By Teachers, For Teachers
It seems like I can’t order a product from Amazon, download an app, or get work done on my car without being sent a follow up “Rate our service!” e-mail survey.
Everyone wants feedback and reviews. Sometimes I complete the surveys or write a review and sometimes I don’t, but it makes me wonder how much we, as teachers, ask for classroom management feedback ourselves.
It’s interesting that much of our time is spent giving feedback to students. Yet receiving feedback ourselves for classroom management purposes might be more the exception than the rule. There’s the obligatory feedback built into the evaluation process, and the unsolicited feedback when a parent or student complains about a recent occurrence. But how often do we actively solicit honest, helpful feedback from our students?
It’s my recommendation that we create an end-of-the-year survey tool to provide students a comfortable way to honestly share classroom management feedback. We can add students’ thoughts to our reflection process and use them to help us get better.
A good survey should contain a few key elements to ensure you’re getting the best possible feedback from students to inform your instruction for future years.
Anonymity. Students are more likely to feel comfortable sharing their honest thoughts if they know the teacher isn’t personally judging them. Don’t we all? I tell students they are allowed to put their name on it if they like, but they do not have to at all. I also tell them that I cannot recognize their handwriting, and make sure when they turn it in that they do so in an envelope that I won’t open until after they leave the room.
Explanation of what it’s for. Directly tell students, “This is to help me get better.” Ask students to share honest feedback without cruel or complaining comments. Let them know you’re most likely to apply the feedback that is both honest and polite.
Key questions. Carefully design your questions to solicit the best, most specific information possible from students. Avoid impertinent or minor elements that unnecessarily add to the survey’s length.
Easy-to-use format. Make the format of your survey easy for students to respond to and easy for you to process results afterwards. Also, surveys work well when they’re shorter rather than longer. So ask what you need to ask, but don’t go overboard.
Sometimes surveys work great on paper. All you have to do is make sure that you allow enough space for students to write the types of responses you want them to on the page. My newest favorite medium for surveys is Google Forms, which makes it easy to ask all kinds of questions. Google Forms then neatly organizes answers to each question for easy-to-read processing afterwards.
Also, consider the different ways students can respond to questions. Sometimes words are necessary; sometimes numbers or ratings work better. Sometimes you’ll need a combination of the two. Think about these various formats for questions:
Multiple-Choice/Pick ONE answer. This pick-only-one-answer format lets students tell you about the bests, the worsts, the yeses and the nos. When there is an absolute answer that you’re searching for, this is the format that will give it to you.
Checkboxes/Check multiple answers. Giving students a “Check all that apply” option could be helpful in gathering information about multiple aspects of learning at once. You could ask students about which stories they preferred, which activities they’d like to do again, or which skills they feel they definitely improved on, for example.
Ratings Scale. This is sort of like multiple choice, but students are putting their answer on a spectrum. “Did you think it was helpful when ____________________?” Students don’t have to say Yes or No, but can rate the activity on a scale of, say, 1-5. The more students you have, the more these ratings scales disclose the overall trends and perspectives of a class.
Short answer. This comes in handy when you really want to know what students are thinking. Ask them to politely phrase their answers and share their honest thoughts. You can also pair this with any of the above types of answer formats to get well-rounded feedback on certain elements.
The survey is useful to you only insofar as the questions you’re including on it provide you with answers you can use. So make sure you’re asking good questions.
Before making your survey, it’s worthwhile to just list for yourself what you want to know. If you’re interested in being a better teacher, then you need to compose a survey that shows you both what you’re doing right and what you could be doing better.
The questions you ask depend on the age level and content area of your classroom. Think through all the activities and lessons, homework and tests, content and standards, and consider framing questions around what student perceptions of these areas are. Do you want to know if students liked the curriculum? Do you want to hear about if students feel they truly learned or not? Did students feel safe and comfortable in your classroom? Did they feel like they had a relationship with you? Were the homework and assessments reasonable and worthwhile?
There are so many elements of education that you could include on your survey. Identify the elements that are the most central to your class and to your improvement, make a list, and organize your questions around those.
As you create the survey, make sure you consider what format you’d like students to answer in to get the best possible feedback. And it’s always interesting to ask students at the end to leave any final comments that may be helpful that aren’t included anywhere else on the survey.
If you want your students to take their time and seriously consider each question put to them, then give them time in class to complete the survey. What we devote class time towards shows students what we value. Plus, giving students the survey in class ensures that we have time to explain the importance of the survey, put students into the right mindset for giving valuable feedback, and models for students the importance of asking for feedback for the purpose of improving.
Before you review the results, prepare yourself for a few things. First, prepare yourself to honestly accept what the results indicate about how you can improve. Also prepare yourself for feeling at least a wee bit hurt over what students say. Even if students aren’t intending to be mean, we all know that constructive criticism can be painful – but no pain, no gain!
Organize the information you receive into easy-to-understand components and write down what you learn from your survey results. Remember that the survey is only a piece of your overall end-of-year reflection, so take all the results and combine them with reflections from your evaluation, your unsolicited feedback, and your own personal thoughts.
Finally, the survey is useless if you don’t apply what you learn. If classes seem to indicate strongly one way or another about how class could go better, then design your plans next year to reflect those recommendations!
Of course, there are more ways to get feedback from students than just a survey. Try these others, too!
One-on-one conferences can be great ways to wrap up the year and mutually share some thoughts about how the year went for both of you.
Have students write a letter to next year’s students giving recommendations about how to succeed in class, warnings about what the teacher is like, or overviews of what future students can look forward to.
Post signs around the room each listing different elements of class throughout the year. Then give students several green, yellow, and red stickers. Ask students to put green stickers on their favorite or most helpful elements, yellows on the mediocre elements, and reds on the things that need to change.
Include parents on the process by designing a survey or other feedback tool just for them!
How do you solicit feedback from students? Share your ideas and feedback with our TeachHUB community in the comments below!
Jordan Catapano is a high school English teacher in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated and head of his school’s Instructional Development Committee, he also has worked with the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and has experience as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website www.jordancatapano.us.