Asking students about their experience builds trust and affirms teachers’ instructional practices.
As a novice teacher, I regularly assessed how well my lessons were going. I scanned my students’ faces, took note of their body language, and monitored their learning progress. Based on this collection of evidence, I made judgments about the success of my lessons.
What I began to consider later in my career was how my students responded to my course overall, their holistic learning experience. I had previously only asked for this type of feedback at the end of the course as students were walking out the door.
Once I started asking for more general feedback periodically throughout the year, I had the information I needed to improve aspects of my instruction that would have otherwise gone unaddressed.
Asking students for feedback is beneficial for students and teachers.
Actively build trust. Teachers who approach students for input are transparent about their priorities. When teachers seek commentary on their instruction, students know their opinions are respected. Students want to feel valued, and soliciting learner feedback is one way teachers can show they care about students’ experiences.
Solve problems while they are small. Asking for feedback is a proactive measure that prevents potentially bigger problems down the road. I remember a parent-teacher conference during which a mom shared her student’s frustration with my hall-pass system. Had I inquired with the student earlier using an open-ended question about my class procedures, I could have made a simple adjustment to ease the student’s mind.
Improve your practice. We only know what we know. When students' voices are amplified, however, we learn just as much from them as they do from us. (maybe more). Over the years, students taught me the appropriate amount of time to allot for bell-ringers and how often to pause for brain breaks. Students taught me which time of year is typically the most stressful and the best ways to regain attention after turn and talks. Had I not asked, I may never have learned some of my most valuable strategies.
Asking for Feedback is Scary
I probably avoided asking students for feedback as a new teacher because I was afraid of criticism. It took me a while to understand that great teachers do not necessarily have fancy wall art or classroom gimmicks or showboat personalities; great teachers consistently meet students' needs. Once I grasped this truth, soliciting feedback became the perfect vehicle for me to get better faster. I also learned that student feedback was often much more affirming than it was challenging to my instructional practices.
What To Do Now
Whether you are a teacher, an instructional coach, or an administrator, read on for simple next steps.
If You are a Teacher:
With primary students, consider engaging in 1:1 conversations. Some questions you could ask include the following:
What do you like about being a student in this class?
Do you have any worries about our classroom or our routines?
What are you excited to learn, and how can I help you?
With upper elementary students, ask specific questions using a Google Form to easily organize student responses. Consider including these questions:
What does your teacher do that helps you learn?
What could your teacher do to help you learn even more?
What is one thing you would change in this classroom if you could?
Secondary students who are more adept at identifying their learning preferences may appreciate the opportunity to respond to questions such as these:
What about this classroom environment supports or detracts from your learning?
Are the time allocations for activities appropriate? If not, when could you use more or less time?
How do you want me to refocus you if you are not on task?
If You are a Coach:
As an instructional coach, I enjoyed collaborative problem-solving, but I often accepted teachers’ explanations of problems at face value. One of my most successful strategies, however, was to encourage teachers to gather evidence that pinpointed the source of a problem. Rather than jump to solution finding, slowing down to allow teachers to clearly define their difficulties allowed them to implement targeted solutions.
For example, if a teacher is concerned her students are not speaking up during discussions, the next step is to coach her to survey students. When reviewing student responses together, match specific strategies to the issues lifted up by students.
If You are an Administrator:
Whether you use the Danielson Framework or any other evaluation tool, ask teachers to collect evidence towards competencies by gathering student reactions to their instruction. Encourage teachers to include student quotes or summarize student responses in their self-reflections.
Asking students to share their perspective is a powerful instructional strategy that benefits everyone. It magnifies student voice and provides teachers with data about their practice they might otherwise miss. Teachers can use this strategy to help answer this question: How’s this year going?
Stephanie Steen is an educational leader with over 15 years of experience as a high school English teacher, an instructional coach, a professional development facilitator, a K-8 principal, and a director of MTSS and literacy.