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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

Dustin Lewis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks Elena for this extremely informative blog. I have only been teaching for two years, and at the end of last year I was thinking about having the students complete a survey, but I ran out of time and didn't really know what it should look like. I am so happy your blog listed all of the information I needed and I will definitely try one next year. Also, I was wondering if anybody has used a survey for the beginning of the year. For example, can I use the the type of survey Elena has laid out for us and have the kids reflect on their English class last year, so I can see what ideas they may like for the current year? In other words, can I use a student survey to start off the year about what they may want to learn about and adapt my curriculum to meet their interests? If so, how would I exactly go about doing this? If anybody has any thoughts I would greatly appreciate it.

Fiona Grimes 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Giving out surveys for students to complete is the best way for me, to find out what I need to change for next year. I value what my students have to say, they are very qualified to give me feedback because we are together every single day of the week.

Fiona Grimes 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Thanks Elena, this was really good information. Edutopia is a wonderful source of information, I am amazed at the quality of examples, information, ideas, opinions, and thoughts that I can apply in my classroom. Great Stuff!

Stacie Fullmer's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Dustin,
I give a survey at the start of each year. I ask students to let me know what they perceive as their strengths and weaknesses. They must also tell something that they hope we learn about and what ways they like to learn. Since I teach elementary, I also ask parents questions such as what their family likes to do, what the parents' strenths and weakness are, past struggles of their students as well as areas of excelling. Finally I end with "in one million words or less anything else tell me anything else you would like me to know."
I usually get great responses. Then through out the year, I try to incorporate the topics listed by students of their interest.

Dustin Lewis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Stacie,

Thanks for the infomration. I appreciate you responding back, and I think I am going to try a survey at the beginning of the school year. I teach high school instead of elementary, but I believe the students will still repsond well to it. I am new to this website, but if there is a way to attach something to the responses, and if you can attach a copy of this survey that will really help me out. If not, I will just create one. Thanks.

Charis's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I appreciate the ideas for getting student feedback. I do reflection assignments at least four times a year after major quarterly assessments. I use it to get students thinking about how they can succeed the following quarter or year and to get ideas from them on how to improve. I've never used a Likert scale. I know that would help me with cutting down on reading time, but I question how valuable that is for me. Any thoughts?

Lisa's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I enjoyed reading this blog, and it has given my several ideas for my classroom next year. My school used to administer surveys twice a year to students but eventually discontinued the practice because students didn't take it very seriously and teachers didn't like it. After reading the blog, I can see why my school's survey didn't meet with much success. First of all, it was a bubble sheet that contained about thirty statements where kids simply rated their teachers on a Likert scale. The Likert scale in itself wasn't bad, but that was the entire survey. A teacher never had the benefit of receiving any response from open-ended questions. Next, teachers had no input about how the surveys were constructed, so some of the information they really wanted feedback about perhaps wasn't on the survey. It's been several years now, but I remember also having to explain the meaning of some of the statements to kids. It made me wonder how often kids responded to statements they didn't understand. Last, all surveys were administered to students on the same days, so students would go to one class take a survey, go to the next class take a survey, and so on. I think teachers felt like by the time students got to them at the end of the day, kids just wanted to be finished and didn't take it very seriously.

I do believe in the power of reflection. Although I no longer use a written format, I often take time at the end of a unit to sit down and survey/discuss their learning experiences with them. I have to remember, though, that if I ask for their input I have to be prepared for what they have to say, like it or not. This has been beneficial and allowed my to reshape some of my units and even eliminate some all together.

Thanks for all your insights!

Shelley Natalie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I love this blog, giving a survey to your students is a wonderful way of seeing how your teaching is affecting your students. Feedback is so curcial to truely getting a feel for how good you teaching is or isn't. Who better to tell you how your teaching is then your students. This is a great way to always improve your teaching style, it will show you what lessons worked and which ones need improvement. I think giving surveys in the beginning of the year is also a good idea, it will give you a feel for what they would like to learn throughout the year. It also lets the students feel that they are part of the planning of the curriculum for the year.

Shelley Natalie's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Stacie, you have some really good ideas. I love that you also include the families in your surveys I think that knowing how the families interact can be so helpful to understanding how the student will learn. I think it's also important to really try and incorporate some of their ideas and topics in your lessons throughout the year so they feel that you really read their ideas and care about what they wrote to you. Thanks for the ideas.

stanna's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I am so happy your blog listed all of the information I needed and I will definitely try one next year. Also, I was wondering if anybody has used a survey for the beginning of the year.Term Paper Help

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