Friday, February 18, 2011

Putting student voice into practice

Something I find incredibly valuable for my teaching practice is to regularly seek anonymous student appraisal of my teaching.

Student Survey Form - download available

Asking students to critique your teaching is scary - and doubly so when you are a new teacher - or worse - a student teacher! On my first practicum, I only dared survey my senior students - but very soon I realised just how valuable the exercise was, I threw caution to the wind and even did it with my most junior and most challenging classes. I have never regretted this decision.  

For maximum impact, present the results to your class the very next lesson -
 and make sure there are some good critical suggestions on display
 - don't be afraid to show you are still learning!
Some important things I've learnt over the last two years about student surveys:
  • Emphasise the survey is anonymous and you want to receive honest feedback - "if you're not happy or concerned about the class or my teaching, this is a great time to tell me".
  • Keep repeating "Don't write your name" while the students are doing the survey - it's a strong instinct. Some students may actually want to be identified and put little identifying marks on their paper - discourage this, otherwise you only hear the nice feedback.
  • Get a student to collect the folded forms, ask them to mix them up before giving to you. Make a bit of show of this - to emphasise you cannot track back the students. Do not leave forms on desk for others to read.
  • Aggregate the feedback and make sure it contains genuine criticism and suggestions for improvement.
  • Share the aggregated results with the class the NEXT lesson - they really appreciate it - especially if you share critical comments and discuss what you learned. Students are usually stunned to see a teacher discuss critical comments about their teaching - it's a special moment - enjoy it.
  • Don't show the individual forms to anyone - sometimes students say unkind things about other teachers or say things that may look like you are ego-tripping  - shred the forms immediately after collating data. Only share the aggregated data.

What's missing? It's important to be aware this information  is student self-reported views on what they have learnt. To complete the picture, you also need to assess what they understood - and that's where a regular dose of diagnostic quizzes - perhaps aligned to an SBG strategy - come in.  Something I've not done before - and will try - is to see how the overall student perceived understanding compares to the overall student outcomes!

By seeking student views and acting on them, we demonstrate to students through our actions that learning is a continuous process - even for the teacher.

Update [April 2011] Student Feedback in action:  See how feedback from my Year 7 class gave me valuable information about the need to offer greater differentiation and forced me to consider if I was perhaps treating them like children instead of young adults.

Update [Dec 2011] Student Opt-In  The student feedback template has been updated to add an "opt-in" box to allow students to give permission (or not) for you to share their anonymous comments with others. Since I advocate sharing the feedback with the class it's right and proper to get consent - even if the form is anonymous. Sometimes the comments are personal and students would be uncomfortable for them to be shared.

Mr Zuber's Student Feedback Kit
Step 1. Copy the student feedback template. The template is two forms per A4 sheet - just photocopy enough for the class and guillotine in half.  This takes 15 mins. Less if you are already at the photocopier.
Step 2. Explain to the students what you are doing - emphasise the survey is anonymous and you are genuinely interested in their views. 5 min conversation the first time you do it. 2 mins the second time.
Step 3. Give students time to fill out the form.  They are usually done in 5 mins. 
Step 4. Have a student collect the folded forms, shuffle them and give to you.  5 mins.
Step 5. Collate the data using the Student Feedback Excel template - tally in the scores, summarise the comments.  The Excel template makes charts ready for presentation.  30 mins max for a whole class once you know how.
Step 6. Present the data back to the class ASAP. I normally post on edmodo the same night, then display the charts on a data projector to the class the next day - with  short discussion of what I learned, and see what the class thinks of any new ideas I might have as a result of the survey. 15 mins
Rinse and repeat once every three to fours months.


  1. Have you tried giving them feedback in the same way? 360 appraisals are the basis of most good businesses but don't feature as heavily in the classrooom. Teacher to pupil feedback is frequent but unstructured (other than in reports) although this is a good example of working pupil to teacher feedback. Have a look at

  2. My favorite part of this post is the example shown where some say "too fast" and others say "too slow". I think it's valuable for students to know that not everyone agrees with them. When I advise students and they complain about another class I try to challenge statements like "everyone hates it" or "no one is getting it".

  3. I'm also a huge fan of student surveys in the classroom. Another method of gaining this feedback is to have a tear-off page at the back of a summative assessment. Let the students know they can tear it off and submit it anonymously at the end of their exam -- sometimes the timing of the feedback (right after they've tested their knowledge on the assessment) provides a very interesting correlation to test scores. Do the students understand what they know or don't know...

  4. I think that the most important point that you make is to share the results of the feedback with them during the next class. And a very important thing to do when sharing this feedback with them is to let them know what you plan to change in response to their feedback. This shows them how valuable their feedback is; that their comments can effect positive change in your classroom.

  5. Just did this today with your form. Will be sharing tomorrow. THANKS!

    I also have a longer, more formal survey I use with students:

    Be sure to also check out the comments from Kelly.

  6. @ peter: I'm not sure I could use the same questions to give feedback to students about them - they are pretty strong questions - and the teacher-student power dynamic is not equal. (Which is why I do this - to help get around it a little - without overly undermining it). But I take your point!

    @Mr F: Interesting idea. I've previous tried to keep the survey feedback a little separate from assessment - since emotions can be running high at high-stakes assessment time. Sure must be interesting to ask "How did you think you went? Was this assessment what you expected?"

    @andy : I love showing the contradictory comments - great for discussion and helps students see how many shades of grey we have to deal with. It's a strong argument for differentation!

    @fnoschese : I've found the extremely short version is much less intimidating and encourages students to be free with their comments. And less data points means easier to analyse - so it's not a burden and both student and teacher are happy to repeat the exercise. Looking forward to seeing your results!

  7. Good idea to post your whole submission!just give me a couple of new ideas on what to do next.
    Student Feedback Form

  8. I do this electronically:
    Less work when you have to collect the feedback.

    -Ole Frehr