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Response: Student Feedback on Teachers Should Be a 'Part of More Classrooms'

(This is Part Two in a three-part series. You can see Part One here.)

The new question-of-the-week is:

Should teachers encourage student evaluations of their classes and their teaching? If not, why not? If so, what are the best ways to do it?


In Part One, we heard from Roxanna Elden, Adeyemi Stembridge, Kathy Dyer, Sheila M. Wilson, and Madeline Whitaker Good. You can listen to a 10-minute conversation I had with Roxanna, Adeyemi, and Kathy on my BAM! Radio Show. You can also find a list of, and links to, previous shows here.

Today's contributors are Dr. PJ Caposey, Kate Wolfe Maxlow, Karen Sanzo, Rachael Williams, Andrea Clark, and Donna L. Shrum.

Response From Dr. PJ Caposey

Dr. PJ Caposey is an award-winning educator, speaker, and author of six books who currently serves as the superintendent of schools for Meridian 223 in Northwest Illinois. You can find PJ on most social-media platforms as MCUSDSupe. This concept is explored in detail including some of the text of this blog in his book Student Voice: From Invisible to Invaluable with Nick Polyak and Mike Lubelfeld:

Have you stayed at a hotel lately? Have you gone to the doctor's office? The amount of emails asking for feedback is overwhelming. It is amazing how much seemingly every other industry cares about securing the feedback of their primary customer. It is even more amazing when juxtaposed to education.

There is simply no reason why student feedback on teacher performance is not a part of more classrooms. Instead of pointing out the amazing benefits of receiving authentic feedback from the people who actually experience the teacher firsthand for over 170 days per year, I thought it may be prudent to attack some of the excuses that typically pop up as to why this should not happen.

  • Excuse #1 - Students will not provide authentic feedback and instead will seek revenge or retribution.

    • The data say: The 2010 MET project notes that student feedback about teachers is more consistent than those provided by administrators after classroom observation or those based solely on student-test scores.

    • What does that really mean? No system is perfect—of course kids may skew data. The point is that even with any occasional intentional skew of the data that students still do a better job providing feedback and assessment than even well-trained administrators.

  • Excuse #2 - Students do not want this responsibility.

    • The data say: In 2011, after a United States Department of Education listening tour, 94 percent of students noted the need for student input in teacher evaluation.

    • What does that really mean? I think it may be fair to say that most students do not want the stress of having to determine if someone is to be terminated or not. I also think it is fair to say that they do not expect to have such authority. Giving a formal and systematic manner to share feedback, support, and critique is definitively something that students want (and deserve).

  • Excuse #3 - Teachers will be more concerned with students liking them compared to teaching them.

    • The data say: Per John Hattie's meta-analysis, teacher-student relationships matter more than second-chance programs like Reading Recovery, effective questioning strategies, and even small-group learning.

    • What does that really mean? It is extremely difficult to find anything in this world involving humans where relationships do not matter. A direct lever to force teachers to treat students differently and possibly better is not something to cause concern. Quite simply, it is very difficult to learn from someone you do not like.  

  • Excuse #4 - This is a frivolous, progressive idea that will never gain national traction. Let's wait it out.

    • The data say: Alaska implemented student feedback on teacher performance in 2012, the United States Department of Education launched the RESPECT project calling for teacher evaluations to be based on multiple perspectives and stakeholders. In 2010, the Gates Foundation called for similar processes.

    • What does that really mean? The idea is not new and not without merit. The issue is that it simply has not become trendy yet in schools because fear has out-influenced progress and common sense.

  • Excuse #5 - This will create a toxic environment in the school.

    • The data say: The Harvard Graduate School of Education noted in a Project Zero study discussed by Brenda Burr at NAESP 2014 that the receptivity of student input was largely dependent on a safe and positive environment for students AND adults.

    • What does that really mean? For this to work, both students and adults must understand the rationale for this effort and see true purpose. This is the job of the leaders of the building—both formal and informal. In the best possible scenario, teachers are eager and hungry for the feedback and the students feel a valued part of the improvement process.

On a very personal level, we assess student engagement annually in our district. Our findings last year, holistically, were that we did not incorporate enough student voice and choice within our instruction. This feedback, coming from students, has fueled greater improvement discussions (in my opinion) than any feedback of this sort ever levied by administration.

Perhaps, if education, like every other industry sought to engage and gain the confidence of their primary customers, truly necessary transformational shifts would occur much more frequently and with a greater sense of urgency.

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Response From Kate Wolfe Maxlow & Karen Sanzo

Kate Wolfe Maxlow is the professional learning coordinator at the Hampton City schools in Virgina and Karen Sanzo is a professor of educational foundations and leadership at Old Dominion University. They are co-authors of 20 Formative Assessment Strategies that Work: A Guide Across Content and Grade Levels:

Students know when they have high-quality teachers teaching them. In his meta-analysis of multiple studies on students' ratings of teachers, John Hattie (2017) reports that overall, student rating of teaching quality has a 0.50 effect size, which means that students' evaluations of their teachers are significantly correlated with their academic achievement. Those familiar with Hattie's work know that he generally considers an effect size of 0.40 the "hinge point," and anything higher than that he considers to be a high-impact influence on student achievement (Hattie, 2009). Hattie's team has also found that teacher-student relationships have an effect size of 0.52, and furthermore, teacher credibility has an effect size of 0.90.

How, then, can teachers create these positive teacher-student relationships in a way that favorably impacts teacher credibility? The answer lies in the form of two-way feedback. According to Hattie and his team (2017), feedback has an effect size of 0.70 when done well. What does that mean? It means that not only is the teacher giving feedback to students on student progress toward achieving learning goals—but also that the teacher is collecting feedback from students on what is and is not working instructionally and then using that all that information to inform instruction.

Teachers will therefore want to collect feedback early and often from students. Even if a school district uses a formal student-evaluation process, teachers can increase the trust between themselves and students by informally collecting feedback throughout the year and using that information to make positive changes in the classroom. After all, the role of the teacher is not just to teach but also to help students learn, and who knows better about whether students are learning than the students themselves?

Teachers can collect feedback on their instruction throughout the year in multiple ways. Formal surveys for students are an option, and there is ample evidence to suggest that students as young as kindergarten can rate teacher quality reliably (Stronge & Ostrander, 2006; Wilkerson, Mannatt, Rogers, & Maughan, 2000). Teachers can also collect feedback informally throughout the year by seamlessly integrating this type of student reflection into classroom activities such as exit tickets. For instance, a teacher might ask older students, "What from today's lesson worked especially well in helping you achieve the objective? What remains unclear for you?" Teachers might ask younger students (either orally or in writing), "What was your favorite part of the lesson? What did you find most helpful? What confused you?"

Another great informal tool for collecting feedback is the 3-2-1, which can be used either as an exit ticket or anytime during a lesson. Questions such as "What are three new things you learned today? What are two questions you still have about the topic? What is one thing you would recommend changing about this lesson?" can help the teacher not only understand what students know but also provide feedback on students' perceptions of the quality of the instruction outright. A teacher who wants to incorporate more movement into this type of informal evaluation could also do a Four Corners with students, labeling different corners of the room with: "I loved everything about this lesson," "I liked it but would prefer some tweaks next time we do something like this," and "This lesson was not for me," then have students provide specific information for their choice. Having open dialogues like this helps students feel ownership of their learning and can help create positive teacher-student relationships.

References

Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge

Hattie, J. (2017). Hattie's 2017 updated list of factors influencing student achievement. Retrieved from https://www.visiblelearningplus.com/sites/default/files/250%20Influences.pdf

Stronge, J. H., & Ostrander, L. (2006). Client surveys in teacher evaluation. In J. H. Stronge (Ed.), Evaluating teaching: A guide for current thinking and best practice, pp. 125-151. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

Wilkerson, D.J., Manatt, R.P., Rogers, M., Maughan, R. (2000). "Validation of student, principal, and self-ratings in 360° Feedback Ⓡ for Teacher Evaluation. Journal of Peronnel Evaluation in Education, 14(2), 179-192.

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Response From Rachael Williams

Rachael Williams is a teacher and Year 9 learning leader at Ballarat Grammar School in Australia. She enjoys learning and teaching and writing about learning and teaching. You can follow her on Twitter @teachermojo:

When it comes to an evaluation of what is and is not working in a classroom, it is difficult to argue against the expertise of the young people with firsthand experience of the learning environment. How can we know how they are experiencing our classrooms unless we ask them?

If teachers are to make genuine improvements to their teaching practice as a result of student-evaluation data, then they must be encouraged to initiate and manage the evaluation process themselves. Feedback from students to teachers about teaching performance is most powerful when the teacher is supported but autonomous.

Teacher as Learner

Positioning themselves as learners is a critical early step in seeking feedback from students. Teachers should set a clear goal for what they would like to improve about their teaching performance and share it with students. Post the goal in the classroom and refer to it throughout the day, week, or term. When seeking student feedback about progress, students should be asked specifically about their experience in relation to the practice the teacher is aiming to improve. A simple way to invite anonymous feedback is to set up a Google form and give students the link. This works best if the link is provided in the classroom, after an explanation that the teacher is seeking constructive, honest, anonymous feedback. Simple statements with which students can agree or disagree are useful, but the richest data comes from student responses to open-ended questions.

Teacher as Warrior

Be brave. There is almost always something in student feedback that causes discomfort or disappointment. A teacher's perception of their teaching may not match the perception of the students in the class, and that is the point. Finding out what is working for students is affirming, but if the real purpose of the feedback from student to teacher is improvement, then discomfort or disappointment offers an obvious and essential starting point.

Teacher as Change-Maker

If a teacher asks students to offer feedback on their teaching, they must act on that feedback in visible ways that demonstrate a commitment to improving teaching and learning. Data collected recently in my classroom included the following student response to the question, What should this teacher do more often?

In various ways, a number of students in my class asked for more time to think and process what they are learning. As I spend time preparing for the new term, I can use this feedback to set a new goal for improving my teaching. I will share a summary of the survey feedback with students and let them know that I am committed to using their input to improve. 

It is not the act of asking for feedback from students that makes a difference in classrooms. When teachers act on that feedback, the real magic happens. Students feel heard, and teacher-student relationships improve. Students begin to understand that setting learning goals and working hard to get better is a worthwhile, lifelong process.

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Response From Andrea Clark

Andrea Clark is a 5th grade teacher at a small, independent school in Austin, Texas. She has taught grades 2-5 at both private and public schools for seven years. She blogs about technology and teaching life at Teaching with Mrs. Clark, and she posts about ed-tech and books on Twitter @andrea_m_clark:

Student evaluations are an important aspect of my professional development as a teacher. I am here to teach my students; I need to know, in their own words, how I am doing. It is important for me to improve as a teacher, and I enjoy reading what they really think of me.

This is how I do it in my 5th grade classroom:

Sometimes I ask them to write me a letter, sometimes I ask them to fill out a form. I have used forms created by other teachers and forms created by me.

I ask students to fill in their evaluations as close to the end of the year as possible. This is what students work on while they are breaking down the classroom. It is independent and engaging because they love getting to "be the teacher" and give me feedback.

I don't require students to write their names, but most of them do. My students are always very honest with me (sometimes brutally so, but those are the comments that I remember the most).

I read their comments at the beginning of the next school year. Then their feedback is fresh in my mind as I am building my new classroom community. It also lets me enjoy the end of the year with my current students without worrying about what they didn't like about me as their teacher.

This is the hardest part for me: Don't dwell on the negative feedback. It is really beneficial to know what I need to improve upon while working with my students. It is also really beneficial to know what is already working. Teaching is hard; remember what your students recognize as the great things you are doing in the classroom.

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Response From Donna L. Shrum

Donna L. Shrum is a writer, researcher, and educator in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. Her specialty areas are history, language arts, and technology:

Student evaluations of your class and teaching will lead to student reflection on how much they own their learning and give you insight into the learning that is—or is not—occurring. We use formative assessment to monitor for understanding, and evaluations serve the same purpose.

Don't wait until the end of your course. Create a culture from the start that you appreciate their input. Express that they are valued partners in their own learning, and you are their coach. How you frame your philosophy for using evaluations can take your students from passive to active participants.

Determine your purpose for the evaluation and take the time to craft meaningful questions. Being asked for their input fosters respect between the instructor and class when both are clear that the evaluation is meant to improve student learning and will be used for change. Let them know that you will share findings and that you want their opinion about any resulting changes before you implement them.  

Questions should focus on how activities foster their learning and less, "What do you like?"

Create a mix of Likert scale responses for those students who won't write much and open-ended questions for those who want to go beyond the solicited information.

Choose the right time during class to give the evaluation but be sure to introduce it and explain your purpose ahead of time. I use Google Forms to collect responses. Handwritten responses identify the student, but you can opt not to collect emails in Forms for anonymity or make one of the questions student name if the student would like a personal follow-up.  

Ideally, you can go beyond evaluations and institute regular conferences with individual students to discuss their learning and needs. Those conversations will be some of the most fruitful and enjoyable of your year.

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Thanks to PJ, Kate, Karen, Rachael, Andrea, and Donna for their contributions!

Please feel free to leave a comment with your reactions to the topic or directly to anything that has been said in this post.

Consider contributing a question to be answered in a future post. You can send one to me at [email protected]. When you send it in, let me know if I can use your real name if it's selected or if you'd prefer remaining anonymous and have a pseudonym in mind.

You can also contact me on Twitter at @Larryferlazzo.

Education Week has published a collection of posts from this blog, along with new material, in an e-book form. It's titled Classroom Management Q&As: Expert Strategies for Teaching.

Just a reminder; you can subscribe and receive updates from this blog via email or RSS Reader. And if you missed any of the highlights from the first seven years of this blog, you can see a categorized list below. The list doesn't include ones from this current year, but you can find those by clicking on the "answers" category found in the sidebar.

This Year's Most Popular Q&A Posts

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Best Ways to Begin The School Year

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I am also creating a Twitter list including all contributers to this column.

Look for Part Three in a few days.

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