How Sixth Graders Evaluated Their Teacher
A MiddleWeb Blog
The writing is on the wall. Sometime, in the next year or two, our newly-instituted teacher evaluation process will begin to include student feedback, along with SMART goals and archived materials to document teaching practice. While some of my colleagues have expressed reservations about this shift to including students, I am mostly just curious about it.
What would my sixth grade students say about the year they spend with me in our English Language Arts classroom?
I decided to ask them.
The other day, with just a few weeks left in the school year, I explained to my students that I had been honored to spend so many months with them – teaching all sorts of units, reading their writing, offering feedback, introducing technology – and now it was time for them to grade me.
There were some interesting verbal responses to that offer, including wisecracks about how I was doomed to failure. One student joked, “Is there such a thing as an F-minus?” and another asked, “Can we grade the other teachers, too?”
A straightforward Google Form
I decided to use a Google Form to gather feedback from my students. My form was loosely modeled on some work that blogger Larry Ferlazzo has done with his English Language Learner classes. I had intended to revamp some of Larry’s questions (he teaches high school), but then found that I had more than enough of my own points of inquiry around literacy.
While this was more of an informal experiment than a formal research endeavor, I was genuinely curious about students’ perceptions of my teaching style and their classroom experiences.
Here are some of my takeaways from the results of the survey of my sixth grade students. All responses were anonymous. The 15-question survey took students about 15 minutes to complete. I was in the room, to help, but I kept my presence away from students as much as possible to avoid influencing them.
90% learned something
First of all, nearly 90 percent of my students say they learned something new about writing this year. That’s a number I am quite happy about, considering I am building on the writing instruction of my colleagues from the past. But more importantly, a solid 81 percent of my students perceive themselves as “better writers” at the end of the year than they were when we began in September.
One of my goals as a teacher is to help all of my students see themselves as “writers” — and I teach a co-taught class with many students on learning plans whose self-perceptions of themselves as writers is a huge hurdle — so this number really heartens me.
Technology for learning
We do quite a bit with technology and literacy, as readers of this column know, and there are not many teachers in my school who are pushing the edges of digital assisted learning. Much of what we do is new for students. In fact, the one colleague who has been my companion with technology integration — Gail Poulin, kindergarten teacher — is retiring this year, which makes me a bit sad, as Gail and I often talked about the role of technology and learning from the early grades in our school to the later grades in our school. I’ll miss those conversations and professional collaborations.
I do try to push the edge in our sixth grade classroom, right from the first days of school, so I was not surprised by the 90 percent figure of students learning something new with technology. And the fact that they indicated the use of Google Docs and Video Game Design as two favorite activities is also unsurprising. I saw that in the classroom on a regular basis.
My preparedness grade
Moving into the more nitty-gritty elements of teaching and learning, I asked students to rate my effectiveness and preparedness as an educator. I was happy to see high numbers in most of the categories, but still think I have work to do to be a better teacher with more engaging activities around writing and literacy.
On the way to meeting expectations
I also gave students an opportunity to give me an overall grade, using the same “standards-based” assessment system that I have to use with them. I would like to see that response in the M (Meeting student expectations of an ELA teacher) grow a bit more, of course, and I wonder about the ones who indicated that I was not meeting expectations (N). Maybe I should have included a text box option, for comments or defense of the grade. Those responses could be outliers (ie, students not taking the survey seriously) or they could be a real perception of a terrible year with me. I hope not.
In their own words
I did leave room for general comments, under the prompt of “What else should Mr. Hodgson know about your year? What can he do to become a better teacher?”
Here are some of the responses from students:
- More creative writing!
- I would like you to know that this year was really fun. You helped me become a better writer and have helped me in areas where I needed help.
- Less open response. More technology.
- Sometimes, you were strict. But you were a good teacher.
- You engaged me with your teaching and let me be myself.
- I had an amazing year in ELA. I have grown so much as a writer and reader.
- I found my voice as a writer this year. I discovered that I love writing comedy pieces.
- Don’t teach Parts of Speech.
- (You) taught me skills and techniques that will stay with me through my academic life.
- I had a fun time in class this year. I had a chance to be creative with writing and reading and technology.
This activity of collecting data and impressions from students has been interesting and illuminating, confirming some of what I already knew and forcing me to ask questions of myself. Next year, I am going to be a better teacher.
Isn’t that always our hope?