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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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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.]

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.

Just keep anonymous notes in perspective. I have received one from an angry student. It was vitriolic! These things happen. Learn from it if you can even if it is to know that many kids are angry. Hurting people hurt people but I’m still glad they can give me feedback.

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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JSpadine's picture

This is my first year teaching, and this post brought to my attention the importance of student feedback! I keep thinking of what I want to change or adjust for next year, but as always, students working as a group can accomplish more than I ever can on my own! I will definitely try the end-of-year focus groups. Thank you for sharing this idea.

Dr. Dickenson's picture
Dr. Dickenson
Assistant Professor of Teacher Education

Love the idea of using feedback as a summative self assessment but also believe it should happen more often such as at the end of a unit and through informal assessments at the end of a class especially when you are trying something new. Sometimes I just am honest with my students and say "this was the first time I tried this project what did you like about it, what did you not like about it and what do you think would make it better." Also for your summative assessment I would recommend first you begin with likert-type questions where you list each of the projects and have students rate using a five point scale. This would help students recall all of the things you did throughout the year. Then include your open-ended questions at the end of the assessment so students can give greater depth to their responses.

Nancy Walter's picture

I just completed a World War Z unit using Zombie Geography from Social Studies Services. Next year it will be my opening unit, too. You can never have enough Zombies or Pirates.

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Margot Schultz's picture
Margot Schultz
Waldorf Teacher

Yes! Feedback is priceless. I think it always needs to be taken with a grain of salt because students don't always understand what I am trying to do at a higher level and the agenda behind what I teach, how I teach it, when I teach it, etc. and so sometimes the comments can reflect that lack of understanding.

However, generally speaking it is very useful because most of the comments are genuinely insightful feedback, for example, on comprehension, pacing, interest, etc. which helps me adjust to meet their needs. And that, as we know, leads to better comprehension, understanding and integration which is what it's all about as far as I'm concerned...

melisa may penaranda's picture

Yes that is true feedback is one of the most important in the teaching-learning process. When a student had their feedbacks, then we must say that the student is listening to you.. They have the attachment on what a teacher is teaching..

Lymarie Carl Baldesco Raganit's picture

It's interesting and its true as I experienced feedback is somewhat like a tool that is used by the teacher for her to think of strategies he or she may use to catch attention of the learners and also for them to focus and participate in the discussion. Ms. Vicki Davis your tactics are very effective specially if you let your learners write a feedback from you because you can know what are their likes and dislikes in your teaching methods.

Ms. Davis for you as a teacher, what will you do if one of your student have a feedback or bad feedback in terms of speaking which that student can't understand your language because he/he is a newly transferred student from other country ?

Rian Sid Oncog's picture
Rian Sid Oncog
a rebel with a halo

I clicked this blog/article because the title is great. Titles can only tell so much. Halfway through reading this article, it really captured my liking!!! This is very applicable especially for future educators like myself. The strategies aforementioned is really effective especially when you want to improve. What I love about the first way mentioned ("End-of-Year Focus Groups") is the audio recorder used to record conversation that will be of good help if you review previous lessons which were boring. I equally love the second way or the "End-of-Year Survey" in which the blogger conduct anonymously and the survey is centered on the things needed to be improved. The third way ("Anonymous Notes") is actually brilliant wherein you receive anonymous notes on your table from students who have feed backs regarding the things to improve. Another helpful article. I can't really wait to venture across edutopia more because in edutopia, I find and read blogs which will come in handy when the time comes.

Sue Palmer's picture

As someone else mentioned, I thought the title of this blog was appealing enough to make we want to read more. I just started working on my Master's degree in Math and Science (K-8), and one of the things we talked about for educators was reflective practice. I like the idea of getting student feedback because it gives you something to reflect on from the students' perspective. I think getting the feedback anonymously is great because students can be honest without fear of repercussions. I already seem to intimidate my students enough where they wouldn't give me their feedback if I paid them for it. Students are so ready to please you that they think that if they criticize you, especially when recording their responses, you might get upset. Getting student feedback is part of my strategic goals that I decided to incorporate more during this school year to become a more effective teacher. I'm on the lookout for a template to use to create a student survey/feedback form to use this year. I think students would be caught by surprise or find it odd that a teacher actually wants their opinion about how they can improve. Many teachers may feel that its a sign of weakness to admit that "Yes, I do need to change and improve. Can I get your help?" I'll be the first to admit I don't know everything, and I think my students will appreciate the fact that I want and value their opinion.

Edurio's picture

Great article - incredibly valuable process and this is what we've been trying to massively simplify. Would love everybody's feedback on our new free platform for teachers to get effortless student feedback - Edurio Solo. Check it out at edurio.com/solo
Thanks,
Ernest (the founder of Edurio)

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