Student surveys can provide very useful data for teachers regarding their own teaching practice. In particular, they can help teachers to reflect on their teaching strategies, planning processes, lesson activities, assessment instruments and their rapport with students. This year I took a two-pronged approach:
- A short ‘tick and flick’ survey asking questions such as:“Which assessment item was the most difficult?”“What types of lesson activities do you most like to complete?”
- “From which assessment item did you learn the most about yourself as a learner?”
- “Which topic of study from this year was your favourite?”
- A forum-style discussion (where I recorded commends on the big screen). The purpose was to gather some additional information about the tick and flick questions, and also to ask them some questions about students’ thoughts about learning in general. The forum discussion was most illuminating!
Here are just some of the insights I gained from the forum discussion from my year 8 Social Science and Religion students regarding their learning in general (not limited to my subject):
Regarding how my students believe they learn best
Students want to work collaboratively (even more so than I thought)!
- “I like to share research materials and strategies with my peers before I go off and do my own thing.” “I feel more comfortable working with someone. More confident.”
- “I would like to be able to debate my hypothesis before I go and write my arguments so I know if they are any good.”
- “I learn quicker when my friends help to explain things”
Students believe they need some direct instruction from the teacher.
- “I want to be able to ask the teacher lots of questions before I write my answers.”
- “The teacher should give the information, then we read something and do the work, and then the teacher goes through it with us.”
- “I like the teacher to give us a rundown first before we get started.”
- “I like investigating stuff, but not everything! Sometimes I just want the teacher to explain the information first.”
Students like advance organisers.
- “I want the teacher to give us a heads up about the assessment so we know where we are headed.”
- “I want the teacher to give us a summary first so we know what is happening.”
Students want to summarise and take notes (but sometimes they don’t quite know how to do this).
- “I like to take notes so I remember all of the information.” “Sometimes teachers tell us to summarise but we don’t really know how much to summarise.”
- “I wish we could do more notes and summaries.”
- “When we get a big chunk of information or a big source, I like the teacher to summarise it so we know what are the main points.”
Students would prefer to have more time to work on drafting and proof reading rather than more research time.
Regarding whether my students know what they need to do in order to improve their grades:
In general, year 8 students feel as though they are in the dark about what exactly they need to do in order to improve, across the subject areas.
Specific study skills are not being taught enough.
- “I want to practice some study skills in class with the teacher so I know that I am actually doing it properly.”
- “Teachers tell us to study for the test, but then we don’t know how to do that.”
Students also want to know what they are good at!
- “Sometimes I just want to know that I at least did something right.”
- “You give us feedback on what we need to do, but you should also tell us what we need to keep doing.”
Students want models for how to address their shortcomings. They often don’t quite understand our feedback.
- “You know it doesn’t sound right and then the teacher says ‘sentence structure’ and you think, well duh, but how should I fix it?”
- “When the draft says “explain” or “more detail” I know that I need to explain it more, but I don’t know how!”
Students don’t understand criteria sheets.
- “I see your ticks in the C grade and I have no idea how you decided to put them there.”
- “Too many big words”
- “What do they even mean?”
Students want progress grades.
- “On our drafts, can you give us a grade? So we know how far we have to come to get the grade we actually want?”
- “I don’t like thinking I am going ok all term and then at the end I find out I almost failed.”
- “It would be good if you could tell us how we are tracking.”
Some of these things shouldn’t come as a surprise. My research on middle schooling already let me know that students like working with their peers and feeling a sense of control in their own learning. I am also aware pedagogically that a lot of these preferences and issues boil down to good teaching practice. For me, the most illuminating part was the fact that despite all of my planning and implementation of specific strategies (for example, formative assessment and the teaching of specific skills such as note-taking), there is an obvious gap between what I set out to achieve and what the students experience. Such feedback also reinforces to me the obvious problems with attempting to teach an over-crowded curriculum: students can miss out on basic skills and feel a little like the learning is something that is being done ‘to’ them rather than ‘by’ them.