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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation

At the end of the year, the student survey can be your best friend -- that honest and supportive friend that gives you meaningful feedback and leaves you with something to think about. Your job is to set the stage for your friend to perform on, and then listen with an open mind. I've given surveys to every group of kids I've ever taught -- as young as second graders -- and I've found them invaluable in improving my practice.

First, let's consider the purpose of the survey. Though it can be a tool for reflection, primarily, it's a way for students to give you feedback.

An Opportunity to Reflect

A reflection is mostly for helping the learner become aware of his or her own learning experience and communicate that to the teacher. Sometimes, reflections can be kept private; sometimes, they can be shared. You can use reflections as a demonstration of student learning; a reflection should have the learner as its content.

A survey, however, has the class, school, or teacher as its content. The purpose is to get feedback on this content so that you can improve it. I suggest giving students the opportunity to reflect on their learning experience before offering you feedback on it.

Here's my spiel when giving kids an end-of-year survey:

"I need to know what you think about this class and my teaching this year. Your ideas and feelings are really important to me. I'll use this information to make my class better next year. It's really important that you are as honest as possible.

"However, I'd also like to ask you to be responsible for how you say things. If you say that you didn't like me because I always wore ugly clothes or because I was an evil witch, then I won't be able to hear your real complaints.

"I want to take you seriously. I want you to think about how you say things. If you have critical comments, that's fine. In fact, I encourage you to be critical. But I also recommend that you explain your answers. If you think I was really mean to you and picked on you, give me as many examples as you can.

"I really need your help to get better. There's no one whose opinion matters more to me than yours. I need you to be really honest."

The Format of the Survey

I like to give students the option to answer on a Likert scale and explain those answers, as well as ask some open-ended questions. The Likert scale allows students who don't want to write a lot, or write anything, to give some response. It also gives you a certain kind of quantifiable data.

I always ask students not to write their names on their papers. Sometimes they know I can recognize most of their handwriting. If students feel uncomfortable with this, offer to let them type it or dictate their responses to someone else.

What to Ask?

The question is, what do you want to know? This is hard to answer. In the beginning, and when we're unsure of how we did, we might fear brutal honesty. I've created surveys, looked at them later, and realized that what I was asking for was students' validation and approval of what I did. I didn't ask the hard questions. I didn't invite their criticism.

Ultimately, you're going to have to put your ego aside. This is also hard. Ideally, you'll give your students surveys throughout the year and they'll get good at doing them, and you'll get skilled at listening to them. But the first time, especially if it's at the end of the year, and especially if your students trust you and are honest, it can be a little hard.

But I want to know about their experiences and their feelings. I need to know.

Creating Your Survey

Again, I recommend a Likert scale. It tends to be very kid friendly (5 = I strongly agree, 4 = I agree, 3 = I feel neutral, 2 = I disagree 1 = I disagree strongly). Remember to provide the five numbers after each statement -- high to low -- so students need only to circle a number.

Here are statements to consider for your survey:

  • I learned a lot in this class.
  • I felt challenged by this class.
  • I was clear about the goals for this class.
  • I felt like the content of this class connected to my life and was meaningful to me.
  • I felt like you respected me.
  • I felt like you gave me timely and useful feedback on my work.
  • I felt like you were fair.
  • I felt like you had high expectations for me.

Also, you should definitely include open-ended questions and other invitations to respond on your survey. The answers to them add richness and allow other things to come up that you might not have contemplated.

Here's a sample of open-ended questions and requests for information to consider for your survey:

  • Which project did you enjoy the most?
  • Tell me about a time in my class when you felt respected.
  • Tell me about a time in my class when you felt frustrated.
  • What advice can you give me about how to be a better teacher?
  • What advice can you give me for how I should change my class next year?

Using the Survey

After the students complete the surveys, there are several ways to look at them: Highlight or mark salient points. Reflect on the comments that really get under your skin. Is there any truth to them?

Reflect on the praise and be conscious of what you did to receive that praise. Think about what you might do differently next year. Think about what you'll continue to do. Think about what you learned from giving a survey.

You can also share what you learned with your students. Show them some of the data. Share your reflections and the practices you want to change based on their comments.

There's a lot to do with surveys. There's a lot to learn about them. My advice, if you're just starting, is to give them frequently, have everyone involved reflect on the giving and taking of surveys, and keep refining them as a tool.

You can get invaluable insights from them, and they help students see that they play a role in shaping their education, that you want to listen to them, and that they are respected.

Do not fear surveys; they can change your teaching practice.

What would you like to ask your students? What do you want to know? Please share any experiences you've had with giving surveys to your students.

Comments (34)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

L Paisley's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I utilized a student survey at the end of last year as it was my first year teaching. My eyes were definitely opened as students enjoyed things I didn't think they had and didn't enjoy things I thought they had. It really shows that even when we think we have it all together, we may not really know deep down what our students are thinking! I plan on utilizing these end of the year surveys every year because there is always room for improvement on my part and who best to ask than the source. One of the teachers I teach with gave a survey at the beginning of this year to see what they did last year, what they enjoyed, one thing they learned, etc. and it was interesting to see their answers. I actually taught the same group last year that I have this year so when I saw some of their answers they did coincide with the answers I got at the end of last year. Surveys are great and can be done at any age. It gives kids the freedom they don't normally have when it comes to teaching that enables them to tell the person in charge what they liked, didn't like, thought was a waste of time, or thought really created meaningful learning experiences!

Brad Feick's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

As an educator, it's incredibly important to be constantly reflecting on one's teaching strategies. While one needs to understand that he or she is the professional in the classroom, allowing students to give feedback is a great way to gain valuable insight.

For example, yesterday I was teaching a lesson on Huck Finn concerning the Sir Walter Scott. Due to a love for learning, I find myself talking about many of the intricacies that Twain inserted into his text. This, however, tends be in the form of mini-lectures. Looking around, I saw a few of the regularly engaged students drifting off. After giving them a group assignment, I walked over to a group that has usually engaged students and asked them for honest feedback. Basically, whether I was talking too much. While I was starting to feel that way before I asked them, they confirmed what I thought was true. I am now trying to decide how I am going to add some life into the next few days of Huck Finn.

After reading your post, I am going to give students an opportunity to supply feedback at the end of the semester. This feedback will help me reassess the direction that I am taking as an educator and see students' opinions.

Brad Feick
English Teacher
Plymouth High School
Wisconsin

Yulonda Johnson's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

This is a great way to provide for the next school year. I would strongly suggest having a survey done at the end of lesson taught. This will help prepare one in planning for the next lesson taught. Also, knowing what students enjoy about the lesson is important. Plus, knowing the students dislikes are important has well.

raymo08's picture

I think surveys are an excellent idea for students to complete. As an educator, we are required to fill out surveys on a regular basis. For example, staff satisfaction surveys and staff development surveys. I would not hurt to see what students want sometimes.

foibles's picture

That was a great break-down of how to construct a useful survey. Sometimes I like to tweak questions on the fly if I see that inconclusive results are coming in and I've worded things poorly. With Zoomerang surveys, results are updated in real-time as respondents click. A bit more info is here...
http://snurl.com/zoomresults

Mary Martin's picture
Mary Martin
Eighth grade English teacher from Aiken, South Carolina

I borrowed a colleague's idea of having students write a letter at the end of the year to the upcoming students telling them what to expect from the class and from the teacher. In doing so, students were asked to make suggestions on how to be successful in the class, talk about what was most challenging about the class, tell their favorite highlights from the year, and share any frustrations. Students were given permission to be negative with their critiques as long as they did so in an appropriate fashion; they were also warned that I would read the letters before turning them over to next year's students.

Having been the recipients of such letters at the beginning of the year, most students are thrilled when it's their turn to write the letters as experts on the class at the end of the year. Although, I have to weed out a handful of silly or inappropriate letters, most are conscientious and insightful. I find the letters to be invaluable for providing student feedback, and sometimes I think the students are more direct and honest because they are writing to peers.

I did, however, like the questions Elena poses in her survey, so I'd like to include a survey to give me even more feedback.

Nicole's picture

I definitely agree with Pattipeg in that student surveys can be helpful, but also take a toll on your self-esteem. I personally have never considered using a tool like this, and might be a little too sensitive to try it, especially if I were a high school teacher. Although, since I teach third graders, I feel that the majority of their responses would be positive, since most of them feel that telling their teacher they are always the best,regardless of how the really may feel, is the "right thing to do." With this in mind, I then question the validity of the surveys if my students are not being totally honest when answering the questions.

Juan M. Martinez's picture
Juan M. Martinez
Teacher of ESL and foreign languages

Excellent tool to use in the classroom. The surveysw can be even given every month or at the end of every unit. At the end of every class or lesson one can have an exit ticket asking 3 to 5 questions that deal with content and performance and how well the students receive the information. Thank you for sharing.
Juan

MELPRIMEK-6's picture

Many of my college professors say that surveys help them realize their strengths and weaknesses. In my future classrooms, I will use surveys to tweak my teaching. It is important to self reflect and to receive feedback from others because they see it from a different perspective. (More like 22 perspectives for me.) As a pre-service teacher, I need help figuring out is how you would ask a first grader to fill out a form hoping to get a detailed response.

Melanie Ann's picture

I love the example questions! I am currently making a survey for my summer school students to take right now. I am nervous/anxious to see what they say.

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