We are all becoming more and more aware of the importance of feedback. A look at this article by John Hattie and Helen Temperley reveals just how effective quality feedback is in moving students toward mastery. But what about students giving feedback? Isn’t what our student’s say just as important as what we say?
I thought about that as we were nearing winter break. My students already have a voice in my classroom (as do yours, I’m sure). I think I do a pretty good job of offering choice, setting up opportunities for collaboration, and encouraging/supporting them as they identify goals and track progress. I also know there are times we as teachers think we “always do this” or “never do that”, but our student’s perceptions can be very different. And perception is reality. So in an effort to refine my own practice I decided to add another dimension to the voice I am giving students in my classroom. This year, they evaluated me. In the spirit of transparency, I am going to share my evaluation here!
Walking The Walk
We all like to say we are ego free, that we are lifelong learners, that we grow and learn from one another…I feel pretty confident that those statements are true about me. But I can say it was very scary to actually have my students evaluate me. I had no idea what might be written. Was I prepared to receive less-than-glowing reviews? Am I truly seeking growth-enough that I am willing to read the less-than-tactful responses that may come from a 9 year old? In honesty, my answer is yes. So, I acknowledged the lack of control I have in this process, the commitment I have to being the best teacher I can be, and the power I see in feedback and it’s ability to move one forward toward growth. I then turned to my PLN to help find, revise, and create my own evaluation. After looking at a few documents shared by my PLN (thanks everyone!) I saw one that I thought was pretty authentic and brief but powerful. Just what I was looking for! I tweaked it a little bit to make it my own. I like that it isn’t slanted toward positive supposition. I also made it anonymous to eliminate fears about “hurting my feelings”. You can view my evaluation here. On the day of my evaluation, I took time to really discuss a few key points with my fourth graders.
The Power of Feedback
We talked about how powerful feedback is for them (this has been a focus all year) and I explained how the same thing is true for me. I told them that one way I get better at teaching is by hearing back from my students on what works, what doesn’t, and what I can do to improve. I told them I welcome and seek feedback -as I expect them to -because it leads to growth.
I told them to leave their names off the document. I explained that I wanted them to feel completely comfortable saying what they wanted, and not worrying about what I might think or hurting my feelings. I reminded them how I “can’t tell who is who from handwriting” (I say this daily as I quiz the class on the paper with no-name -again). I tried to make them understand how much I want them to feel free to say anything that might improve my lessons, teaching style, and how I relate in general with them. Scary isn’t it? With that, I passed out the documents. They seemed very excited to do this. I had noticed a few who smiled as I was explaining this task, and one student remarked, “This is different” when I gave him the evaluation. I could tell they were not used to doing this!
I think they felt as if, at that moment, the only voice in the room that mattered was theirs.
Results Are In
I brought my evaluations home to review (but purposely did this after Christmas so as not to put a damper on my holiday)! I looked for common responses/themes/patterns in these. I know there’s a difference between one or two comments here and there versus five or more of my students making the same reference. Five would be more than 25% of my class! So I needed to pay attention to common responses and similar thoughts. Below are some common themes I pulled out of their responses.
14 of 20 students mentioned Genius Hour as being something that they really enjoy and are learning a lot from. You can read a prior blog entry and look at our Genius Hour website here.
8 of 20 students identified Hour of Code as being an activity they really enjoyed and learned a lot from. (Below is a quick video of a student explaining her code)
15 of 20 students identified our Kinder Crash as a memorable lesson. This was a really cool experience for us; unfortunately, I’ve misplaced the pictures and have never blogged about it. FAIL!! Perhaps I will!
11 of 20 students mentioned our Maya Mystery Experience as being a positive learning experience. You can read about that experience here.
Areas of Need
12 of 20 students referred to math being either too hard or frustrating.
9 of 20 students suggested I do more explaining during math as an area to improve.
6 of 20 students suggested we do more partner reading during Reading Workshop.
How They See Me
Most common attributes checked to describe me included: Funny, exciting, interesting, and fair. There were no negatives checked, although one did write out next to the option “unfair”: “There are times I don’t agree with things, but not enough to check this box”. I’m okay with that. 🙂
Things I Found Interesting
On both the celebrations and needs there were several open-ended question, such as “If you could change anything about my lessons, what would it be” and “One lesson you really enjoyed so far this year”. I purposely left it this way because I wanted to see where it would lead. I think it’s important to note the number of students who referenced the same things, without any direction or specifics.
Here are some images of a few of their comments :
Genius Hour – This seems to be a valuable activity; not only is it improving their 21st Century Learning Skills-it’s highly motivating and engaging for them (based on these responses and my observations). A much treasured activity that is new to our classroom – I will continue!
Kinder Crash- This is also a program that will continue. They seem to value the opportunity to learn and then teach others. We loved this!
The Maya Experience – This was my first pirate lesson (Teach Like A Pirate) and I am thrilled about two things. 1-they listed it as a favorite, and 2-most referred to it by the name I gave it (specifically-the word ‘experience’) instead of The Maya lesson. I like this because Dave Burgess, author of the book Teach Like A Pirate, says “Don’t teach lessons, design experiences!” and encourages us to give our experiences a name, which I did. I love that they used it! I look forward to planning my next pirate lesson: The Remember The Alamo Experience!
Hour of Code – This was a one time experience, but what I can take away from it is: My PLN is a great resource for finding innovative ideas that impact students as individuals and as learners, and I will continue to seek out these opportunities and take advantage of them! Also will include technology as much as possible.
Math – I need to adjust my method of instruction here. We are a very inquiry-based classroom using Investigations math. While they do well and enjoy the activities, they are identifying a need for a bit more explicit instruction in this area. Data from last year supports the idea that this group as a whole seems to struggle a bit in Math. I think more direct teaching in the mini lesson-and stronger closings- will help them feel more confident in this area. I will also “go slower” when we begin something new…allow more time for examples, modeling, and them getting comfortable with the content before sending them off to explore, investigate, and produce.
Reading – I can include more opportunity for partner reading in our workshop. We are beginning book clubs so this will be a great chance for them to explore books together.
I think by having my students evaluate me, it added to the climate of authenticity and trust in the room. I think it served to strengthen our classroom community, and I think it helped my students take even more ownership of the class and their learning. Simple Activity – High Impact. That’s an activity that is valuable and worth doing. I did this at the end of the first semester. I plan to adjust based on the feedback received and have them evaluate me again in May. I think December and May are pretty good times to do this, as both allow for opportunity to reflect, implement ideas, and measure progress.
I would love to hear your ideas about students evaluating their teachers! How might this add to the student voice factor in your classroom? How might the responses help you refine your craft?