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.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Flying to Ancient Egypt with Year 7

A funny thing happened on the way to starting the new school year with my Year 7(*) students - we ended up on the plane to Egypt.

We had spent our first lessons getting to know each other, looking at what the student survey showed us (two students have the same birthday, we have lots of dogs and cats, 3 left handers and 24% of class doesn't like maths) and working out our class rules. Now we were ready to start the official maths syllabus - exploring number systems. I was looking for a way to start the maths, while reinforcing our class formation ideas, and also helping reduce the anxieties of the 24%. And then it hit me as I waved goodbye to the class the other day saying "tomorrow we're going to Egypt!".  Here's how it turned out....

I lined the students up outside, telling them we were about to board an airplane to go to Egypt. A few students looked at me like I was a suffering from the heat.  "Nice straight lines please! Boarding is about to commence. When you go inside, check the board at the front for your seat allocation". This was only the second day with a seating plan - so it was nice reminder.
What the students saw when they came in - a map showing where to sit
(student names obscured)
As one student came in, she remarked "I thought I was going to Room 213 - not an airplane!". That's when I realised we were actually Qantas flight 213.  Several seats were empty - it's their first week at the school, so some were wandering lost outside in the playground. On impulse I leaned out the window and yelled to them "Calling all passengers to QF213 to Egypt" (praying the principal wouldn't walk by). The class got into the hang of the game quickly.  "Is that where we are going?" they said - pointing at the background image of an Egyptian ruined temple on the screen.  I don't quite know what made me do it, but I grabbed the hand sanitiser bottle from my desk and walked down the aisles - dispensing to every student - I apologised there would be no in-flight meals. Silly - but got us in the mood! A few students even told me to close the classroom door - otherwise the plane would crash.

"OK - so what do we need to go to Egypt?". A few suggestions were offered - and I nudged us to something I had prepared earlier:

We need a PASSPORT.

And our passport is our class rules - at which point I brought back the brainstorm diagram we had done the previous lesson - then overlaid with my formalised summary.

We need a GUIDE BOOK.

And our guidebook is our maths textbook. We took a diversion to issue textbooks.

Hmm - could go a long way exploring this metaphor. Most importantly : the book is not the country!

And we need a TRAVEL DIARY to record our journey. Well - that's our exercise book.

I used this segment to show an exemplar of good book work (Thanks to Simon Job)

And while we were doing all those preparations - our plane landed in Egypt! 

Then all we had to do was roll back the clock ..... 

Illustration (right) via 
... and now we're ready to look at the wonderful world of hieroglyphs. We were making good progress, so we had time to look at the Rosetta Stone and how it was decoded (now that could be extended to a great discussion on mathematical problem solving!) - and then - just about the time one student cried out "But sir, this isn't maths!" - we discovered the novelty of the Egyptian numbering system.
The students spent the rest of the lesson working out Egyptian numbers - I encouraged them to copy out the number problems in hieroglyphs form for as long as they wanted.  Some got it faster than others - I asked students to help their neighbour work it out if they hadn't yet. Over the next ten minutes of working (mostly) quietly, several students remarked:
"Sir - this is very tiring writing out long long numbers like this" 
"This is silly - they don't care about the order of the numbers at all!" 
"This is like doing tally marks"

Which was exactly the point! Couldn't have said it better myself. We shared the findings with the whole class - and they will be the starting point for the next lesson - before we redirect flight QF213 to Ancient ROME!

I'm hoping the 24% in my class who don't like maths just maybe will give it another chance!

Mark Millmores Discovering Ancient Egypt website is a treasure trove of resources. Includes maths puzzles and free wallpapers. Reasonably priced applications to generate maths worksheets using Ancient Egyptian numbers.

The 1893 paper by E.A.W. Budge "The Rosetta Stone" is an excellent explanation of the techniques used to decode Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

(*) Year 7 students have just arrived from primary (elementary) school - it's their first week in the "big" school. Our Australian high school is like a combined middle and high school in the USA.