Giving students very guided, specific feedback prompts during class time (as others have suggested) can be very helpful.
Here are a couple of specific techniques. These are from a book I am reading called "Teaching What You Don't Know" by Therese Huston (which is about situations like the one described in How to teach a class that I've never taken? - but the advice on assessing your teaching applies more generally).
The one-point raise
Pick one aspect of the course on which you want some feedback. Ask the students to get out a blank piece of paper. Then ask them to rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 10. After they've done this, ask them to write down an answer to the question "What would raise that rating by one point."
- Make sure to define the endpoints of the scale, so students have a common understand of what 1 means and what 10 means. Use extremes, e.g. "A '1' means you wish you were getting a root canal instead of sitting in this class and a '10' means you wish this class was on YouTube so you could watch it again right now"
- Many students will write something that is their own responsibility - i.e., "My rating would have gone up a point if I had gone to sleep earlier last night." On the other hand, for things that are in your control, you'll get immediate, actionable feedback on things that really affect your students' experience.
This evaluation is helpful because it's quick to administer, and quick for students to fill out, so you can do it in class and you can expect a high response rate.
Give out a form in which the heading of the first column reads "I like the way the instructor..." and the heading of the second reads "I would like the instructor to..." Then in each column, put practices you want feedback on. Students can check off the practice in the first column if they like it, and/or indicate in the second column if they want more or less of it.
For example, you might put in the first column ("I like the way the instructor...")
__ Solves example problems during class
and then in the second column ("I would like the instructor to...")
Solve more/fewer example problems during class.
You can put up to ten specific feedback items in the columns. At the end of the form, you can still ask for open-ended feedback - but it is likely to be much more directed now, since you've asked for very specific feedback on specific practices already.
This form is helpful because it's quick to administer, quick for students to fill out, and models how to give helpful feedback (not all students know how, and this could be preventing some of them from giving any feedback at all).
Small group analysis
This is a more time-consuming, but very powerful technique, and practically guarantees that you will get useful feedback. However, you'll need to have an outside facilitator who's trained in the technique. (My university's teaching center offers this service to faculty and graduate students who are teaching - check if yours does.)
In small group analysis, you invite a facilitator (who is trained in SGA) to observe the class. At the end of the class, the instructor leaves the room while the facilitator asks students for feedback about what is most useful to their learning in the course and for suggestions for what might improve their learning in the course.
After the class, the facilitator prepares a report and meets with the instructor to review the results. You can then discuss with the class and tell them what changes you will make based on their feedback.
Also, here are some general comments on making the feedback you collect more effective:
- If you plan to collect feedback often, start early in the course (first or second week) to create a culture of feedback.
- Don't collect more feedback than you can handle. This doesn't apply so much to you because your class is small. But if you are teaching a large course, ask for feedback in small, manageable chunks. You don't want to get into a situation where students believe you are ignoring their feedback, just because you got so much feedback that it takes weeks to read and think about it all.
- Close the feedback loop by telling students what you have changed based on their feedback.