Student Feedback: The Mirror of Your Classroom

A simple survey can gather valuable student feedback

It’s time for the weekly school assembly designed to build school spirit and enthusiasm for learning. The students file into the gym to recite quotes, sing patriotic songs, and listen to speeches about the importance of a good education.

It’s a major undertaking, bringing in an entire school of students into one location, seating them in an orderly fashion, maintaining a good audience throughout the presentation, and dismissing without injury or incident. Yet it is worth it because the kids love the weekly assembly so much. Or do they?

Who are we serving?

When you look at the organizational structure of education, it is massive. Aside from teachers and principals, you have analysts, lobbyists, curriculum directors, financial experts, and entire government agencies.

However, when you really look at the primary mission of all these people, their customer is the student. All these people are in place to create an ideal learning environment for the students, but how often do any of them seek out direct feedback from their primary customer?

Student feedback equals student learning

In 2012, the MET Project completed an analysis of classroom observations. One of the most interesting conclusions pulled from this study related to student feedback. It was determined that student feedback is better at predicting student academic success than any other indicator. There is a closer correlation to students’ perception of what is taking place in the classroom and how they perform academically than principal evaluation, principal feedback, or teacher feedback.

Finding the value in feedback

There can be some confusion about the term “feedback” in the classroom when students are involved. For generations, the dominant source of feedback for students comes in the form of grades. A good teacher provides graded papers to students in a timely manner, while a great teacher offers verbal feedback accompanied with the grades.

  • What about feedback in the other direction?
  • How many opportunities exist for a student to provide meaningful feedback to a teacher in regards to what is working or not working in the classroom?

Some education professionals would find the concept preposterous since students are not qualified to truly understand the complex nature of teaching. What seems like a mean teacher could simply be a caring educator refusing to give up on a student even when they give up on themselves. How realistic is it for a student to provide meaningful information to a professional who has spent more time in the classroom than the student has on Earth?

Changing the mindset

Receiving student feedback can be both enlightening and affirming. Leading a classroom is a demanding job, and it is easy to get bogged down in endless paperwork and requirements. There is rarely time for self-reflection.

However, students see your classroom practices for what they are, and they can be your best gauge of performance. While a principal may make the occasional walk-through or observation for evaluation, the student is in your classroom each day. The student knows your strengths and weaknesses.

Chase Mielke, educator and instructional coach, reminds educators that teaching is part of their identity, but humility can make a great teacher. If a professional goal is to include student feedback into the classroom practices, be prepared to occasionally receive feedback that should result in a change of practice. There’s no point in gathering actionable data if there is no action involved after the analysis.

First steps

When beginning to gather student feedback, keep the process simple. Even a one-question survey can provide valuable information. Rather than waiting for an end-of-year survey where the information is more summative, try for quarterly feedback where you can either adjust classroom practices or receive validation for practices that are already in place.

The key to honest, consistent feedback is the response. If students are remarking that the classroom is too loud during designated study times or that they don’t feel like they get enough time to ask questions at the end of a unit, it is the teacher’s responsibility to consider changes to procedures or address the concern and explain why things may not be able to be changed. If the students feel that their feedback is valued, they will continue to provide it in an honest fashion.

Next time the school-wide weekly assembly is in full swing, take a moment to watch all the students in the audience. If the majority of the students are paying attention, smiling, and participating, then you know the assembly has value to those it intends to target. Conversely, if the students are disengaged, slumping, and bored, perhaps this is the type of feedback you need to make a change. The students are the customers, and there is value in their feedback.

Dr. Jason Perez is the executive director of Teacher and Leader Effectiveness for the Oklahoma State Department of Education with 14 years of educational and administrative experience at the elementary level. He also serves as a faculty member at Concordia University – Portland, where he teaches Master of Education in Curriculum and Instruction courses, and an adjunct faculty member at St. Thomas University.

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