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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

During the summer, you'll want to improve your teaching and lessons, but how do you decide where to start? Your students! I use these three ways to get feedback from my students on my lessons, activities, and what I can do to improve next year.

Collecting Input

First, I’m trying to identify my awful lessons or units so that I can rework them over the summer. For example, I set as a goal to take the most boring lesson or unit from one year and making it epic next year. Last year's most boring lesson, my PSAT prep unit, came back from the dead this year when I dressed as a zombie and created World War Z-themed zombie prep. (I think an awesome teacher can make any content cool and interesting.)

Second, I want to understand firsthand what kids love and what they hate. They need to watch me level up from year to year, because they have to level up, too. I'd like to share how I gather that information.

1. End-of-Year Focus Groups

I end the year with students in a circle. I turn on the audio recorder in Evernote to capture the conversation, which goes something like this.

I'm so proud of what you've done this year and how you've improved. Today we have a focus group. [Explain what a focus group is.] I need you to help me set my goals to improve this course for next year and to be a better teacher. Will you be honest so that I can improve? I'm recording this in Evernote so that I can listen to the conversation again this summer.
First of all, what did we learn that you loved this year? [Each student answers. We go around the circle for every question.]
What were the things we learned that you liked the least?
So what is the most boring thing we did the whole year? Do you have any ideas for making it more interesting?
Is there anything you wish we'd had more time to do?
Was there anything you wish we'd done more of?
How about ______? What can I do to improve that? [This is where I insert specific initiatives. For example, this year I used Sophia and did a lot with Genius Hour, so I'll be asking about those to improve what I did.]

My final purpose is a quick review of what we've learned. You can feel as if you've done nothing the whole year when you're tired on the last day. I want them to leave me with their impression of the whole year in their mind so they (and I) are positive about the effort we've put in since September.

2. End-of-Year Survey

I do an anonymous end-of-year survey as well (particularly if a class was reticent in the focus group time). You could adapt this and send it to parents for feedback. I do this in Google Forms and like to use open-ended answers for several of the questions.

This survey is more focused on finding the things I may need to improve in a personal way, because kids may not want to say those things in front of their peers. Questions might include:

  • Is there something you wish I knew about this class that would make me a better teacher?
  • Is there a habit I need to work on improving to be a better teacher in the future?
  • Is there something you wish that you could have told me this year?
  • Is there anything good you'd like to leave as an encouragement to me?
  • Name one small thing I can do to be an amazing teacher.

Instead of getting bogged down in the details, I'll take the answers and paste each one into a text file. Then, I'll paste them in Wordle to see trends. If I need to read each answer, I will, but I usually wait until summer when I'm more rested.

3. Anonymous Notes

I always make a point to tell every student that they can type or write their feedback and put it on my desk any time. I suggest that you invite anonymous notes, because sometimes students want to tell you important things but don't want to be a "snitch." That's why the last day of the year is the best time for this type of note -- no repercussions and total honesty. One year, I found out that some kids had been dishonest, and the next year I changed how I administered a certain test to end cheating.

Why You Must Reflect and Improve

Students are what we do. They are the center of our classroom, not us. However, as a teacher, I am the most impactful single person in the classroom. Honest feedback from our students will help me level up.

I've been doing this for more than ten years. Sometimes I laugh, sometimes I cry -- and sometimes I'm mortified. But I can honestly say that every single piece of feedback I've received has made me a better teacher. And great teachers are never afraid of having or inviting hard conversations. This is one of best practices that has helped me to be a better, more excited teacher every year.

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Jackie Remis's picture

Great post, I do the same thing. Every year I'm pleasantly surprised by the useful feedback. It is energizing.
I love your blog!

gabrielle marquette's picture

I created a website where students can fill out a google form any time during the year. My hope is that students will use it anytime they find a lesson engaging. I have been collecting data, finding themes and posting student quotes for all teachers to use as a resource. Reflecting at the end of the year does bring out the most memorable student experiences though. I want students to be regular collaborators in the classroom.

Ravi's picture

Nice post! Student feedback is key to effective teaching and self-reflection. What would be even cooler is if a teacher could get detailed feedback in real-time as opposed to at the end of the year. In this way, instructional changes could be tailored to each new group of learners.

Full disclosure: My company develops such software at http://www.yourlabs.com

"We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience."
-- John Dewey

Doug Silver's picture
Doug Silver
Former teacher, reformed administrator, and now digital developer.

Hattie's research points to the importance of reflection and feedback, specifically from student to teacher. While it is great to do as a summative experience at the end of a school year, reflection should be part of a regular formative assessment model. This is the type of reflection we build into our writing feedback tools at WriterKEY.com and I am surprised is not part of more digital tools. Thanks for keeping this issue on the front burner.

Alan M's picture
Alan M
Edtech

Do you get much anonymous feedback? Seems like a great idea but I wonder if students trust that they won't be revealed.

The Dixie Diarist's picture
The Dixie Diarist
Teacher, Writer, and Artist

FEEDBACK ATTACK

For reasons of vigorous seeking of fun I've allowed them during the infamous vexillology week the opportunity to deface my picture on the cover of the infamous vexillology examination packet and hand it in without the fear of an honor council investigation. If you're a teacher of vexillology of hormonal teenagers and children and you're thin-skinned you're in the wrong racket.

My picture is a huge color photograph I pasted on there and I'm smiling like a maniac and I'm wearing a coat and tie and my hair looks pretty good and they get to mark it up.

They have to take the examination first...then they get to spend what time remains on getting me back for educating them so well. There isn't a penalty...I don't get all huffy...and I don't criticize their drawing skills. I tell them I like the attention, good or bad, but they can't be nasty, use cuss words, or draw something sexual. I pronounce the word sexual like this...secks-shull. I don't believe they know what I just said even though they're from the South, too.

Anyway, here are their near-the-end-of-school feelings expressed through the world-changing power of adolescent humor, imagination, and the humbling nature of vexillology:

> Many students have drawn the intersection of a sniper scope's reticule between my eyes.

> A snake has crawled through my brain and its head is poking out one ear and the tail is coming out the other ear.

> I have a chicken on each shoulder and both chickens are evil.

> Round, black sunglasses with loop ear rings.

> My arms, in several cases, have been extended and hands and fingers have been added and I'm enthusiastically hanging birds with both hands...or if I'm hanging a bird with just one hand the other hand is choking the chicken and the chicken is dripping rivers of blood.

> Other images drawn on the page: Georgia history tests in angry campfires; severed heads with the mouths still screaming and the eyes still wide open (particularly creepy); space aliens choking the chicken; I have a lot of underarm hair poking from out of my suit jacket; a drawing of a feisty group of leprechauns who are alleged to live up my butt; and many notations on various places on the sheet of the numbers 666.

> Various messages are extended to me from my vexillologists in word balloons or in headlines, for example: You pick your nose when no one is looking!...Nice mullet plugs!...Seek knowledge now!...If you pretend to like me I'll give you an A!...Flags are awesome!...Hail the chicken!...Cluck the chicken!...Get over your hair!...Are you ready to stand tall before the man?

> WHITE POWER!

Most told the truth about who their favorite teacher was. And for the question about what type of animal does the word pennon come from...well...it surely ain't a pig or a raccoon.

It's a bird, but not a chicken.

They're listening, though, and remembering some of what I've said and what they've read and discussed, and that makes me happy. I've said to them since August: Don't ever leave a multiple choice question or a fill-in-the blank answer...blank. You might get it right. Use your imagination.

But I've never told them that their imaginations--right or wrong or somewhere in between or in outer space--might make a weary teacher live for another day of academic mischief. I've never told them that, because I'll bet they already know it.

They're giggling at me.

And I'm laughing so hard I'm about to pass out at my desk in the back--while I'm grading their infamous examinations and reviewing their evil artwork.

They're kindly asking if they did an outstanding job defacing their teacher.

They sure clucking did.

....

Todd's teaching memoir, at sharp turns wildly hilarious and heartbreaking, "Can't Wait to Get There. Can't Wait to Leave," will be published this fall by Stairway Press.

Kudzai Percy Sachinda's picture
Kudzai Percy Sachinda
K-12 physics teacher

Thank you for these well thought out ideas. Our management team has been using various strategies to get feedback from students and staff reaction has been mixed with some totally against the idea. I will use your article to encourage someone this term which starts on Tuesday 9 September 2014.

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