Friday, July 25, 2014

Just Ask the Students

In a previous blog post on being better (The Quest for BETTER), I made reference to having students complete a survey at the end of each school year and making changes based on their input.  This simple annual activity did more for my professional growth as a teacher than any of my master’s level courses in curriculum and instruction.  So, how do we get better as educators?  Quite simply, just ask the students.  But how many teachers are open to student feedback?

In the book, The Ten-Minute Inservice, Todd Whitaker and Annette Breaux dedicate 2 of their 40 training sessions on Teacher Report Cards (surveys).  After all, “...who better to tell teachers about how well (or not so well) they are doing on a daily basis than the teachers’ own clients? If you really want to know how a teacher is doing, ask the students.” (p. 121-129).

My last year teaching 8th grade U.S. history was in 2002-2003 which looked much different compared to my first year of teaching in 1993.  My ongoing goal was to increase the number of ways to allow students to learn history through a “hands on” approach.  At the end of every school year, I asked the students for their honest opinions about their learning experience in my class.  The 2 questions that received the most attention from me were:

  1. What did you like LEAST about this class?  Be specific.
  2. What did you like BEST about this class?  Be specific.

As a classroom teacher, I read through the surveys a few times and captured the general themes of BEST and LEAST in a qualitative way.  I recently came across the surveys from my last year of teaching and was interested in a more quantitative analysis.  I tallied up the responses and here are some of the top results of each category, in order, starting with the highest number of responses at the top.

What students liked the LEAST
  1. Tests
  2. Notes
  3. Reading out of textbook
  4. Quizzes
  5. Worksheets

Any surprises from the LEAST list?  Why would I/teachers continue to do things students like least regarding their learning experience?  There continues to be way too much sit and get, teacher-centered, and passive learning in our schools.  There is a time and place for everything on the LEAST list, but teachers need to think of “outside the box” ways in which students can demonstrate their knowledge other than those listed above.

What students liked the BEST (General)
  1. Projects
  2. Cooperative Learning
  3. Activities

What students liked the BEST (Specific Lesson Cited)
  1. Native American dwelling project
  2. American Revolution (room size) timeline
  3. Constitutional Convention (simulation)
  4. Underground Railroad activity/simulation at University Park
  5. iMovie Amendments project
  6. Tom Snyder “City of Gold” Explorer group simulation (computer)

Any surprises from the BEST lists?  What do all include? All incorporate movement, cooperative learning, student-centered, some choice, critical thinking, engagement, etc.

Through the evaluations, my focus was to do less of the items in the “least” category and find replacement activities and projects that would be more engaging and meaningful to students.  In other words, I learned a variety of different ways to grade and assess students learning.  I then noticed, through survey results in subsequent years, the replacement activities and projects often made it onto the “best” list.  That’s what getting better is all about.

Why do teachers continue to make students learn in ways that are not engaging and meaningful?  I would encourage all teachers to ask your students for their honest opinions of your class (i.e. THEIR LEARNING EXPERIENCES), take their input seriously, and make adjustments accordingly.  We owe it to our students to always strive for better and make all of their learning experiences engaging and meaningful.
Final Note: Through my quest to solicit honest and critical student feedback, I received many positive comments.  These comments are reminders that what we do in our classrooms really does matter and provides motivation to always strive to be better. Here are just a few:

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