Saturday, September 28, 2013

Student Feedback: Just Ask

Do you want to know how helpful your students perceive the learning activities you plan for them? Here’s a secret: Ask them.

On Friday, I asked students to respond to 2 questions: 
  • Of everything we did in class this week, what was most helpful to your learning? 
  • What was least helpful to your learning?

The biggest surprise? The 6 activities mentioned more than once had votes on both the most helpful and the least helpful side. Small group discussion, which we did frequently, had overwhelmingly positive feedback (26-7). However, everything else had nearly equal votes (in order of total number of mentions, positive and negative): small group discussion, reading comprehension quizzes, whole group discussion, 30-second impromptu presentation with responses, vocabulary quiz, reading response journal. 

This shows me a couple of things. First, it confirms that I have pretty good variety of and priority in classroom activities for a diversity of learning styles. One student found both small group and whole group discussions unhelpful, and benefitted most from the vocabulary quiz. I bet I can name that Myers-Briggs personality profile within one letter! Another could articulate that she found the small group discussions most helpful and the whole group discussion least helpful because she prefers smaller groups. My next step needs to be differentiation by offering choice.  

It also confirmed that students are primed for a mini-lesson on contributing to positive group dynamics. The ones who identified reasons for finding the small group discussions helpful gave all the reasons I emphasize this mode of learning. One student wrote, “I really felt comfortable asking questions, and it was easier for me to share my thoughts.”

The reasons given for small group discussions being least helpful were common dysfunctions of small groups: “Depends on the group--I often get sidetracked.” “It seemed redundant.” “No one really talked.”

Some of the best ideas for the mini-lesson could well come from 3 students’ positive responses to one day’s variation on the small group discussion: a 30-second impromptu presentation of a significant thought from your reading response journal, followed by 15-second responses to the 30-second presentation by each of the other 3 group members. Here are their responses:
  • This helped me extract essential detail from what I thought.
  • Being in a group that responded and all had ideas, who weren’t joking around. 
  • It...also gave opportunity to listen to others’ insights much more efficiently than what was done previously.
Just a note: Each of the above 3 students also listed something about the regular small group discussions as least helpful.

Probably most importantly, I learned that students can be trusted to respond to the question asked (most/least helpful) without turning it into a popularity contest. I thought they’d all hate the reading comprehension quizzes, but those, too, were split. One student wrote, “It made me think more.”

Yes, asking students what they find most/least helpful is a bit of a blinding flash of the obvious. (My husband calls it a BFO.) But I’d read McTighe and Wiggins’s suggestion for soliciting student feed back and thought it a good idea my first 2 times through Understanding by Design, so my third time through, this week, with my English and social studies department colleagues, I told them to ask me at our next meeting whether I’d done it. 

So colleagues--thanks for the accountability. I did it. And I’ll do it next Friday, too.

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