George Lucas Educational Foundation

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Trinidad Garza Early College High School

Grades 9-12 | Dallas, TX

Student Surveys: Using Student Voice to Improve Teaching and Learning

When teachers survey their classes at Trinidad Garza Early College High School, students see how their opinions matter and have a direct impact on instruction.
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Student Surveys: Using Student Voice to Improve Teaching and Learning (Transcript)

Christopher Pagan: We're going to be taking a short survey again today to see how we're all doing.

Janice Lombardi: At Garza, the students can voice concerns that they may have about their learning. Student surveys have a dramatic impact on their ownership of learning, and on teachers' practice.

It's so important for students to have a voice, particularly in challenging subjects, where it's difficult to take a risk and say, "You know, I don't really know one thing that you've just said in Physics."

Kenya: By them asking for our feedback, it kind of makes you feel like you have a voice, you know? Kind of makes you feel a little bit important.

Christopher Pagan: I was looking at my students performance in my Physics class and found that they just weren't performing up to my expectations. So I developed a simple survey that asked the students a few questions on, you know, "Why do you turn in your homework late? Or why do you always turn it in on time?"

Kenya: Do we like the way he teaches? Do we like the way he demonstrates examples? Are we satisfied with our performance in that class? That was basically the purpose of the survey, so he can know what to improve.

Christopher Pagan: You can put your name on it if you want to. If you don't want to, you don't have to. And remember, be honest! All right? If you're not honest, we can't make changes and we don't know how to make adjustments.

Janice Lombardi: He got the information back, and those student surveys changed and informed his instruction.

Christopher Pagan: Some of the students they were very strong in the math, they wanted a little bit more help gaining the conceptual ideas, and so I started to implement more hands-on activities with the students.

So what you're going to be doing is trying to use the principle of resonance to calculate the speed of sound.

Student: And so what we're doing is we're recording the data. See how the tuning fork is 384 hertz, and we measured the tube diameter, which was 1.8 meters, and we measured the length of the tube, which was 14.6 meters.

Christopher Pagan: I give them extra practice with homework problems, or pre-quizzes and so it helps the students boost their grades. And I think it gives them more confidence, as well.

Kenya: I feel like I have been learning more and kind of getting the subject more.

Janice Lombardi: So this year, we did a student survey for all teachers. And we asked things like, "Do you feel comfortable in this class? Do you trust the teacher? Do I feel like I'm challenged?" And we got lots of meaningful feedback.

Cynthia Hess: One of the things that I really took away from the surveys, my students needed something different from me than what they were getting. Come on in, guys. They were ready for something more rigorous, and some of the answers were, "I wish she didn't feel she had to hold our hands through tough things." That was really enlightening. In terms of how it affected my teaching practice, instead of reading something with them in class, and then guiding them through and telling them what to look for, I might give them something to read outside of class, and they would tell me what they found.

Student: I think what she meant like the color of the bags was like the skin of the people, and the stuff inside was like your personality, what we've been through and all that.

Cynthia Hess: Experience, good!

Christopher Pagan: Though we're all resistant to change, teaching has to be something that's fluid. We always have to be adapting to our students.

Janice Lombardi: I think this process of getting the student voice and acting upon the student voice actually builds their faith in the system here of learning. As they become more empowered, they are more successful.

Student: So there's a type of language that was in the story.

Cynthia Hess: Good! Anybody else want to share their thoughts or opinions?

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A student survey allows students to voice their issues, needs, and desires, giving feedback on how a teacher can change his or her instruction to help them perform better in class.

When Christopher Pagan, a physics teacher at Trinidad Garza Early College High School, reflected on his students' performance, he realized that they weren't meeting his expectations or their own potential. "I needed to come up with some way where I could improve how they were performing in class," recalls Pagan.

He didn't have all the answers, so he came up with an idea: he'd ask his students.

Knowing that his students had a hard time learning the content, Pagan wanted them to reflect on what would make them more successful in his class, how do they learn best, and what kind of in-class activities would benefit their learning the most. Furthermore, many of his students were not retaking the tests on which they underperformed and were turning in their homework late, or not at all. He incorporated questions around those problems as well to learn how he could best help his students.

The survey took about five to ten minutes for students to fill out during class. "He got the information back, changed how he taught, and changed how he tutored," says Dr. Janice Lombardi, Trinidad Garza's principal. “It changed and informed his instruction. As a result, last year, his students' physics scores phenomenally increased. We decided this might be one of our best practices.”

Now, Trinidad Garza administers student surveys twice a year for all classes.

You can download Trinidad Garza's schoolwide survey (PDF) and use it as is or adapt it to fit your needs.

How It's Done

Step 1: Build a Small Group of Advocates

Start with one or more teachers who are enthusiastic about adopting student surveys. Track their data and impact over a year. By building small successes with this core group, other teachers will see the impact, you can share real-life success stories from your school, and you'll have a strong group of advocates who will support you throughout this process.

At Trinidad Garza, Principal Lombardi was able to share Pagan's success. This helped to bring other teachers on board.

Step 2: Get Schoolwide Teacher Buy-In

Ease Your Teachers Into the New Practice

Take your time with introducing student surveys to your staff before having them implement them. Lombardi familiarized her faculty with student surveys over a number of meetings before they actually started using them. All staff went through a trial run of having their students take the surveys, and attended two mandatory presentations during a staff development and faculty meeting. After these presentations, any future meetings about surveys were optional.

Preview the Survey Questions With Your Teachers

It can be intimidating for teachers to receive feedback from their students on how they teach. Will the questions enable students to vent their frustration and take revenge on a teacher they don't like? Can these questions threaten a teacher's job? These were some of the concerns that Trinidad Garza’s teachers had. Cynthia Hess, a Trinidad Garza English teacher, recalls, "My initial reaction was a little tinge of worry. Am I putting my professional hands in the opinions of a 17-year-old?"

When reviewing the questions with your teachers, share the purpose behind each question, and allow teachers to ask questions and share their thoughts and concerns.

Here are example statements and questions from past Trinidad Garza surveys:

  1. Our assignments are rigorous and challenging. Our teacher encourages us to take risks in our thinking.
    • Rarely
    • Sometimes
    • Usually
    • Always
  2. With respect to quizzes and tests, circle one:
    • I perform well on quizzes.
    • I perform below expectations on some tests and quizzes, and retake tests when I perform low on them.
    • I perform below expectations on some tests and quizzes, but do not retake tests when I perform low on them.
  3. Give a detailed reason for your answer to #2.

"Once we were given the opportunity to look at the questions, we saw that the questions were designed to inform instruction," reflects Hess. “The questions weren't open-ended questions where a kid could be upset with you and take revenge if they were failing your class or didn't like you. Knowing that gave me a good degree of comfort.”

Gather and Share Research, Benefits, and Examples

Gather research to share out with your staff about how student surveys can improve their teaching practice. Using educational websites, Lombardi found research that showed the impact of student surveys and examples of other schools that were successfully using them.

This is what she shared with her teachers during a professional development session:

Lombardi also had Pagan present his experience and results with using student surveys in his physics classes. "I was able to look at both my first and second semester data and share how this survey really helped in my classroom," says Pagan. “One of the most striking things was the students’ satisfaction with their grades. That jumped about two or three points per class period, and the percentage of students that were turning in their homework in on time -- or almost always on time -- greatly increased.”

Reinforce the Purpose of Implementing Student Surveys

Trying out a new practice can seem stressful, and many teachers will be concerned about adding one more thing to their workload. Be clear on the purpose of student surveys, reinforcing how they will benefit your teachers in the classroom.

"As the time for surveys approached, Dr. Lombardi reminded us and we talked about their purpose again," says Hess.

Be Clear About the Process of Implementing Student Surveys

Be transparent with your teachers about what implementing this practice will entail, what their role in it will be, and the support they'll have.

  • What will administering the student survey look like?
  • What will reviewing the student feedback look like?
  • Are these evaluative surveys that will impact their job security?

Step 3: Create Your Schoolwide Survey

You can download Trinidad Garza's schoolwide survey (PDF) and use it as is, or adapt it to fit your needs.

Teachers: Create Your Own Classroom Survey

If you're a teacher and want to adopt this practice in your classroom right away, here are tips on how to create your own questions.

Keep the focus on your instruction, suggests Pagan. He explains, "The purpose of this survey is to give my students a voice to tell me what changes I can make and what practices can I implement to help them perform better in class. It has nothing to do with content. There's no questions on there about physics. It's general to what can I do to help my students."

He also suggests keeping it simple. "Think of one problem area in your class and set up some questions around that. Also, leave some open-ended questions to surface problem areas that you didn't think about."

Pagan's problem areas were homework and quizzes. Many of his students weren’t turning in their homework at all or were regularly turning it in late. He wanted to know why, and he wanted to know how he could help them fix the problem. Also, many of his students weren’t retaking quizzes on which they’d underperformed, and he wanted to learn how he could change that.

When brainstorming questions for his survey, he thought of open-ended questions like, "What can I do to help you?" and "What would be beneficial that I could change?" He also brainstormed questions specific to homework and tests: "Do you turn your homework assignments in on time? And if so, or if not, why?" and "How do you perform on tests and quizzes? If you don't do well, why is that? If you do well, why is that? Do you retake tests when you perform low on them? Why or why not?"

Step 4: Help Students Feel Comfortable Responding to the Survey

The first time that students take a survey, most are surprised that they're being asked to give their opinion, and Pagan remembers that a few were apprehensive. They often have questions like:

  • Are we going to be able to say whatever we want?
  • Do we have to put our name on it?

Students do not have to add their names to the surveys. To preserve students' anonymity, the teachers step out of the classroom, and school counselors come in to administer the surveys. They give the surveys twice a year, about six to eight weeks into each semester, allowing students to discover what does and doesn't work for them in the classroom before taking the survey.

The counselors emphasize the importance of responding honestly and the power in using their voice, and over time, when teachers change their instruction based on their feedback, students see the impact of their honest responses.

Step 5: Review the Survey Results With Your Teachers

Either Trinidad Garza's principal or assistant principal shares the survey feedback with teachers in a one-on-one, non-evaluative session. They have two ways of looking at the student feedback: a four-point scale on close-ended questions and qualitative feedback from open-ended questions. The point scale highlights teacher strengths and areas of improvement, and the written feedback lets teachers know their students' experience in the classroom and how they can specifically help them.

A non-evaluative feedback review is important in creating an atmosphere where teachers feel supported and encouraged to take risks in their classroom, emphasizes Lombardi. "I do not include any kind of judgement,” she says. “I want it to really be their professional growth, and as a consequence, we have teachers who do change the way that they teach. For example, in one case, the students said that the class was not rigorous. The teacher had an a-ha moment. 'I thought I was really rigorous, and I'm not. Let me reevaluate what I'm asking them to do,' she told me. That's how those surveys work."

The principal and teacher weed out surveys from disgruntled students, as well as those with over-the-top praise. "There were two or three students who used the survey as an opportunity to say, 'I'm going to voice every problem I've ever had,' says Hess. "But together, Dr. Lombardi and I sorted out the outliers and established a range, grouping the rest of the surveys by common themes that were coming up."

Step 6: Take Action on Your Survey Feedback

Pagan had included questions about homework on his student survey because a lot of his students weren't turning theirs in on time, or at all. From the survey feedback, he learned that students became frustrated when they got stuck on a problem, and wouldn't turn in their homework because it wasn't complete. "Students want to make sure they get everything correct, but it's a problem for them if they're not turning in their work," he says.

Once he knew the issue behind his students not turning in their homework, he started each class by asking them to vote for one or two homework questions they found the most difficult, and then they reviewed those together in class.

"That was something I did last year, and I've carried that over to this year," adds Pagan. “This year, I found out that some of the students need more help with tests or quizzes.”

To help his students improve on their quizzes, he begins class on quiz days with a pre-quiz to review the topics they'll need to know later in the day. "If they don't yet have the topics mastered at the start of class,” he says, “we can go over those questions through the progression of class, and hopefully by the end, they'll have mastered those concepts."

The surveys help students reflect, become more self-aware, and adopt agency and ownership over their learning. "By giving my students surveys, they realize that I care about how they're doing," reflects Pagan. “Some students that were always turning in homework one or two days late, now they're turning in their homework on time. Students that had a hard time turning in homework at all, now they start to get it in more often. The student surveys allowed them to reflect and realize that if they want to reach their goals, they're going to have to put in more work, and that I'm there to help them along the way.”


Comments (11) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

Leesa Johnson's picture
Leesa Johnson
Leesa Johnson is a Marketing Manager at Select My Tutor

Such a great Article. All teachers training were to ask at least one class for feedback. The teacher would hold oneself accountable for having innovative and original lessons to ensure that students are occupied & keen. Many Students now days are driven by social media. A teacher must compete with that as well as so many other variables/irregulars with teaching. While feedback is always essential to monitor brawniness & weaknesses, I'm not sure that it would not become subjective/impressionistic just as teacher analysis were at one time. A truly highly effective educator will use any methods or tools to constantly quantify success or lack of mastery and passion.

Patrick's picture

Grt article,for it create a favorable atmosphere for students when expressing the opinions by giving feedback

Samantha Wagner's picture

This is such a great article for teachers and to give students a voice into how they are being taught and how they are learning. I see some teachers hesitant to do this because in many ways they do not want to look at their teacher and if it is effective or not. A new teacher that is struggling may see this as a way for their students to bash on them. Even veteran teachers may shy away if they feel they are already doing everything in their tool box for their students.

This is a great tool for all teachers, just how to do you move a teacher that is opposed into being accepting of this idea. As a teacher I see that I need to be willing to adjust, learn and try something new to help all of my student learn.

How do we teach kids to be objective of their learning without being hurtful to a teacher when filling out these surveys.

Samina Naz's picture

I am Samina Naz from Beaconhouse School System, Steel Town Branch. I am Senior Mistress of Early Years-V.
Great Article.
I think survey is an effect tool to take students' feedback but without analyzing , surveys are useless. I am working on it and need some guideline how to evaluate and analyze it to improve teaching and learning.

Samina Naz

Senior Mistress/ ETAC Ambassador

Beaconhouse School System

Steel Town Branch

Southern Region


Austin Halliburton's picture

This is a great video and article of student surveys. It is very important for students to feel like they have a stake in their learning. You all are together for 180 days you might as well get the best out of those days you have together. Being able to adapt to your students is essential to that idea. So directing your survey towards your class and the specific details of your class can help improve grades, behavior, and overall confidence in the curriculum you put out for students.

Anthony Hasson's picture

This is a very interesting article. What challenges did you encounter when it came to meeting the needs of the students and what teachers were willing to do in a classroom?

Dr. Kendra Strange's picture
Dr. Kendra Strange
Achievement Consultant | Curriculum Specialist | School-turn-around & Advanced Academics

Makes sense. Just like including students in making decisions for which accommodations or supplemental aids they need and find useful. Dr. Kendra Strange

Zinhle's picture
I love good music food and a great conversation where we can share ideas and grow each others views.

What a teacher tells learners in a class as sort of motivation will build learners and some never forget those words whether you were a good or bad teacher. Therefore using such methods to accommodate and empower learners build on the learners self belief

Christina Gil's picture
Christina Gil
Former Classroom Teacher, Current Homeschooler and Ecovillager

I've always asked students for feedback, sometimes anonymously and sometimes not. What I don't find useful is all-school surveys. Asking students if their classes are rigorous doesn't help me pinpoint what went wrong with yesterday's lesson.
In our homeschool co-op, we end every class with a circle in which students say one thing they liked about the lesson and one thing that they would change. They don't always have feedback, but I am getting them used to the idea that their evaluations are important. (And I always have feedback for myself....)

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