuba tonight without a shark cage. I think she’s heading for the USA.

What caught my attention wasn’t the swim itself, but the way that the swimmer described it. This swim, she said, is the penultimate swim … and she went on to talk about the great challenge that it offers and how the achievement will be her greatest achievement of all.

I think she was intending to use penultimate as meaning beyond ultimate – the most ultimate swim of them all. I don’t think she intended its true dictionary meaning – the second last.