I sort of knew something was coming my way as I handed out the end of term student feedback forms to my Year 9 students:
There was a gentle warning a week earlier when a student handed me this drawing of her impression of my teaching:
And yes - I got some pretty harsh feedback from my students. While I'm getting good scores on the understanding and the difficulty questions, the percentage of students who are enjoying the class has dropped from around 75% in Term 2 to 50% in Term 3. No-one is 'hating' yet, but nearly 40% said 'it was OK' - which isn't OK by me. There were also some pretty rough comments in the free text responses. I am indeed talking too much, and not giving them enough quality time to work on their own or with each other, but I'm also getting push back for not using the textbook enough, or doing enough exercises from the book - my 'weird activities' just don't feel like 'real maths' to many in this class. Beyond my own limitations as a new teacher talking too much, I hadn't effectively communicated to the class the reasons why I was doing problem solving and reason activities at the cost of doing less skills based lessons.
Fortunately I had two days to reflect on the feedback before seeing the class again, which gave me time to think more deeply about it - and get over the ego hit :-) I showed the feedback to my head teacher, who also gave me support and encouragement.
So after sharing feedback with the class, here's the commitment I made to them today:
I realised in my eagerness to help everyone understand the content, I was doing way too much whole-class discussion (to be honest - that's mostly them asking questions and me talking) and this was getting in the way of learning for many students. So I've resolved to do something about that. Less teaching, more learning. I also started the process today of being more explicit about why we are doing problem solving and reasoning activities, helping students understand why this is just as much 'real maths' as is doing skills exercises from the text book.
The real story I want to share is the value of asking for anonymous student feedback and then responding to it. Don't miss the opportunity - it can be scary sometimes - but it can be very rewarding for you and your class. So many teachable moments - demonstrating to your students your trust in them and the fact that you too are a learner. It will be challenging at times, and you may well discover that a class you thought was going just fine is actually hiding some discontent, but you will be so glad you took the risk to hear the student voice.
Here's some key tips for getting student feedback:
- Make it very clear the feedback is anonymous. Repeat many times to students they must not write their names on the form. You don't even want to know who is giving you 'nice' comments. Stay away from the students as they fill it in, and ask a student to collect up the folded forms. Treat the responses confidentially. A recent addition I made to my form is to have an opt-in tick box in the comments area to ask students permission to share their comments - sometimes they may not want to.
- Share the results with your class as soon as possible - preferably the next time you see them. This shows you take their feedback seriously. Show you can accept - or at least are prepared to consider negative feedback - and that you are not embarrassed to share this with the class. Don't allow students to attack negative feedback given by other students - reinforce you accept the negative feedback - even if you don't necessarily agree with - the feedback is valid for the students who gave it - it is what they think and feel.
- Try not to be defensive. If you remain open, there is a good chance you will hear more detailed explanations of the feedback and prompt further discussion. So example today I found out the comment 'GeoGebra is boring' really meant 'You haven't really showed us how to use GeoGebra'.
Want to read more? See my earlier post Putting student voice into practice, which includes links to some resources to make doing student feedback quick and painless.