Surveying Your Students: Pay Dividends to Your Classroom
Updated: Jan 29, 2019
Every teacher has a #system. Good teachers will use standards based grading to reflect how learning is based on the state requirements for their content. Good teachers will offer classroom management that feels less like control and more like an opportunity for students. Good teachers will even tweak their system each year based on their own discoveries and thinking about education. The best teachers though will offer authentic opportunity for their students to give input and then tweak the system to offer the kinds of changes that students ask about.
For those that might be reading and thinking “there is no way I’m going to change my classroom grading or behavior management based on the whim of my students” shouldn’t worry too much as I would agree with this. The kinds of changes you make based on your student feedback should be the latest iteration of what works best for your classroom. These changes should be subtle put impactful. They should not be wholesale changes of what is happening in the classroom as the students take time to learn your system and having already done that at the start of the school year you may want to avoid a complete reboot.
Your system is who you are. The best teachers know this and use their system to make their classroom work.
At the start of the school year you offer your new students a carefully laid out syllabus about your classroom. These details are your system. By the time October rolls around you know your students well enough to make a few changes to your system. You know them because you take the opportunity to ask them formalized questions that you use all the time. Some questions I use are “what is one thing you would change about the classroom?” or “name something that is working well in the classroom.” These questions can put you on a path to make the kinds of changes that will make the system work better for the current group of students you have right now. Asking these formalized questions should take place using paper, the whiteboard, or the best method is to capture their thinking using an online survey.
You also know your students since you not only take the opportunity to ask them survey questions but day to day you ask a few students how their weekend was, how they are feeling that day, and what they like about a lesson you taught that day. These informal questions help you model caring to your students and begin to show what empathy looks like for the younger generation. Knowing your students also helps guide instruction when you are able to tailor their needs into the concepts they are mandated to learn.
I have been surveying student since I started teaching. But there are plenty of years that I missed the opportunity to make real changes that would help my students by asking the wrong questions or asking questions but not making any real changes based on their input. Students know when their thoughts are not valued and will likely continue to play within the rules of your system but the opportunity to show students that they can make things change in the world based on their own ideas will be missed.