Fall quarter, my freshman year at Western Washington University; the last week of class, each of my professors passed out bubble sheets and asked us to evaluate them. At first, it felt strange to be evaluating a professional as a brand-new adult, as I’d never thought of teachers needing input from the likes of me!
Since those days, I’ve been able to see behind the curtain. Living in a university town, I work and live in close quarters with many professors and from my perspective, student feedback on the university level can take on a customer service orientation. When tenure is based on positive evaluations from students, one works to ensure just that, and likable teachers tend to have positive evaluations. I do believe that this is meaningful, having an instructor at any level that you respect and helps you enjoy the subject is worthy in and of itself. But does student feedback filled with 10/10s translate to achievement of student learning outcomes?
In college, I performed undergraduate research with a professor on Chemistry 101 classes. She was changing the curriculum to incorporate fewer lectures and more inquiry-based activities that students performed in groups while in the classroom. Over three years, we incorporated more and more activities, inquiry, and process-oriented skills, and we saw statistically significant growth in both conceptual understanding of chemistry and understanding of the general nature of science. This was incredibly exciting!
How do you think the student feedback was?
A little rough, to be honest.
Reading through the student evaluations of the course, they didn’t feel like they were getting what they had paid for. They expected an hour of lecture from the arbiter of knowledge, the professor. Looking back on this, I’ve realized that though I had many years of comparative data to review, these students really had no idea how much they were learning in comparison with their peers in traditional classrooms. Additionally. these students weren’t in on the decision-making of the classroom, they didn’t get to experience the design-process that went into shaping the new, better, more powerful Chemistry 101.
Which makes me think, how can we create a classroom dialogue, where thoughtful feedback flows in both directions and students are present for the very visible implementation of changes?
As a secondary teacher, I don’t live in the same student-evaluation tied world as higher education instructors. Our evaluation method, TPEP (of any flavor) pushes us to measure and monitor student learning growth, but I think that we might err too far on the side of not garnering student feedback. How can we connect the evaluation information the higher education instructors receive and the content knowledge mastery that we already track in the years before?
That’s what I’m trying to do.
Getting quality student feedback was one of my personal goals this year and so I am taking small steps toward collecting consistent, meaningful, and authentic data points from my students. A few things to note:
I am new at this and it’s a little (a lot) scary. The first time another teacher saw me making my feedback forms; he shook his head and said, “You’re brave.” It’s hard to accept critical feedback, part of this journey is to make it normal and part of a growth mindset model for me and my students. This is not a perfect system and I welcome any ideas and feedback from you!
Alright, here are the goods:
- STUDENT: I have a short 1/4 sheet page that I put 2-4 open-ended questions on each Friday. After they hand in their weekly assessment, students pick up a feedback card and work on it quietly.
- TEACHER: I read them over the weekend. In some cases, I code them and look at the data, in other cases I merely absorb what I am reading and make notes.
- STUDENT AND TEACHER (where I think the magic happens): Students and I discuss the patterns in their answers on Monday. I address how I am thinking about what they are saying. I’ve been known to disagree with them about their assessments (as they are welcome to disagree with me) and I show them how I incorporate their feedback into my planning.
I vary the questions from week to week but usually have a theme of asking for something that went well, something that prevented them from learning, and then something topical, like if they are doing any spring sports, or if they have any good ideas for a project-based learning unit, or what motivates them to do well?
Here are a few questions that I believe got the best responses:
- What changes did you make to help yourself learn this week?
- Is there anything specific that I did this week that enabled you to learn better?
- Is there anything specific that I did this week that inhibited your learning?
- If you could change one thing about how this classroom runs, what would it be?
- Where does your motivation to learn come from?
- Tell me one thing that another teacher has done to challenge your thinking, why do you remember it so well?
What I’ve found so far, is that this helps me get to know my students, especially my quieter ones, in a less assessment-focused way. I also read their feedback while I grade their weekly assessments, so I can see the connections between their content mastery and thoughts on the class.
We’re at the point in the year, where I’ve had students come in to class and start musing, “you know what would be great Ms. Brown? If we could do a project on biodiesel.” Or, “I wanted to check with you about that last assessment question, I found it misleading because of this wording, could we take a look at it together?” We’re taking small steps, but I believe that normalizing feedback and showing students how you use it is one way to start encouraging them to take the reigns of their education.
Do you have a process for receiving feedback from students? I’d love to hear about it.
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