Monday, May 13, 2013

Getting Feedback that Counts

Getting Feedback that Counts

Anyone in the service business knows the value of word-of-mouth referrals, especially in this age of yelp and all the other yelps out there now. Furthermore, anyone who knows how to enjoy their job and do well at it always has the attitude of "I can be better". This is where the value of feedback comes in. And, this is why it is worth your time to give an end-of-the-year survey as we approach this summer. However, all surveys are not created equal.

At our school each student takes a survey in each class and answers on a scale of 1 - 5 (or something) about 20 questions about the teacher. "Does he show up on time? Does he make lessons interesting? etc.." Then the results come neatly packaged with a bar graph so you can check yourself out. I do think there is value to these kinds of surveys. However, the exact results could be found with only one question: Do you like this teacher? 1 for "yes", 2 for "no". For students who like the teacher, they will fill out good things even if they're not true because they feel guilty and can easily convince themselves that it's "true enough". For students who don't like the teacher, this is their chance to get back at them. Let's also not forget, that probably 80% of students taking surveys are probably skimming their way through because they don't actually care.

For me, I have never stressed about the above survey. If I read the questions myself, I know I can accurately assess myself on my own strengths and weaknesses so I don't care that much what the students have to say. What I do care about is, actual constructive criticism, and getting that is more valuable and I dare say a lot easier than 10 minutes online. Here's the method:

1. Make the students write out answers on paper. I usually give it out the day before the final.
2. Don't ask more than 4-5 questions. Think about it. You only really want two things: a pat on the back and room for improvement. You actually only need two questions, but use the first couple to get their memories working so they're into it.
3. Before handing it out, give a sincere talk about how important this is, not just for you as a teacher, but also for future students, which in my school, could easily be those same students. Keep them anonymous.
4. Don't ask for too much. Complete sentences and examples are good, but I find that, "Tell me 1 thing that worked well/was bad" is perfect. If a student has more than one thing, they'll say each of them anyway.

I have done this, I think, every year to every class and read every answer of every page. I still haven't mastered the problem of several students blowing it off and giving nothing of value. But, it doesn't take 27 suggestions before you can find something to work on. Usually, the more insightful and observational students will be happy to have a voice and they'll tell you what you need to hear. They will tell you specific things to your class that were never, and could not be covered in the 1 - 5 computer survey.

 I keep the useful ones all summer and read them a few times, occasionally thinning out the pile with each reading. Then, at the beginning of the following year, I keep the best 3 or 4 with me and look them over before writing lesson plans with an attitude of, "Doesn't return work soon enough? Well watch what I do on Wednesday, sucka!" I know that sounds a bit like "I do this so you should", but what I really meant to sound like is, "We all should. I try to also." You try to also also*, and see what you can learn.

another good source for getting feedback: 

*I don't want to hear about it, English teachers.

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