Posted in Education, Teaching

Desperately Seeking Student Feedback

In retrospect, a more fitting title for today’s entry might be: What’s the Most Effective Way to Seek Feedback from Students?  In the sixth grade, we ask for and receive feedback from our students on a regular basis.  We’re always having the students complete Google Forms to provide us, the teachers, with feedback on units, field trips, and our teaching styles.  We engage the students in discussions almost weekly about what is going well and what could be improved upon.  We crave suggestions and ideas from our students because we want to grow as teachers and make our sixth grade program one of the best sixth grade programs in the country.  To do this, we need to create a partnership with our students.  We need our students to feel safe and comfortable in providing us with honest feedback, and we need to be open to their ideas and suggestions.  Some of the best changes we have made to our sixth grade program over the years came out of ideas with which our students provided us.  We also cite how we are using the feedback we receive from them.  Prior to starting our Astronomy Unit in STEM class, I asked the students for ideas and suggestions on topics and concepts they would like to see covered in the unit.  They provided us with very specific and detailed responses, which we have incorporated into the unit.  We made sure to point this out the students so that they see how much we value their input.  It’s all about creating a culture of caring and support in the classroom.  It’s not Us vs. Them, it’s all of us working together towards a common goal of academic and social growth and development.  Seeking feedback from our students is the most effective way to ensure our success and the success of our students in the sixth grade year in and year out.

However, I do often wonder if our method of seeking feedback is the most effective.  Are we receiving shorter, more vague feedback from the students when they have to write or type their responses or feedback?  Would we receive more meaningful feedback from our students if we had them provide their responses orally through individual interviews or as a class discussion?  Is it easier for the students to say their ideas and suggestions aloud, which means that we will receive more honest and detailed responses?  Are we getting a truly accurate picture of how the students feel about our teaching, units, and other questions when they have to type out or write their responses to questions?  Should we vary the way we ask for feedback as we do now?  Not only do I wonder about methods of collecting feedback from students, but I also wonder if the questions we pose to the students are eliciting the kinds of responses and ideas we are looking for.  Is one way of asking a question going to provide us with more honest and candid responses than other methods?  If we ask too many questions, will the students answer or address all of them with the same effort?

In order to be sure we are receiving the most meaningful feedback from students, we need to determine what works best for us and our students.  So far, we’ve used Google Forms, class discussions, and written responses to collect feedback from our students.  No vehicle seems to elicit better, more effective data.  They all have their plusses and minuses.  During class discussions, our more introverted students hesitate when adding their feedback to the group because they are afraid of how it will be perceived.  They are shy or anxious.  However, some students feel more comfortable sharing detailed responses and specific feedback orally.  For some students, this method of providing us meaningful feedback is the most effective.  Google Forms and written responses allow our shy or anxious students to provide us with specific feedback.  These methods also allow our ESL students a chance to collect their thoughts and process information before providing us with information, suggestions, or ideas.  For a few students, typing or writing is laborious and we wonder about the level of feedback we are receiving from them.  For some students, writing or typing responses is the most effective way to provide us with feedback.  Varying the ways we collect information from our students seems to be the most effective way to gather data regarding how the students feel about their overall classroom experience.  So, we feel great about this.  But, are we missing a method or way of collecting data that might be even more effective?  Is there something we are overlooking?

My biggest concern though is the way we ask students questions or probe them for feedback.  Are we asking them for feedback in the most effective manner?  This morning, I created together a Google Form I had students complete during first period to collect feedback on our recent trip to the Sargent Center.  I wrestled with how to word the questions.  While I wanted them to reflect on their experience a bit, I also wanted to know their thoughts and opinions on the trip.  Did they like it?

I asked the following questions:

  • On a scale of 1-4, four being the greatest field trip ever and one being the worst field trip ever, please rate your overall satisfaction with the Sargent Center Field Trip.
  • What did you learn about YOURSELF on this field trip?  Please be specific.
  • What did you learn about others or the world around us on this field trip?
  • What would you change about this field trip for next year if you were in charge and why?  Please be sure to explain your answer.
  • What did you like about our field trip to the Sargent Center and why?

Could I have made these questions more specific or less specific?  Did I ask the “right” questions?  Was the wording effective?  Did I receive the most meaningful feedback from my students because of the questions I asked?

Here are some of the the responses we received:

  • I learned to be a leader.
  • I learned that we can do a lot of things if we are together.
  • I will not change anything.
  • I liked the food and I learned about the 4 Cs.
  • I was a little afraid of heights during the ropes course.
  • Survival skills and nature.
  • We should bring shoes that we can wear inside the cabin.
  • The ropes course really challenged me a lot.
  • I learned that my brother is the most important person in the world to me.
  • I learned that a lot of good food is wasted every day.
  • I would change the amount of days we went to four days.
  • I liked how everyone worked together to help encourage others on the ropes course.
  • I learned a lot of cool things about nature and science.
  • I love blacksmithing.
  • Pioneers live a hard life because they need to make everything themselves.
  • I want two more days at the Sargent Center with a half day at Pioneer Village and a half day at the ropes course because we only got to the the ropes course once.
  • I learned how to respect the instructors because I learned show five.
  • We learned how to take care of each other so that when we are tired maybe we will feel better.
  • I learned how to use courage to complete something difficult.
  • I learned that other people around the world don’t get to go to a place like the Sargent Center.

Reflecting on all of this feedback, I am torn.  Although we received some quality and meaningful responses that will helps us to grow and develop this field trip experience for future sixth grade groups, we also received some confusing and short responses that told us nothing.  However, would those short responses have changed if we reworded the questions?  Would that really have made a huge difference in the feedback we collected?  Some students are short and don’t provide specific support.  All in all, the students really seemed to enjoy this experience and now we have some specific ideas on how to make it an even better trip for next year.  So, while we might have gotten more effective responses if we added, subtracted, or altered some of our questions, I feel as though we received some very beneficial information on how the students perceived this trip.  Isn’t that what feedback is all about?  We got some and that is what is important.  Perhaps prior to having our students complete the next feedback survey, I will spend more time crafting the questions and seeking feedback from my colleagues on how to improve the questions so that I am even more sure that we will be receiving the most meaningful feedback possible.  Check twice, execute once.  I like it.

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Author:

I teach sixth grade at Cardigan Mountain School in Canaan, NH. I'm currently ensconced in my fourteenth year at this small, independent boys' school. I love engaging students in relevant and hands-on learning. I was nominated for the NH Teacher of the Year Award in 2016 by a parent. While I love education and guiding students, my first passion is my family. I have a wonderful son, Jeffrey, and a beautiful and intelligent wife, Kim. I couldn't be happier. Every day is the best day of my life.

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