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How to Foster Student Feedback

| Elena Aguilar

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.

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Comments (35)

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Kelly Hahaj (not verified)

Lynette, I also teach younger

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Lynette,

I also teach younger students (Kindergarten/1st) and would have a difficult time with a written survey. I ask my students about their likes and dislikes throughout the year. Do you ever send a survey to the parents? Would they be able to give constructive suggestions? I want to grow as a teacher and need to find other ways of getting feedback, besides my once a year evaluation by the principal. Do you have any other ideas?

Marica Mitchell (not verified)

Elena, I totally agree with

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Elena, I totally agree with your reflection on how to acquire feedback. For the upcoming school year, our student has changed our vision to focus more on schoolwide journaling. Teachers will be required to support this venture in the core subject areas. To support this change in my Mathematics classes, I decided that on a weekly basis, students will journalize and provide feedback on what they have be taught the week. This will help me as an educator change my format and provide the needed support.

I think we have to take constructive feedback from our students and tailor or change our lessons so that our students can be successful. I know at the end of the year it is sometimes chaotic and getting the feedback on a regular basis will definitely help me as an educator meet the needs of my learners.

Lynette (not verified)

I love your idea of using a

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I love your idea of using a survey at the end of the year in order to reflect on areas you are doing well in and areas that need improvement. Communication throughout the year is just as important. I teach younger students and I don't think I would be able to use a written survery at the end of the year so I would need to rely on daily, weekly, monthly 'chats' with my students. I respect that you have obviously built a relationship with your students and that they will feel comfortable giving you feedback. I hope that my students feel safe enough to tell me what works and what doesn't work. What a wonderful way to continue to grow as an educator. Thanks for your dedication to growing!

Rachel (not verified)

I agree that teacher

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I agree that teacher reflection is an essential part of being a lifelong learner and of bettering our teaching practices. I think that student feedback is an excellent way to reflect on what we are doing and how we can make changes, if necessary. I have had some experience with surveys as a student and also during my professional career. I have had surveys to fill out for the staff development teacher and at the end of a course. I am curious if these surveys for feedback can also be used at the lower elementary level. I teach kindergarten and have not used as many surveys as some other teachers have mentioned in this blog. Does anyone have any ideas on how feedback surveys could be implemented with younger students? My students would have difficulty writing their answers but could draw pictures, etc. If a teacher as any ideas, if would be greatly appreciated.

Kaylen S. (not verified)

Trainer

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I am a staff trainer who passes out feedback forms after every class I teach. This summer I moved our forms to online surveys at http://www.surveymonkey.com Rewording the questions and deciding what to ask was difficult, as our feedback forms haven't provided much useful information in the past. I find that our "students" don't complete the open-ended questions, and their responses on the rating scales don't explain WHY they feel that way or specifically WHAT we could change to make it better. I appreciated your suggested questions, as they may help me better word the questions on our surveys.

A technique I use when completing surveys at the end of a long course is to jot notes throughout the semester. On the back page of the class syllabus, I collect my feedback so at the end of the course I will still remember my comments from day one. Otherwise, like Pattipeg mentioned, it is easy for students to provided jaded feedback from only the last few weeks rather than the entire year. Perhaps you could suggest to your students to jot down feedback throughout the year if you don't give end-of-unit surveys. Or, you could even provide them with space or a worksheet to note feedback as it comes up and jog their memory when they complete the real survey.

tilgunas (not verified)

Surveys

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I really value collecting this information from my students. I will definitely be changing things we do next year because of students' feedback. Besides what you all have mentioned, I add the question, "What advice would you give next year's class?" That's fun and eye-opening! In addition, I have a new way to collect these surveys. It's through Google DocsGoogle Docs, and it's called Google Forms. There are great instructions . Awesome. Students fill it out, submit it, and their answers are automatically dumped into a Google Docs spreadsheet, whether it's a text answer or multiple choice. I will use this format at the beginning of the next school year when I collect info about Multiple Intelligences. In the past, I've collected it, but had no time to really analyze it. Google Docs will collect it for me, and I can easily pull up graphs and know right away the variety of intelligences as I start the year.

Nancy Gerber (not verified)

English

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I have had students evaluate me regularly for years. I give out the surveys two or three times each year and have a couple formats I use. Some are open ended questions and some are ratings style. I usually give the entire class the choice of which format each prefers. Their evaluations are far more valuable to me than any rating from a principal who has barely seen me in action. And yes, sometimes the students can be brutal. Oh, and I urge them to be anonymous, but not to swear at me. They laugh and get on with it.

Vicki Neumann (not verified)

Great Ideas

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I have wanted to ues surveys in my classroom to get feedback on how the year went but could never find one I liked. This blog gave me great Ideas that I hope to implement next year at both semester and the end of the year.

Katie (not verified)

Student Survey

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I found this blog to be very interesting. I have been teaching three years and used a survey my first two years. I never felt like the surveys were as thorough as I wanted them to be. I felt like some students, whom did not want to fill them out just wrote something to get it done and over with.

I found it very useful, and will probably use your idea on giving those unmotivated students some questions with answers of strongely agree, agree, undecided, disagree, or strongely disagree. I would love to manipulate that survey and use it next year. I have always found surveys useful because I have always felt that i want my students to feel like they have a say. Some students can be very honest, yet brutal. I take that on as a challenge to improve myself as a teacher.

LOVE THIS!!!

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Hey Elena,
I've been meaning to share what I've been doing with student surveys for awhile, but I'm so glad to hear that you feel as fervently about them as I do. They are some powerful stuff, I tell you. I love how you broke it down. I took our last year's 8th grade survey a step further and pulled out golden lines and got some great, tear-inducing tune, and dropped it all into iMovie to show the staff at our first meeting the new school year. It was informative and joyful. Of course, for the purpose of the meeting, we kept it to the positive, love and miss this school already contributions. But we reflected on all of the surveys and the negative comments as well as a staff, decided what points had true merit, and have used the student input to help guide our professional development this past year. Thanks so much for sharing. Great ideas. Everyone who's reading: try it!
-Heather Wolpert-Gawron

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