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Student Feedback Helps Teachers Grow

| Ben Johnson

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.

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Comments (31)

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Student Feedback is needed to make teachers better

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Hi Ben, Thank you for your interesting blog. Our professor Luc Stevens indicated that students know exactly what kind of teacher someone is, after having observed him some minutes. John Hattie wrote in his book Visible Learning (2009) that feedback gives a high effective score in pupils achievement. This year I will end my Master (MeD)study with the thesis : "What can teachers learn from their students feedback". It is not such a regular habit of teachers to ask students for feedback (maybe it could be negative ;-)?, but as it has been proven that feedback of students improves teachers skills, we should integrate it in regular teaching. I am sure that a lot of teachers wouyld act differently after having realized their effects of teaching. Anyway my interviews for my study will give me more information later this year. Regards Rob Barkey
Amsterdam, Holland

Jennifer Johnson (not verified)

Student Feedback

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I agree that it is a good practice to question the students about our delivery of the lessons. I frequently ask my students about their learning experiences. Student responses guide me in how I deliver the lessons and they also let me know what the students really need to assist them in their learning process. i reflect on my lessons and the responses I get. I use those responses to improve my delivery.

Megan Quinn (not verified)

As educators, we demonstrate

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As educators, we demonstrate our dedication to lifelong learning by attending professional workshops, taking masters level classes, and self-reflecting. As this post points out, however, we often forget to seek out suggestions from our target audience: students. What better way to meet the unique needs of students then by prompting them for feedback. The ideas suggested here great. Even a simple survey asking whether students enjoyed a certain instructional strategy can be beneficial. Asking more direct questions relating to our actual behavior, such as “Do you feel I successfully encouraged you to do your best?” can give us an even more detailed look into how students perceive us. I have found that students can be brutally honest when they are commenting anonymously, but sometimes, we need that brutal honesty. Truly professional teachers will not see student comments as critical, but as constructive suggestions on how to better serve their needs. Using our students as an avenue for professional development is a quick and easy way to make adjustments in our everyday teaching. I will most certainly apply some of these techniques in my classroom!

David Heyke (not verified)

I think the key thing is not

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I think the key thing is not to worry about excess negative feedback from any one class or even any one year. I just had a conversation about this with my 9th grade daughter (started with why so many of her classmates - 40% - drop out by the time they are seniors). I asked her for some reasons behind the dropout rate. She mentioned school is boring (she is straight As and got an SAT 1850 last year as a freshman). I asked her why. Answers varied from "the teacher seems as bored as we are" to "the teacher keeps a glacially-slow pace" to "the teacher constantly, or much too willingly, allows disruptions to interrupt his/her presentation."

Feedback from students over a large high school such as my daughter's (freshman class alone contains 900 students in one building) will always include a high degree of yes answers to "does the teacher seem bored with his or her own material?" The number of yes answers is statistically unimportant. What is important is that over the years, if the average "yes" answer is forty percent of the math class or sixty percent of the math class, and then one teacher, semester after semester, receives a significantly higher "yes" answer than the historical baseline, then the administration may engage in coaching for that teacher so as to reduce the drop out rate at the high school.

Written feedback also is fine, but it's too hard to score across a whole score of teachers over a number of years. Specific questions with yes or no answers or rank him her one through five would give the school a baseline to make inquiry into individual performance without violating collective bargaining agreements.

evertonpea (not verified)

ipcc cap

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comparable expected warms amplified per added

Ben Johnson (author) (not verified)

Writing practice

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Altaf:

You are correct. Asking the students to write about you could give them something that they would be very interested in doing. You would want to change it around a bit every time you ask for feedback. For example, the first time, you might ask them to write a persuasive essay about their opinion of the class and you the instructor. The next time a few weeks later, you may ask them to do a documentary, and later a news article...This is something you and the students could have fun with.

Good luck!

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Ben Johnson (author) (not verified)

The real reason to ask students for their ideas

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Col:

Your instrument sound very interesting and appears to be a great tool for teachers and administrators. The unions would absolutely refuse to go along with such a plan to give students the capacity to grade their teachers. In their opinion, this would open the doors for a disgruntled student who rightfully got a bad grade to take it out on the teachers, or even worse, if a student just didn't like school, they could lash out at all their teachers and grade them poorly. However, I can see and individual teacher using such a tool for self improvement.

But... the real reason we want to ask students for their opinion is to form high performance learning teams. When students know that the teacher honestly wants their help, not just at the end of the semester, but to help the class learn better every day, then they will be more willing to not only give advise but to also take it from the teacher-- this is a sort of mutual trust. With such a level of trust, the teacher can push the students to perform at higher levels that would never have been possible otherwise.

Either way, it takes a bit of bravery to ask your students what they think about you and your teaching.

Thanks.

Ben Johnson
San Antonio, Texas

Altaf Hussain Soomro (not verified)

very nice way

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actualy the thing is that it is very good way for drafting and we must know how write a letter it will improve our writing for getting success

Col Sudhir Sinha (not verified)

TEACHING QUALITY IMPROVEMENT PROGRAM

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1. Today our school education system is seriously ailing as a result of students being subjected to suffering in the hands of teachers who remain unaware of students’ pedagogical requirements and thereby committing basic mistakes while teaching in their classrooms. This results in putting students under undue stress and making learning a boring and painful experience.
2. If any school has to become a centre of excellence and achieve great results; then it is very essential to have a process in place through which we can on a regular basis be able to diagnose correctly the weaknesses and strengths of our teachers and thereafter help them to improve upon their pedagogical skills through expert counseling and focused in-service training. Continuous diagnosis and corrective measures are the crying need of the hour in every school which desires to be progressive. Teaching Quality Improvement Program© (TQIP)developed by me is one such unique 360° assessment process which precisely achieves the above stated objective. Its uniqueness lies in the fact that this program is simple, logical, and swiftly executable giving rise to quick diagnosis and remedies based on objective analysis without any biases.
3. In this process students from class VI upwards fill a simple and easy-to-fill feedback form which covers most of the critical aspects of classroom teaching in respect of their teachers. This data is then logically analysed to produce an Advisory Report for each teacher.

Alison (not verified)

I agree with asking the

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I agree with asking the student show he/she is learning and how I am as a teacher. Providing students with a voice, allows them to feel as though they have a part in their educational process. Surveys are a great thing to keep in mind.

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