Yes, it’s scary. Yes, it’s easy to assume you already know what students think about your class, how well they’re handling the workload, what activities they like the most. Yes, it’s possible you know best. Still.
If you’ve never asked students for serious, honest feedback, you’re missing something. If you ask the right questions and give students the time and encouragement to supply quality answers, student feedback can benefit you in so many ways.
1. Increasing Student Engagement
By finding out what learning activities students like the most and least about your class, you’ll get better at designing lessons that really engage them. Of course, your job is not to entertain your students 24/7, but if some methods of delivery are better received than others, then they’re likely to result in greater learning gains as well.
2. Preventive Discipline
Learning more about each student’s experience in your class can go a long way toward improving the relationship you have with them. And that can go a long way toward improving classroom management.
Grades and test scores don’t tell the whole story. A student who is getting excellent grades might be accomplishing that only with tremendous effort and hours of work at home. Conversely, a student who consistently turns in mediocre work might actually want more of a challenge. By asking students how well the work fits their abilities, you can adjust your instruction to better meet their needs.
4. Bullying Prevention
When students are given an opportunity to share their feelings about your class, they might also include information about students who harass them, or each other. If a student says he hates coming to your class every day, the reason might have more to do with his peers than with anything you’re doing. Gathering student feedback is the first step toward discovering the things you don’t know about your own classroom.
Many school systems are implementing teacher evaluation programs that include student feedback. And at the college level, student evaluations can significantly impact a professor’s promotion and tenure. Instead of waiting for the “official” forms to be distributed to students, get ahead of the curve by asking for similar feedback early, while there’s still time to troubleshoot.
Gathering Student Feedback, Step-by-Step
Start by asking good questions.
Create a written survey you distribute to students. Even if you teach online, you can distribute forms electronically. Here are some questions that should be included:
- Is the work in this class too hard or too easy for you?
- Do you feel our tests and quizzes are fair?
- How easy is it to approach me with questions or concerns?
- Do you feel our class time is used wisely?
- What do you like most about this class?
- What do you like least?
- What else do you think I should know?
That last question might seem like a throw-away, but it can elicit some of the most powerful and significant information you’ll get. Some students will use it to tell you about a problem they’re having with a classmate. Others will tell you that the handle on the class supply drawer is broken. You just never know what you’re going to get, so be sure to add an open-ended question like this to your survey.
Next, create optimal conditions for quality feedback.
- Distribute the survey at the right time and place. What worked best for me was to set aside 5 to 10 minutes at the end of a class period and have students do it then, rather than having them take it home.
- Talk to students ahead of time about the purpose of the survey and your desire to hear their true feelings. Give them examples of “mean” feedback (insulting another person) and “constructive” feedback (describing your own experience). Assure them that if they tell you something critical about your class or your teaching, you will not give them a bad grade or punish them in return.
- Make sure the room stays quiet and that students keep their responses as private as they would with a test.
- Decide ahead of time if you want students to put their names on their surveys: Anonymity will often get you more honest responses, but without names, it’s harder to do much follow-up work on them. I would tell my students that they could leave their names off if that made them more comfortable, but that I would be able to be a better teacher to them personally if I knew what their responses were. Most of the time, students chose to add their names.
Finally, ACT on the feedback.
Gathering information is useless if you do nothing with it. Here are some ways you can respond to student feedback:
- Talk. Then talk some more. Written feedback should be considered the first step. Once you’ve read the forms, follow up with individual students about their comments, and talk to the whole class about what you plan to do in response to what you learned. A few weeks later, check back with students to see if the changes are working for them.
- Look for patterns. A complaint from one student is worth noting, but fifty million Elvis fans can’t be wrong. Do many students say they don’t like silent reading? Do seventeen kids mention “rug time” as a problem? Even if it’s something you want to keep doing, a whole-class discussion can help you figure out ways to improve it.
- Dig into the mysteries. Students may put cryptic things on their surveys that are just the tip of the iceberg. If there’s anything on the form you don’t understand, don’t brush it off. Pull the student aside and ask her about it.
- Solve the easy problems. One of the best things about getting this feedback is that it can alert you to a problem that’s easy to fix. If a student mentions that the draft from the window bothers her, just move her. There. You just made the rest of the school year better for that kid.
- Watch your ego. Reading even a little bit of negative feedback is no fun for anyone, so be aware that your first reaction to criticism will probably be defensive. That’s natural, but it won’t solve the problem. Remind yourself that the student took a risk by telling you, so take the problem seriously and resolve to calmly and constructively find ways to solve it.
- Notice the positives. If the criticisms are getting you down, go back through and notice all the good things students said — those things matter. Figure out what you’re doing right, then do more of it.
A Tool You Can Use Right Now
If you’d like something ready-made for gathering student feedback, here’s a form you can use today: the “How’s It Going?” Form. You can use it any time of year to get a quick snapshot for how students are experiencing your class. The form comes in two versions: One for elementary students and the other for secondary and college-level students. With each, you’ll also get an editable form so you can add to or adjust the questions for your own needs, and a link to a Google Forms option if you want to conduct the survey digitally. Both forms are available in my Teachers Pay Teachers store:
The “How’s It Going?” Form
The “How’s It Going?” Form
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We do this. It is an integral part of feedback. It is really important though to make sure students answer honestly and constructively. For them to do this they need to be fully prepared.
I do this every Friday! We call it “Friday Feedback” (name and idea stolen from some teacher somewhere on the web). It is always the bell work and always completed online via Google Forms. It is INVALUABLE!
Would you be willing to share sample Feedback Friday questions with me?? I could really use the help and ideas .
At what stages do you seek feedback?
You can seek feedback any time. There’s no particular time or stage you need to follow. In the comments section, you’ll see that a lot of teachers give feedback surveys on a regular basis. Others might give a survey on an as-needed basis, like if there’s something particular that they noticed. So…be observant of what’s going on within your classroom, among students, during lessons, etc. Just make sure that whatever it is you’re asking, you’re genuinely interested in using the feedback to meet student needs and for self-reflection. Also make sure you have time to act on whatever feedback you get (see last section of the post). Hope this helps!
I want to be a teacher one day, so I can see why getting feedback from students would be important to improving your teaching. I like that you suggest starting by asking if the class is too easy or hard for the student. I think school should be challenging, but students shouldn’t feel overwhelmed either, so gauging this would be a smart move.
Jennifer thank you. I enjoyed asking Ss for feedback last semester, but you’ve given better direction with it.
Thank you. You’ve made some real valid points about the advantages of surveys. We have semester end surveys at our school. Having read about all aspects of student surveys, good and not so good, from your blogpost, helps me see the overall positive side of this type of feedback which could be done more frequently. I’d love to have students identify themselves so I can restructure accordingly…
I’m a second year teacher who’s been having some trouble with a particularly rowdy class at the end of the day. My mentor teacher suggested something similar about getting feedback from students during a “class meeting”. We all gathered in a circle, took time to compliment each other, then dove into the problems we were noticing that were preventing learning. Although some of the students made excuses, saying their excessive talking was because of me, I did walk away with some ideas for preventing misbehavior in the future- rearranging the desks, creating less clutter to allow space for thinking, adjusting the lighting, and integrating more movement. We’ll see tomorrow if these have helped our class community!
I think this is a great idea! It allows students to have some agency in the classroom so they are more invested in learning and assignments. I love the idea of “Friday Feedback” because it allows the idea of consistent feedback to welcomed. It seems like it could even encourage students to read feedback on their own assignments and make feedback something positive rather than negative! Additionally, by doing it every week student can be more comfortable sharing and gives them an opportunity to reflect on their past week. Thinking about what worked for them what didn’t and also what they took away from the week as a whole.
This post was very insightful and gave some great reasons why student feedback is valuable. I am already in the field, but I do still consider myself a newbie. I did associate all of the reasons given with importance of student feedback, but I had not considered self-preservation. Since I am not yet tenured, I can see why using student feedback could assist with self-preservation and the process of observation and tenure. I think I was so focused on the act of being observed by administrators that I didn’t consider that student feedback could be a wonderful tool to strengthen my teaching and improve my observations.
Thank you for this article. I think a survey is a great way to receive student feedback. Although we might not like everything we here it is an opportunity to improve the classroom. 🙂
Students will appreciate that you care what they are thinking. There will always be the students who are too immature to answer honestly but a lot of good information came be obtained from a survey.
I am learning to value my students feedback.
Also, like the suggestion of asking if the class is too hard or too easy. I think that the students feedback is one of the best ways to understand what needs to be improved.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Marta!