How to use student feedback to improve teaching?
Student feedback can be a powerful tool for teachers to improve their skills and increase their delivery effectiveness, all while increasing their students’ performance and engagement.It might be a scary thought to ask students openly what they liked or disliked about your lesson, but the advantages definitely outweigh the disadvantages. Let’s take a look at why we collect student feedback in the first place and then analyze how we could do it. Finally, for student feedback to have a positive impact on your teaching, the most important part is what comes after you finish this process.Student feedback can be a powerful tool for teachers to improve their skills and increase their delivery effectiveness, all while increasing their students' performance and engagement. Click To Tweet
Why collect student feedback?
Collecting and using student feedback: A guide to good practice by Brennan and Williams in 2004 explores the process that institutions and teachers experience when implementing strategies to get student feedback. The authors found the purpose of the feedback varies from the teacher and institution’s perspective. Here are just a few of the ones I felt were relevant for the English language teaching setting, and to support the different tips and strategies we’ll be discussing later on.
- Increase student engagement by measuring student satisfaction
- Prevent issues (such as discipline, low student performance or engagement)
- Ensure effectiveness of your course design and delivery
- Help students reflect
- Identify good practices
These are in no particular order but represent the different purposes both teachers and institutions mentioned in the aforementioned study. In my personal experience, schools will focus more on the effectiveness of the teacher’s delivery and the content of the course. In most cases, the institutions are the ones asking for this feedback, and the teacher rarely participates in this process. I truly believe there should be a shift, where teachers are just as invested in the student feedback process. Their participation will bring about change in the classroom, but it’s not an easy process.We have to first recognize the importance of collecting and using student feedback to improve our teaching, and then realize if we adopt this growth mindset we are paving the way for our students to do the same. Click To Tweet
How we collect student feedback?
There are many mechanisms that could be used to collect student feedback, but I think the most effective option will come down to the purpose of collecting the data in the first place.
This is a traditional method of collecting student feedback and is usually used by institutions towards the end of a course or year. Some use the written method, while others are now using online ones with tech tools like Google Forms or Socrative. This kind of mechanism is effective for milestone moments during a course and offer general feedback to institutions, which are later trickled down to teachers in their annual performance appraisals, or through their training sessions. In these surveys, the most important thing really comes down to asking the correct questions. This is what will truly make it an effective tool. Here are some tips to keep in mind when creating your questionnaires.
- focus on a particular aspect of your lesson/course
- include the student’s feelings about difficulty level and fairness
- use open-ended questions about things they liked and disliked during the lesson
- offer the option for them to give ideas
I use this strategy all the time in my training sessions, and can easily be transferred into the classroom. This mechanism is great for when you’re collecting feedback to implement preventive measures, want students to reflect, or want to ensure delivery effectiveness. At the end of the lesson leave about 5 minutes for students to complete this activity.
The set up of this feedback can be done in a variety of ways, depending on your classrooms: (1) separate a side of the board, where students will draw the triangle as they leave the room. (2) Post-its on a wall of the room or board (3) on their devices with the help of an EdTech tool like Nearpod’s drawing feature.
- If they only understood SOME of the content: They should draw only ONE side of the triangle, and add a question or doubt they have about the topic.
- If they got MOST of the content: They’ll draw TWO sides of the triangle, also adding a question or doubt they have.
- If they got ALL of the content: They should draw a complete triangle along with an example of the language used, a conclusion from the lesson, or anything you feel will demonstrate in one line they understood the topic.
By assigning or electing student monitors, you can hold regular focus groups with your representatives and ask questions, similar to the ones in the questionnaires. The student who plays this role should be a volunteer for it to be effective. This opens a dialog that allows them to participate actively in the class dynamic leading to an increase in classroom engagement. Students representing the group allows them to gather their ideas and channel them in a constructive way. Also, it helps them to feel they have a voice that the teacher is actually listening to. Assigning someone you consider to be responsible is important to ensure they will use this role for what it is: to synthesize and share the group’s thought in an anonymous, but direct way.
How to get around the language?
There need to be additional considerations in classrooms when teachers still have a language barrier. In these cases, we can use similar strategies to the triangle, where students can share their thoughts through symbols such as smiley faces, or numbers (1-5), or even a simple “+” or “-“. Think of creative and easy ways they could communicate their feedback, but still make it meaningful.
What you do after collecting is just as, or even more, important than implementing student feedback strategies in your classroom. After you’ve collected your student’s feedback it’s up to you to make this experience meaningful for all parties by using this information to improve your teaching. Teachers should look for spaces where you can keep the conversation going, make the necessary changes, and don’t overlook the positive comments. When you start to go through the feedback, also remember to check your ego. We all know getting negative feedback is not easy, and take a defensive position as our first instinct, but we should embrace the opportunity to see the patterns. If we ask the right questions, we’ll hopefully get the feedback we need to make meaningful changes in our teaching to create an effective and engaging environment. Once you have the feedback, it’s a good idea to start with the ones you can make quick and easy changes to like “speak slower” or “give more examples”. Others may require continuous professional development, or simply more time while institutions make changes at curriculum level. Whatever the case may be, keep listening to your students and be sure to make of your classroom the best possible space for them to learn.
“It is not enough to simply listen to student voice. Educators have an ethical imperative to do something with students, and that is why meaningful student involvement is vital to school improvement.” – Adam Fletcher
Brennan, J., & Williams, R. (2004). Collecting and using student feedback: A guide to good practice. York: Learning and Teaching Support Network.