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Student feedback can be heavy. I know that it can be an invaluable tool in improving instruction, but collecting, interpreting, and using the feedback can be grueling nonetheless. First, it is scary to be judged (especially by learners that may harbor grudges from you upholding the policy on "no late work" or even from the younger, hormonal teens that are driven by their emotions). Second, student opinion becomes a part of your official teaching record/standing when the student evaluations are submitted to the school administration. Finally, it is difficult to know how to interpret the overall meaning of the evaluations (void of your emotions) and then PRODUCTIVELY use the data to inform your teaching.
In hopes of making the student feedback process more bearable this semester, I decided to focus on specific ways to use the feedback. Typically as teachers, we invest a huge amount of time in collecting student opinions. for example, english teachers may focus on the thoughts/actions of literature characters. Similarly, science teacher may focus on getting students to share their view of a particular theory. As teachers, we really need to dedicate just as much time (if not more) to exploring student feedback. Below are 5 ways that may help in critically examining student feedback:
1. Table the Issue
I love the organizational properties that tables provide for data. When examining student feedback, try to create tables to house the information. You can use an "Affect vs. Action" table that will show your emotions toward particular student feedback and how you will respond to that comment. For example recently on a feedback sheet, a student wrote that it seemed like I jumped from one idea in the text book to another. In the "Affect vs. Action" table I would write that "I felt that I did move quickly from one concept to another, but in the future, I would provide an outline for the notes in addition to the basic daily agenda in hopes of guiding the student better."
Another option would be creating a table of the themes that become evident from the feedback. When you review the feedback, what patterns seem to emerge or jump out at you? If you find multiple comments about curriculum organization, practice time, or assessment, then these ideas should be highlighted in your table.
2. Identify the Circle of Control
Do you remember the movie "Meet the Fockers" and how Deniro kicked his future son-in law Ben Stiller out of his 'friend circle'? The idea is that there are things that we as teachers control and there are things that are beyond our control. In that movie, Deniro had the ability to be friends (or become an enemy) to his son in law. As teachers we have a great deal of power. We can choose particular aspects of our curriculum (dependent of course on our district), but we have to acknowledge that we can not control everything in our classroom. For instance, on a recent feedback form, one student reported the expense of the textbook as a barrier to learning (university text books can be 100 dollars or more typically). I can not control the price of the text (that is required through the university), thus this was a factor that was beyond my control.
3. Highlight Student Voice
More than likely, your evaluations will include both positive and not-so-positive feedback. Embrace both. In the past I have saved student comments and displayed them at home for quick reference. Of course, I enlarge and use flashing lights to frame the postive comments (just kidding), but the point is, that I continually revisit the student's words in order to stay focued on growing as an instructor.
Another option is to use the student's comments during parent conferences to provide feedback about your current teaching style. You can format the feedback in a table or even compile a series of comments and create testimonials regarding how students feel about your instructional methods.
4. Explore Alternate Explanations
No evaluation process is perfect. Even though we try our best to collect valid and reliable data, sometimes extraneous variables get in the way (review number 2 on this list). If you obtain negative comments about your teaching, the odds are that factors outside of your teaching ability/effort are involved. For instance variables such as the frequency of data collection, the student response rate, and social desirability (or the need to rebel) contributed to the feedback that your students provided).
5. Stay in the Know
For years we have heard about the research to practice gap in education. Don't fall into this gap. Stay abreast of the research and information regarding student feedback. The New Directions for Teaching & Learning Journal is a great resource for information on collecting and using student feedback (This journal's volume 2001 issue 87 is dedicated to student feedback).
There are websites that offer pdf's and other resources to help teachers make sense of student feedback. The Teaching Channel website (www.teachingchannel.org) includes a video "Improving Practice: Learning From My Students". In addition, The Center for Teaching & Learning offers a document titled "Interpreting and Working with your Course Evaluations" (www.ctl.stanford.edu).
Yes, student feedback can cause anxiety, but it does not have to. Try the strategies listed above and let me know how they work (if they work for you). I would love to know how you survive student evaluations at your school. Please leave any teacher eval survivor tips in the comment section below.
*Please note that this is the final post in the 3 part series on student perception.
I remember all the times that I have asked my children for their opinion. I have asked, "How do I look?" before a trip to the movies. After spending hours in the kitchen, I have also asked "How was the home made soup?" To no surprise, I was not thrilled with their feedback (my daughter typically begs me to change my outfit immediately. As for the soup, I interpret their addition of much salt to represent the need for more flavor).
I didn't go through many changes, or much preparation before asking for my children's opinion, but I tend to think that for the classroom, asking our students for feedback should require a system or at least a plan. We understand the value of student feedbakc, but now, lets focus on how we can begin the process. Because I am a believer in the learning potential within mistakes, I will identify considerations to avoid when pursuing student perception.
1. Don't Reinvent the Wheel.
There is research available to show you the different ways to gather student opinion. There is no need to start from scratch and develop your own system. There are online surveys (survey monkey) or online polls that you can use to measure student perception of a lesson (polleverywhere.com). In addition, there are ways to get more personal feedback with the use of group conferences or individual conferences. You can indirectly obtain feedback through the use of a classroom profile by examining trends in your classroom such as attendance, submissions of late work, extra credit, and the frequency of visits to your classroom blog. Keeley (2012) in a pulication called Science and Children illustrates a great example of creating a classroom profile as a means of collecting information about your students.
2. Dont Overlook the element of Time.
Typically teacher evaluations are completed at the end of a year, but think about the drawbacks to this approach. If you approach your students early and often, there is a greater likelihood of utilizing the data to inform your teaching practices sooner and more frequently. There is a great article in the New York Times (Lewin, 2012) that discusses how professors that wish to go the extra mile collect feedback weekly.
3. Dont Be Vague.
Try to be very specific when aksing for feedback. Instead of asking what the students "like" or "dislike", require the students to share what they found particularly "useful" or what may have created "barriers" to their academic success.
4. Don't Sit on the Sidelines.
Even though you wish to focus on student feedback, allow the students to ask you questions as well. This is an opportunity to share your thought process on how you developed your curriculum map. Also, based on the questions that your students ask, you can learn what elements of the class they desire to have a voice or a role in the decision-making process.
5. Dont Personalize the Information.
It is likely that the student evaluations will yield some negative comments. That is fine. Remember that the focus of the eval is your teaching practice, not you as an individual. The goal is to learn specific things about your teaching that you may improve upon in the future. So, yes, it hurts my feelings when my daughter slams my outfit, but at the same time, I am able to learn a little about fashion (and hopefull learn to later present myself as a fashionista later) due to her feedback.
*Please note that the first post in this series is titled "There's no Crying in Baseball". For the final follow up post, I will outline important things that teachers should do after collecting the student feedback.
Unfortunately, some of my undergraduate classes are not very diverse. Maybe out of 20-25 students in an introduction education/psychology class, only a handful are black. Recently in class, durinng the time dedicated to independent practice, one of my female black students wore ipod earbuds. This really got to me. Correction. It truly bothered me. Here, I had a student that had been presented with similar experiences as myself (we were both minorities), and yet she refused to engage in the lesson/practice that I created for her. I felt betrayed. I couldn't help but think about the root of her behavior:
Was she bored with the material or the classroom routine?
Was she testing her boundaries with me, the classroom, the university?
Was she unaware of proper classroom etiquette (afterall, she was a freshman)?
Was she going through something personally and needed music to help cope/block out everything around her?
I believed that the cause may stem from something deeper. Something more personal in nature. Was it me? I began to wonder just how I may have contributed to the student's behavior:
Did my thick afro-like loosely curled hair suggest that the classroom environment would be mor lax (and thus suitable for listening to ipod music during class)?
Did my wooden ethnic inspired earrings suggest that my lesson (or me as the instructor) was somehow less relevant (to the mainstream) or should be taken less seriously?
Did my conversational lecture, embedded with slang (some may say Ebonics) suggest that I was less educated than other leaders in academia and thus warranted less attention?
In short, I wondered was my young black student unprepared, uncertain, or even unwilling to receive a leader in the likeness of her own image? Further, I wondered how might I work to move my student and myself through this academic barrier? Finally, I needed to consider the "teachable moments" within this experience that would benefit other educators in the future.
In closing, I had reservations about sharing my private thoughts/experiences. I find that often race is one of those topics (like money, politics, and religion) that people shy away from talking about openly. I found inspiration to share my experience from a quote based on a radio speech by Gerritt Bolkestein that motivated the infamous Anne Frank to share her diary:
"History can not be written on the basis of official decisions and documents alone. If our descendants are to understand fully what we as a nation have had to endure and overcome during these years, then what we really need are ordinary documents--a diary... Not until we succeed in bringing together vast quantities of this simple, everyday material will the picture of our struggle for freedom be painted in its full depth and glory."
Recently during an in-class presentation, a student showed a clip from the Tom Hanks film "A League of Their Own". It was the scene where Hanks is frustrated with his female player (all female league) as she cries in response to his instruction/coaching. The source of his frustration is simple, Hanks holds a strong perception of baseball (he believes baseball is rough, tough, and all things macho) and it is evident that his female player did not share these ideas. In disbelief of his player's perception of the game, Hank yells "there's no crying in baseball". The video clip speaks directly to the vital role that perception plays in our everyday interactions. More specifically to educators, the film clip may serve to remind us how perception impacts our classroom.
As educators we are typcially aware of how we feel, but how much do we really know about our student's feelings? What do our students think about our lesson plans, classroom environment, and assessments and how do our perceptions differ? Below is a sample of 6 differences between what we may believe as educators and what our learners may perceive everyday in th classroom.
Teacher Perception: What does this test show about my instructional effectiveness?
Student Perception: I wonder if I can trick the teacher into thinking that I studied and know this material?
Teacherr Perception: How well does this assignment prepare the students for the test?
Student Perception: Why do we have to repeat the same stuff that we did in class at home?
Teacher Perception: Can I effectively individualize instruction?
Student Perception: Is separate truly equal? I don't know if it is fair that different students get different work
4. Scheduled Substitute Teacher
Teacher Perception: I hope I left sufficient activities for the students in order to keep them on track.
Student Perception: Free time! (Las Vegas mentality:What happens here, stays here).
5. Extra Credit Opportunities
Teacher Perception: How might this extra credit assignment reinforce the concepts from our class?
Student Perception: Free points!
6. Assignment Calendar/Syllabus
Teacher Perception: What other information should I add in order to make the information more clear to the students?
Student Perception: Should I keep this? I can just ask the teacher about the due dates or deadlines.
In order to make meaningful changes in our classroom, we first need to become aware of our perceptions as educators and the perceptions of our learners. Understanding the perceptions of others is hard work. I tend to think about the book "Seven Effective Habits" by Covey in that he emphasizes the need to first seek to understand (as a prerequisite to being understood). It's ok if you perceive crying in baseball as a crime. It is better if you seek ways to understand how others may perceive baseball. A single belief can be so limiting. Let's challenge ourselves to learn about perceptions outside of our own. Specifically it is time to think about how our students perceive their learning process and how we can use these perceptions to inform instruction. As a way to help, I will provide a follow-up post that outlines considerations and strategies in exploring student perception.
Let me come clean. At first, homework was a bad word for my students. I remember the grunts, the sighs, and the rolling of the eyes when I assigned homework in the past. So, you may wonder, what has changed? I have to give the credit to the infamous educator book "The First Days of School" by Harry and Rosemary Wong. I tend to rely on this book for many housekeeping matters in my classroom. For homework guidance, I refer to the book's "no mystery approach" (this strategy is described in the lesson mastery chapter of the book). So far, what woks for me is telling the students specifically what is needed for homework success and then practicing it together as a class.
Below are 5 effective strategies that I use to increases student homework output:
1. Check Marks the Spot
I use checklists that explicitly describe what the students are required to do for the homework assignment. I have the students attach the checklist to the homework so that they already know how they did on the assignment when they turn it in. A sample of things on our checklist include (page lengths, meeting the deadline, proper heading, etc.).
I provide examples to the students (student samples from previous classes) so that we can practice matching the checklist against the actual assignment. In the "First Days of School", the author urges how effective teachers show students examples of work and how this decreases assingnment fear and anxiety.
2. Probability Boosts Homework Potential
I anounce to the class that homework is collected randomly through out the semester. I provide a homework calendar at the beginning of the semester that lists all the potential dates that the homework will be collected (the calendar give the students a clear tangible schedule to help them track the homework process). Typically, I try to collect about 70% -75% of the assignments on the calendar. This amount gives a pretty good snapshot of the students practice performance (I get an indicator of the student's work quality, frequency, and need for remediation). I encourage the students to complete all the assignments, but the students understand that only a portion of the work will get collected. Making the assignment collection random keeps the assignments fresh. It is almost like the homework is a lottery or contest for the students. The more you enter (the more assignments you complete), the better your chance is to win (earn a strong grade). It is fun to see the students tyring to use statistics/probability to determine the likelihood that the assignment will get collected. I hear the older students saying "She collected it yesterday, so there is a lower probability that she will get it today"...
3. Make-ups Break-up the System
At the beginning of the year I make it clear that submission is the rule and make-up is the exception (unless there is a doctor's note or other verified special circumstance). Discouraging make-ups is important because it prepares the students for the real world, it makes them accountable, and fosters the students with a sense of urgency to complete the assignment.
4. The Power of Choice
I encourage the students to choose how they wish to complete the assignment. We practice what good homework vs. poor homework choices look like. For example, when it is a vocabulary assignment, instead of completing a true/false statement for every word on the list, the student is able to choose a select number of the words (we must agree on the amount of words ahead of time). Another example of a homework choice is when we are working on reading comprehension and the student is permitted to select the type of questions that they will respond to (literal, expressive, inferential, predictive, etc.). By granting the students choices, the assignment is less intimidating, and the student is more likely to complete the assignment.
5. Homework is the Ultimate Copy Cat
One of the themes of lesson mastery in "The First Days of School" is the effective teachers' use of a specific criteria that the students practice. I make it clear to the students that their homework is a miniature version of their test. To make it even more enticing for them, I explain that I pull the actual test questions from the homework that they submit.
If you find that it is difficult to use the homeowrk as a blueprnt for your test, consider revising the homework assignment. It is imperative for the homework to direclty reflect the assessment (for more details on this, revisit the Lesson Mastery in "The First Days of School").
These are some of the factors that have really helped turn around the perception of homework in my classroom. No more "the dog ate my homework" stories for me! The students understand that the homework is on their terms, their time, and that it prepares them for their test. In the "First Days of School", Wong inspires teachers to help students showcase what they are learning. Homework is a great opportunity to do this. What homework strategies have you found useful in inspiring your students to show what they have learned?
As we approach the official trick-or treat day, it is only appropriate to think about the concept of fear. The interesting thing about fear is that it is a normal emotion that everyone experiences. My youngest child holds unique hair fears (yes, just regular hair from your head that is left in the comb or brush will literally break him out into tears), my teenage daughter has many fashion fears (she fears that she will not earn enough money to shop on Black Friday and that the color in her shirt does not genuinely match the color in her shoes). To be honest, I have my own fears that I battle on a daily basis. As an adjunct professor, I fear that too many students may drop/withdraw from my class when they see how much I intend to challenge them. In addition, I fear that as a minority and as a female some may struggle to receive or acknowledge my instruction.
As an educator, I could focus just on my fears alone, but this would be wasteful. Remember when you were in gradeschool and learned about how Native Americans used animals in their entirety? They would use the animal skin for cloth, the animal teeth and bones for weapon parts, and of course the animal meat for food. I believe that when we focus only on the fear, we waste the message or the learning inherent within. As an educator it is our job to find the lesson within. I believe that exploring our fears as educators may be very enlightening. Below, is a list of common educator fears. First, ask yourself, "what are you afraid of?". Second, ask yourself "what can I learn about myself from this fear?"
1. Are you afraid to further your education, participate in more professional development or lead professional development activities?
2. Are you afraid to take responsibility for the level, quality, and quantity of material that students learn (or struggle to learn) in your classroom?
3. Are you afraid to manage your classroom emotionally, socially, psychologically, and of course physically?
4. Are you afraid to go beyond the "buzz" words and popular education strategies such as "differentiation", "flipped classroom" and "close reading" to personally review and implement research-based practices within your classroom?
5. Are you afraid of moving beyond the lesson plan?
6. Are you afraid of being relatable to your students, peer teachers, parents, or administrators?
7. Are you afraid of standardized tests or what they may suggest about you and your students' performance?
8. Are you afraid to shift between the role of the teacher and the learner?
It is ok to be fearful. Better yet, it is scary to think about the disadvantages of ignoring or suppressing your fears. I challenge every educator to come clean with your fears. Be a "scaredy cat" in the name of education.
If you are brave enough to step up to the challenge, educators please share and tell me "what are you afraid of?"
Living the Dream of Educating, Empowering, and Elevating Brown Boys to Greatness!
By Craig Martin, M.Ed
I had to pinch myself when I realized that I was front and center stage with my dream of molding brown boy potential before an audience of the world. Granted, this may not seem so special when you acknowledge the great work being publicized about Urban Prep Academy in Chicago, The Eagle’s Academies for Young Men in New York, and Nativity Prep of Boston. All three educational juggernauts are positioning African and Latino American males to excel, flourish, and transcend stereotypes and statistics of the American Prison Pipeline. My dream cast happens to immortalize in a small public school urban classroom in Boston.
Inside Room 204, 26 charismatic 3rd graders pour into our all-boys classroom only to drop their bags and dash into the class library where they can pour through Ripley’s Believe It or Not for the twentieth time. It appears they can never get enough of the man who had a 200 pound tumor, the man who can balance 20 soccer balls on his tongue, or the woman with the giant golf ball eyes. Others find themselves debating whether or not an octopus would beat a squid in a battle royale from the Magic Tree House Sea Monsters’ read for homework. And a number of others lie on the rug enjoying the new graphic novel additions of The Lunch Lady, Bone, Secret Science Alliance, and Geronimo Stilton, captivating them to a reading stupor. “Mr. Martin…I NEEEEEEEEED that new Diary of a Wimpy Kid!” cries Adam as he pulls out his collection of books one through six and begins to re-read his favorite section to a peer.
My Architects of Change are in for a roller coaster of an experience, because for most of them, I will be their first male teacher, first African American male adult who is not a coach or administrator, and first African American male teacher who happens to lead an all-boys class to success. On the first day of school, as we rehearse how to walk quietly in a line and are cultivating ideas on what the number of the day could be, Steven quietly stops near me as says, “Mr. Martin, I like you…you embrace happiness like me. This is going to be my best year ever!” And he just walked past me through the hallways beaming with thoughts and emotions. My role in their lives is illuminating in possibilities as their surrogate father, coach, referee, counselor, cheerleader, mentor, and more. I represent a mirror reflection of who they could be and my main mission as their teacher is to pull out their best light and help shine it so that the world can see them as someone invaluable to the framework of our communities.
“Mr. Martin, is everyone we are going to read about going to also be an ‘Architect of Change’?” queries Rafael, after we completed reading a fable on a little brown boy who sought knowledge from an elder who sent him on a mission to help out many members of his community in hopes of receiving the wisdom he so desperately wanted. From our discussions on 14 year old African American scholar, Tony Hansberry, who patented his own surgery technique, Damon Weaver, 8 year old African American news reporter, who interviewed President Obama, and even King Tut who became leader of Egypt as a teenager, I find ways to illustrate how each person can make a tremendous difference in some way. It is imperative that they witness and experience successes that counter the narrative that they will become victim to violence, illiteracy, and/or poverty. “Rafael, that’s a good question. Time will tell. But I think you may already know the answer. Let’s see what happens” I retort.
This journey is grand with promise. My boys are the smartest in the city and they will work extremely hard to prove it. However, it will take reprogramming them to believe in who they are and who they can be. It will take facing years of people telling them they were stupid or slow or trouble makers. It will require pouring into them love, support, and advocating resources to stand in the gap when challenges arise. I look forward to what tomorrow will bring as I recount the daily recitation of our creed:
We are Architects of Change!
We believe in ourselves, our school and family, and in our potential!
We are not statistics. We are the Standard!
We will achieve, defy the odds, and fly high like eagles!
We are brothers, bonded, built strong, and ready to make a difference in our community!
We are ARCHITECTS OF CHANGE!
We are Architects of Change!
…and the world is ours!