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Getting Private Student Feedback

February 28, 2006

Can teachers gather students' feedback without risking adverse reactions from management?

Hello again,

It is clear from reactions to an earlier posting by Patricia that teachers have their anxieties about feedback from students. They fear that any negative responses might be used against them by management. In an ideal world, the school would offer mutual support systems with all feedback being seen as a key tool in the process of continual improvement rather than as a stick to beat the overburdened backs of teachers. But we don’t live in a perfect world and undoubtedly some teachers will be put under pressure if students are critical . . .

. . . Yet understanding students’ reactions is essential: so many things might need fine tuning so that teachers better match their performance to their students’ needs. One solution therefore is for teachers to conduct student surveys privately. The information they glean will be for their eyes only and can help them plan more effective lessons.

To start the activity the teachers need to explain to classes that, from time to, they will be giving them short questionnaires, holding discussions and holding interviews in order to ensure that everybody is learning as effectively as possible. The teachers have a number of tactics at their disposal. They can issue specific questionnaires. A example is provided on this web page: http://www.philseflsupport.com/unseenobs_students.htm/. They can have sets of instant reaction cards: too easy, too hard, just right. Each student has a set and at the end of the lesson the teacher ask the students to hold up their choice. They can hold debriefing discussions in which they summarize what they wanted a lesson to achieve and ask students if they felt the aims had been met.

We also have to remember that individuals will react differently so it is helpful to hold some one-to-one structured interviews. This could be done by calling out individuals while the class is working on a task such as reading comprehension. The interviews should focus on the student’s perception of their needs and progress so as not to set up an embarrassing situation in which the students is asked to comment on the teacher’s performance.

Another way of gathering personal responses is to engage in an exchange of messages when teachers mark students’ work. For example, if a student has made a lot of errors, the teacher can ask if the student would like further work on specific areas or a different approach or more time. In a way this is a kind of action research in which the teachers monitor their performance, reflect on the information they gather and then make changes in the light of the information received.

I should just add that in some cultures where teachers are kept at an arm’s length and are not expected to relate in this way their classes this approach would not work.
I’d like to know what you think.

Bye for now,

Brenda.

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