I’ve always valued student feedback. For the first few years of my teaching career, one of the final things I had students do during their time in my classroom was complete an extensive survey about our time together comprising questions on a range of topics, from how they personally felt in the classroom to which books they most enjoyed and what suggestions they had for future classes.
With summer on the horizon, though, students would usually speed through these questions, and I—equally antsy to jump into summer break—would skim the results, save them in a folder to look at in the fall, and pack up my classroom.
In an effort to be more intentional about bringing student voices into my classroom, I made a shift: I broke the survey into smaller pieces to administer throughout the year, and I used it as an on-ramp to whole-class conversations about student feedback. Doing so greatly impacted my classroom community, so I share my process in hopes that it will do the same for others.
At the end of September, I include a survey question at the end of our assessment: How has the pacing of class been so far? This year, roughly 60 percent of my students chose “Goldilocks,” meaning they found the pacing of class “just right,” but the rest were split between “too fast” and “too slow.”
These numbers were helpful to see early in the course, as I was able to adjust and differentiate my instruction based on students’ individual answers. In the next class, for example, students walked into the room to find the results presented in front of them. I asked them to reflect individually and discuss in small groups what they would do if they were the teacher who received this feedback.
Then, I took a seat so that I was at eye level with them, attached a blank sheet of paper to my clipboard, and asked them to share their ideas with the class. Ten minutes later, I had several important perspectives written down that I hadn’t considered—for example, how many of my students were trying to balance both extracurricular activities and after-school jobs. Students also gained better understandings of their peers’ experiences.
‘Teacher Choice’ Reflections
One of my priorities as a teacher is to be open with students about the choices I make in the classroom, from seating charts to text selections and assessment strategies. To me, it is important to be open about not only the choices I make but also the reasoning behind them—and to then ask students to reflect on those choices, too.
With my sophomores, I ended one unit with a “If you were the teacher…” gallery walk. Around the room, I hung posters with examples of, or questions about, instructional choices I had made. For example, one poster posed a question to students about whether a single novel or collection of short stories would have worked better for the skills of a given unit.
Students moved around the room, marking their level of agreement on a linear scale for each of the posters. They then discussed at stations what choice they would have made if they were the teacher.
We moved from the gallery walk to whole class discussion, which generated powerful feedback that benefited my professional growth and that of colleagues teaching the same unit in other classrooms, with whom I shared my students’ thoughts via a professional learning community. Most students said they would’ve preferred “at least one more personal-choice reading unit” to take the place of a whole class novel. This feedback is shaping our planning for next year—and I made sure to tell students so that they know we’re implementing their feedback.
Discussing and Ranking Potential Changes
After gathering students’ feedback, I find it meaningful to present to students potential curricular or instructional changes I’m considering for the next school year, based on their insights.
For example, after a unit built around Shakespeare’s King Lear and analytical writing with synthesis, I was considering several curricular shifts that I wanted students’ feedback on: extending the unit by a week, adding more resources earlier in the writing process, and narrowing the list of additional texts offered for synthesis. On the final day of the unit, students deliberated in small groups over these ideas, not only agreeing or disagreeing with them but also ranking them in terms of the priority they’d recommend if they were leading the classroom.
I was also able to share how some of the best parts of this year’s King Lear unit were a result of student feedback from the previous year—reaffirming my commitment to making student feedback central to what the classroom looks like going forward.
Building Real-World Feedback Skills
There are many ways to get feedback from students, and the amount and type of questions you ask them will depend on your own classroom and curriculum contexts. However, across all strategies, I’ve discovered two consistent priorities in this participatory pedagogy: using specific questions rather than exhaustive surveys and returning student feedback to the classroom community as quickly as possible to begin a conversation around it.
Additionally, by engaging in these practices, students have a chance to practice the real-life skill of offering feedback in a professional, productive way while interacting with and negotiating the perspectives of others in trying to come to a consensus and proposed solution. And teachers gain deeper insights into students’ learning experiences, meaning that we can offer highly tailored instruction that boosts engagement and brings students’ authentic voices into the learning process.