Student Reflections Can Impact Future Planning

A MiddleWeb Blog

For me, there’s a very distinct feeling to the end of the school year. It is palpable.

Somehow, knowing that I’m going to have a tremendous purge of no longer useful materials has caused me to become a hoarder.

Piles of paper seem to multiply, even though my classroom has become almost entirely paperless! Among them are fliers for a zillion activities my students may now never encounter.

Here in upstate New York, where school extends far into June, it is hot. Teachers compare high room temps and swear we’ll do something about it, but someone always mentions that if we had air conditioning, year-round school would follow.

The emotional roller coaster is crashing down from the pinnacle that was our 8th grade field trip and final middle school dance. There are tears from the girls and bravado from the boys, and a few exceptions to this stereotype that always make me smile. Watch an 8th grade boy get teary eyed when he is leaving your room for the last time, and your heart melts.

Next year? Already?

The last thing I want to do right now is to think about next year. More specifically, the last thing I want to do is reflect (rehash?!) this past year in order to prepare for the next.

Don’t get me wrong – I’ve had a great year. I wrote my second book, this time about Social Emotional Learning in a Flexible Classroom (which will be out this fall). It’s a follow up to 2016’s The Flexible ELA Classroom: Tools for Differentiation 4-8. My students had a good year too, and I know they learned so much, as we’ve just completed our Passion Projects, which you can check out on my website.

I kind of just want to wave goodbye, sniffle a little, and head to the lake. However, as I learned when I was pursuing my National Board certification, reflecting is crucial to grow as an accomplished teacher. (If the four letters NBCT even spark a tad of interest, pursue it!

My students help me reflect via a survey

One way to spur reflection is to look at how my students view their year in my classroom. The best way I’ve found to gather data from my students and families is Survey Monkey.

You can check out the total results of this year’s survey here (including a few kiddos whose advice to me about what to do next year is “quit teaching”). It is very important to know that we can’t be everyone’s favorite and know that results will provide contradictory responses like “do more projects” and “stop doing projects.”

This year I added two new units, The Credo and The Outsiders, so I asked students to rank the major units we did this year (each involving an extensive writing piece and presentation). Here’s what I learned:

I can’t tell you how happy it makes me that the Passion Projects, my biggest, most time-consuming, stressful, yet independent and amazing unit, had 43.62% of the vote for #1 unit.

The Passion Projects require me to be a facilitator to my students, an obstacle mover, and party planner, as this is the largest presentation of the year, and more administrators and parents attend than for any other. Over the course of the year, 167 family members visited my classroom, and 51 of those were for the Passion Projects. A little validation now and then can do a teacher good!

I’m also super excited that my other three major projects scored almost the same in terms of #1 choices, hovering around 15% of each. Not surprisingly, the Short Story Unit came in last with the fewest number of #1 votes, and the most #5 votes.

This is the most important piece of data from the survey, and I’m already scheming to come up with an amazing-over-the-top plan for the short story unit. I have the idea. I’m not quite ready to share yet, but I’m fairly confident that it will upset the rankings.

Obviously, this is all pseudo-science at best, but the information is really motivating as I start to think about next year.

How do you gather information about your students? Do you like platforms like Survey Monkey, or do you have another secret? I’d love to hear what you do to help you be a more reflective teacher. Tell us about it in the comments.

Amber Chandler

Amber Chandler is a National Board Certified middle school teacher and the author of The Flexible ELA Classroom. She is an adjunct professor at Canisius College where she teaches “Differentiating Instruction.” Amber blogs regularly for ShareMyLesson and Getting Smart, contributes to AMLE Magazine, and provides NBCT candidate support for the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards. She is inspired by project-based learning and is the recipient of a Novo Foundation grant to make a documentary about her students’ journey in creating a positive online identity. Follow Amber on Twitter @MsAmberChandler and join her website http://doyoudifferentiate.com for practical tips and resources.

4 Responses

  1. Marilyn Yung says:

    Haven’t done a reflection survey… yet. Since I teach at a very small school, we just talk and share ideas. It’s a fun thing to think back on all we learned/accomplished/endured! It’s also great for planning for the next year. Loved this post!

  2. Thanks so much! It is always great to reflect after we “make it” through a year :)

  3. Sheila says:

    Amber: Fantastic post! I would love to get in touch to learn more about how to do a Passion Project unit with my 8th graders next year! (and hear how you’re thinking as you re-design the short story unit to better engage. I’m working to learn how to better differentiate in my room, so I’d love to connect with you…

  4. Thanks Sheila! I’d love to connect. You can subscribe to my website flexibleclass.com for all my updates, email me directly at amberrainchandler@gmail.com, and take a look at my materials by looking me up in ShareMyLesson.com Also, the Passion Project is in my book, The Flexible ELA Classroom, which is on the Routledge website or Amazon.com. Shoot me an email and let’s talk. I love working with other educators!

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