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Listen to the Students

There is nothing more meaningful to a teacher than honest student feedback. Too often, students are reluctant to tell teachers when they are bored, frustrated, angry, or excited by their lessons. Student feedback would help all teachers be more relevant, more inclusive, and more personalized in their teaching, and, in the hands of accomplished teachers, would be a powerful addition to their repetoire of skills.

Recently, I was looking at the 2011 My Voice National Student Report based on a survey created by the Pearson Foundation and the Quaglia institute for Student Aspirations. This survey was administered to 57,883 students in grades 6-12 in 203 schools. The survey consists of 63 statements that address eight "conditions," including:
belonging, heroes, sense of accomplishment, fun and excitement, curiosity and creativity, spirit of adventure, leadership and responsibility, and confidence to take action. These eight conditions are grouped into self worth, engagement, and purpose--- elements as critical to student success as academic preparation.

The report is chock-full of findings about student beliefs. The finding that disturbed me most was the one indicating that only 47% of students believe teachers care if their pupils are absent from school. As teachers know, being present is essential to academic achievement. Attendance is the essential base for academic success. It is hard to teach a student who is not in attendance. Teachers cannot be enablers of students missing school; it sends a terrible message to them. I hope this statistic will be a wake-up call for us to have those private conversations with students to let them know we miss them when they are absent and when they lose an opportunity to learn. I hope we use technology to connect students who are truly unable to come to school due to reasons that are "excused." And I hope we offer make-up time when the absences are unexcused. Giving zeroes is not helpful. Giving attention that is wrapped in care and respect for the student is very helpful.

This report is also full of good news for teachers:

  • 93% of students believe they can be successful in school.
  • 80% of students enjoy learning new things.
  • 87% of students want to do their best in school.
  • 90% of students say getting good grades is important to them.
  • 74% of students have a teacher who is a positive role model.
  • 96% of students say their parents care about their education.
  • 78% of students say they are encouraged to practice good citizenship at school.
  • 79% of students believe what they learn at school will benefit their future.
  • 82% of students push themselves to do better academically.
  • 89% of students believe going to college is important to their future.

Student surveys can be useful tools in shaping great teaching and creating a positive environment for learning. Misusing those surveys by making them part of high stakes teacher assessment can undermine their value. I encourage teachers to embrace student surveys and take the lead on the appropriate usage of them. If you would like to learn more about this survey of students, click here.

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