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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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Student Feedback Helps Teachers Grow

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator

Early in my teaching career, I took a Spanish-teaching class at the University of Arizona. In order to fill out an application for employment, I had to have one of my professors give me a letter of recommendation. I learned a few things from making this request: First, if I want a good recommendation, I need to provide a template -- something I have already written so they can just sign it -- and, second, be prepared to answer a few hard questions.

In this case, my college professor asked me a question that I found to be the hardest question I have ever had to answer. Because the course wasn't over, he hadn't yet submitted final grades. He asked me, "What grade do you deserve in this class?"

The Moment of Truth

This was difficult to answer, partly because my sense of humility was fighting with my greed. But the biggest difficulty I had in answering this question was mainly because of the way the course was set up. How could I answer that question? What grade did I deserve? I realized that I did not have adequate feedback from the professor that would give me a gauge of how I was doing.

Of course, the professor was taking the easy way out by putting me in the hot seat. He didn't know how I was doing either. After an awkward silence, I responded, "Probably a C." Aside from feeling that it was an unfair question, it bothered me that I had not asked for a higher grade. He probably would have given it to me.

Now, you probably think that I am going to engage in a monologue about appropriate formative assessment. Although that is an absolutely critical part of good teaching, I want to look at this from a different perspective. In this new year, we can always do with a bit of self-reflection.

The hardest question to ask is, What grade would we give ourselves as teachers if it were our students asking us, "What grade do you deserve?"

Asking Critical Questions

Now, I am not suggesting that we ask the students to grade us. That would be unfair for us and for the students. I am proposing, however, that we actively seek for and welcome student suggestions on how we can enhance the learning experiences we create for them. Perhaps, in an open-ended fashion after every activity, we can ask the students to fill out an enhancement survey, or we can have the last question on the test be extra credit for a suggestion on how to improve the learning experience.

Depending on the students and their grade level, this sort of questioning might give limited results. We might want to consider periodically being more direct in our questions for feedback. For example, at the end of class or after a project, we could ask our students to fill out a questionnaire with pointed questions: "How much time did I spend helping you this last week? How many questions did I ask you? Do you feel I successfully encouraged you to do your best? What did you like about the learning activity? What do you want to see more of? What do you want to see less of?"

Now, if we are smart, we will do some of our own evaluation and reflection to prepare us for the answers we are likely to receive from our students. We want to look especially at the correlation of what we say we believe about students and learning and how we are applying that belief in our instruction. For example, if we believe that all students can learn, how are we making sure that this happens?

Ultimately, in order to create a high-performance learning team in our classrooms, the students and the teacher have to be accountable to one another. The trust created in such an environment will allow us to ask and answer the hard questions -- "How am I doing as your teacher?" and "How am I doing as your student?" I am interested in hearing your thoughts, and some of the answers your students have given to your hard questions.

Ben Johnson

Administrator, author and educator
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Comments (31)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Anna Blair's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben,
I really enjoyed your perspective on teachers receiving feedback from students. You know, we, as teachers, give grades and feedback to our students all the time, but how often do we ask our students for their feedback? Me? Little if any. Your blog is eye-opening. I know that to grow as a teaching professional, student feedback is something that I will need to add to my classroom.

Jacquia 's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

The Blog suggesting the feedback of students was truly interesting. Each year we receive a unique group of students which require a variety of approaches to instruction. Although the students are similar in age, we as teachers, must realize the importance of varying our instruction to meet the needs of our students. In order to find out the needs for the students, I believe student feedback is very effective. The students, depending on the age, are able to analyze a variety of approaches to a lesson and discover what is effective for them. I believe effective dialogue with students will assist in the personal development of educators.

Teachers Rule's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ashley, I agree with you. I agree that we should allow students to give us some type of feedback. Its kinda like constructive criticism for us teachers. I teach 6th graders and alot of them want to run the class so allowing them to give their opinion makes them feel like they have a part in running the class. As adults we say that communication is the key to any relationship but we do not think of that statement when it comes to out students. So, yes i think keeping the lines of communication is excellent thing to do with our students.

DRP's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that we should allow students to give us some type of feedback. Its kinda like constructive criticism for us teachers. I teach 6th graders and alot of them want to run the class so allowing them to give their opinion makes them feel like they have a part in running the class. As adults we say that communication is the key to any relationship but we do not think of that statement when it comes to out students. So, yes i think keeping the lines of communication is excellent thing to do with our students.

drp's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree that we should allow students to give us some type of feedback. Its kinda like constructive criticism for us teachers. I teach 6th graders and alot of them want to run the class so allowing them to give their opinion makes them feel like they have a part in running the class. As adults we say that communication is the key to any relationship but we do not think of that statement when it comes to out students. So, yes i think keeping the lines of communication is excellent thing to do with our students.

Amanda's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I agree with getting feedback from our students. I think it is important for us to teach them how to to respond, that this is not a place where they can say mean things but give suggestions. The students can share how they feel and if the teacher really listend with a open mind it would be a very helpful tool for teachers to use. I agree that as teachers we are always giving feeback so our students can learn but we need the feedback so we can become better teachers. Great article, thank you for sharing!

Chrys's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

I like to have my students fill out a survey half way through the year so that I can get some feedback from them. Their opinion, after all, is what will help me to develop future lesson plans. However, it is always scary to ask students for some feedback because you never know what they have to say. You can either receive a positive comment or a negative comment from them. I do believe, on the other hand, that trusting your students to give you their opinion and their feedback can help you build an open and trusting relationship with them.

Ulysses's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben I must say that you have have lots of experience in the classroom setting in reading your blog I would say that you are very honest. I know that deep down you probably wanted to ask for an A but you know that you were not deserving of that A. This is unbelievably true in teaching, most teachers feel that they are deserving of an A but truth be told if the students were to really grade them I bet they would be very indifferent to giving them an A for their teaching. I am a beginner teacher and this article has helped me shed light on handling students. I must be able to adapt and present content so that the students can understand very clearly. We must ask those critical questions that we may want to shy away from but in the end it benefits everyone us and the students and isn't that what teaching is about. The success of students because they are the future.

Ulysses's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben I must say that you have have lots of experience in the classroom setting in reading your blog I would say that you are very honest. I know that deep down you probably wanted to ask for an A but you know that you were not deserving of that A. This is unbelievably true in teaching, most teachers feel that they are deserving of an A but truth be told if the students were to really grade them I bet they would be very indifferent to giving them an A for their teaching. I am a beginner teacher and this article has helped me shed light on handling students. I must be able to adapt and present content so that the students can understand very clearly. We must ask those critical questions that we may want to shy away from but in the end it benefits everyone us and the students and isn't that what teaching is about. The success of students because they are the future.

ULYSSES E.

Nailah's picture
Anonymous (not verified)

Ben,
As teachers we sometimes forget about what students perceive of our teaching. Thank you for reminding us as teachers, the importance of getting student feedback on how we teach. Your points about asking critical questions were very interesting to me. I feel this not only allows us as teachers to know what our students are thinking, but it also makes them feel empowered in knowing that they can be heard on how the content is being taught. I also thought that being smart and realistic about their responses is important. This was a well-rounded realistic article.

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