Looking Back Through The Eyes of My Students

passenger-traffic-122999_1280This past school year, I decided to embrace an idea that Larry Ferlazzo discusses on his blog every year: End-year Student Surveys.  I know that opinions differ about whether (and how) to poll students about what worked and what didn’t.  And I have frequently shied away from even asking students for their evaluation at the end of the year because I didn’t value their perspective and didn’t want to hear what they had to say.  But, I realized this year that I can’t pretend to be a reflective educator who continuously improves if I don’t seek out feedback about my practice… especially from those who spend the most time with me everyday.

In following Larry’s lead, I composed a short but detailed survey and administered it to students during the last few days of the 2014-2015 school years.  I explained to them that their responses would be anonymous and that I would be publishing the results here.  I wanted them to know that they were free to be honest and that I would be taking the results seriously.  In the interest of true and complete transparency, you can view the survey here and the results spreadsheet here.  Here on the blog, I’d like to point out my three biggest takeaways from the survey data:

#1: My students really like my class.

Between the grade that they gave me for teaching the class (B+ average), their assessment of their own learning (4.3 out of 5), and their overall comments (e.g., “because he’s a good teacher and he teaches in a fun way”), it is clear that my students have positive feelings about the experience they had this year.  That’s an important fact, especially since their perception often defines their reality and can have significant impacts on their performance in class.

But, it’s dangerous to let positive general feedback lead to a “warm fuzzy” that blocks improvement.  Throughout my career, I found myself improving the most when it was clear that I needed to.  That’s why I smile at these data, but I don’t let them drive my decision-making.

#2: Nearly all of my students took the survey seriously.

By reading the open-ended comments that they wrote, it’s clear that my students took the time to provide meaningful feedback.  Here are some examples in response to a question that asked them to grade me as a teacher and explain the grade:

  • “C. He was a fun and good teacher, but I didnt feel like I learned what was needed to pass the benchmarks, I never got higher than 2+, trying my hardest. Its not your fault mostly mine. Overall, it was a good and fun year.”
  • “A.  I gave him that grade because he is a great teacher who is patient(ish) and always works hard to make sure we learn. Also he is funny. :D”

In every situation where I asked for them to provide feedback, more than 80% wrote multiple sentences.  I think that the combination of anonymity of results and my emphasis on the importance of the survey made an impression on them.

#3: There are concrete ways that I can improve.

I should admit that I didn’t expect to receive a lot of really useful criticism from the students.  In my experience, the advice that students give is often self-serving and non-productive, or just outright logistically impossible.  They often want unlimited free time or amnesty from all of the rules.  In this case, however, my students provided some really useful suggestions, like:

  • On a scale of 1-5, my students gave me a 3.6 average for patience.  By comparison, they gave me a 4.4 for how hard I worked to prepare lessons.  Being more patient (or perceived as more patient) is definitely an opportunity for improvement.
  • On the same scale, my students scored our EOG (End-of-grade standardized test) Review Booklet at 3.5.  This was a tool that I now plan to rethink for next year.
  • When asked why she gave me a “D”, one student wrote: “I felt like that he often ran out of time in class. Some of the material was missed or we didn’t get to do the other things that other classes did.”  That’s a real issue that I did struggle with last year, and knowing that students picked up on it makes it even more important for me to find a solution.

Be sure to check out some of the other submissions, and let me know what you think.  How do you determine what worked (and what didn’t) from year to year?  Share your ideas in the comments.



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