Summer has started and what I am doing? Learning of course. As part of our local Twitter chat, #SVTChat, we are reading Joy Kirr's Shift This. I am loving every minute of my summer reading. As I am finishing the book, I got to the chapter on Resistance. Having dealt with colleagues, friends and parents who have questioned what I am doing, this chapter was not something completely new to me. However, what I did this year with my students brought up the issue in a much different and unexpected way.
Let's back up a little. Earlier in the year, another teacher in the district (who through the power of Twitter has become one of my go-to people when I need to bounce an idea off of for math) George Carganilla , and I were involved in a chat that lead to the idea of having the students "grade" the teacher. He nicely shared with me a form he got from Classroom Chef. Although this was geared toward middle/high school teachers, the idea intrigued me. If I was making the shift toward being more student centered, I needed to find out how my students were liking (and adjusting to) the change.
At the end of the first semester I gave the students a chance to anonymously "grade" me on topics I felt were important to being a better teacher. These included pacing, knowing my students, understanding the class material, and making things fun in class. Overall the grades were what I expected. When I averaged them, I was about a 4 on a 5 scale. Not too bad for having a class that is not traditional. There were some students who ranked me higher than others, some categories that I was given a higher grade. I gave the students the chance to write in their own comments as well. These were the most important parts for me to read. The true feedback was coming from their own words. Even though the report card was anonymous, there were some comments that made it easy to identify who wrote it. Some of their responses were pretty generic. ("I love being in your class." "Nothing else to add") Some were more specific. ("Why can't we have more free time? Can we earn it?" "I wish we could do more art.") This type of feedback was helpful and something I could try to incorporate more into the class. (Hmmm, isn't this what we want the students to understand and apply?!) Since these are 9-12 year-olds (4/5 combo means WIDE range of ages!) I got about what I expected.
Since the process seemed to go pretty well, I decided to do it again at the end of the school year. I also decided to add a "grade the project" portion to help me adjust what I needed to shift for next year. The results I got this time were very difficult for me to understand. Overall my grades averaged lower than in the fall (earning 3.9 out of 5). Not a huge shift, but it was the comments that got to me. Again, even though it was anonymous some of the comments were obvious as to who wrote them (especially since I had many of the students for two years), and some were written by students who I felt really enjoyed my class. Many of the students wanted more fun, more free time, and more ability to choose. Wasn't this what I had tried to give them all year (ok, so maybe not the free time, although they had a lot more than they thought.)
When it came to the projects, many of the projects I thought were such great activities were actually scored very low! (They really didn't like the fractions hyperdocs/flipped learning activities, STEAM Buddies, or the fairytale unit. The last one doesn't surprise me though since my class was primarily boys.) Their favorite did surprise me though. They enjoyed the Iron Chef slides activity (Thanks, Jon Corippo!). Not because of the learning exactly, but because we had American Idol style peer judging. They WANTED peer feedback!
A line from Ms. Kirr's book, "We need some criticism to keep us grounded" is what set off the need to write this post. I was open to the students giving me feedback. What I wasn't ready for was the criticism they were inevitably going to give. I prided myself on being a fun class that allowed the students a lot of freedom. I know that I am never going to please all of the students, nor should I try to. This job would be a lot more stressful if that was my goal. What I got from the feedback though is that there are always ways to improve.
There was a lot of positive in both the fall and spring teacher report cards. Interesting that at the time I focused completely on the negative. (Some personal issues may have contributed to that.) Going back over the feedback the students gave me is going to help me for next year. (Being in a different frame of mind, I noticed it wasn't as negative as I originally thought!) Had I not been willing to open up myself to their comments, both positive and negative, I would not have had the chance to reflect on how to be better for the students.
I recommend giving your students a chance to give you a report card on how you are doing, even if it is a quick thumbs up/down, a couple of times a year. Just make sure you are ready to hear what they may have to say, even if means reading at a later date.
20+ year teacher, mother of 2 kids and 2 dogs, wife, lover of all things M&M, interested in tech in the classroom, and changing up my teaching