Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Building on student feedback

Asking students routinely for feedback became one of my most valuable PD strategies.

Here are some of the simple questions that often drew the best, most meaningful responses over the years.

"Did this project inspire you to pursue more knowledge on this subject?"

Is the assignment or project content connecting to larger goals? Is it lighting a spark? That question is a good way to find out.

A few questions on 'time' and 'collaboration':

"How was the pace of all the parts of this project?"

"What are your thoughts on the collaborative challenges in this project?"
"What went well?"
"What difficulties did you have working with others?"
"What are some strategies you have on how to improve your approach to group work next time?"

On rollout:

"What is / was difficult to understand?"
"Do you feel you understand this now?"
"How can I help your peers or I help you?"

As we teach things, semester by semester, year after year, we become more familiar with the material.  Stepping back and hearing student reflections on how things evolved is so very important. They, after all, are exploring much of this material for the first time.

"What are your thoughts on how I could introduce this topic, questions, or explain things better?"

So... what does all that info tell you? Here are a few it gives you valuable info on:

  • difficulties students might be having with 'the course' and their role in it?
  • how effective is the path I'm creating with students in this subject?
  • how I might group students differently and / or ask individuals to help others?
  • helps me refine my ability to pace work and address individual student needs?

I got to know my students better as individual learners not just 'content learners.'

Then I'd ask another important, open-ended question:

"How can this project improve?"

It's an open-ended question that let the students to evaluate the assignment as a whole... for theme, content, structure, collaborative and reflective time. The debates were often intense. Many students talked about their styles as a learner and how their needs fit or didn't fit into a larger group. Many took on the challenge to propose new ways to approach things, new challenges, new readings they discovered... and many others.

That's where some great learning can happen... for the students and for me as a mentor.

I've asked many teachers I've worked with to build these types of questions into their time with students as great PD / curriculum development. I've worked with many schools, districts, and individual teachers now who have done so and seen great results.

I got to thinking about all this again because a teacher I mentored in a grad course contacted me recently and said:

"I just wanted to drop you a note, Adam. This past semester didn't go so well for me. I was feeling drained and disconnected from students through this last semester and increasingly content focused. I have no doubt my students felt the same way. I took a chance and started asking students many of the questions about the assignments and also about the course itself. I've been afraid to do this in the past for so many reasons. I felt I didn't have time because our curriculum is pretty pace heavy. The second reason, well, I guess I was afraid of what students might say. The third, I thought about what you said about making my own PD time if the school doesn't. We have little to no PD time at school anymore to discuss teaching. It's almost all focused on school business. The feedback I got from the class about the first semester has been so challenging to me professionally and also so very valuable. These reflective discussions have helped me understand my students needs and also what's working and not working for them in my class. It's really the best pedagogical feedback I've ever received on my teaching. EVER! I feel renewed with ideas on new approaches I can take. Thanks for the push to make this regular practice. I just wanted to say thanks!"

I keep trying to build better skill asking questions of the people that I work with, students or adults. I keep trying to get better at listening. I keep trying to make my practice and approach better, and better, and better. Much of it isn't prescribed, rather adapted based on these constant practices of soliciting feedback.

Involve students in the educational process. Involve students in your educational process.

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