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Student Surveys: How to Grow Your Teaching Practice with Candid Feedback

Why Should Teachers Administer a Survey to Students?

Surveys aren’t just for schools and large organizations; they are an excellent way of growing your personal teaching practice. In a matter of minutes, you can get those burning questions answered from your students: Are they getting it? Does this work for my students? Am I spending my time wisely when I prepare my lessons? What am I doing that helps them, and what should I stop doing?

So why give surveys? First, I found the information they yielded to be very valuable! What I learned, I could often put into practice the next day. I would keep track of common themes in student replies, make note of them, and spend time thinking about the outlier comments. It helped me stay on top of trends in my student population, and realize when I had blind spots about their age group or lifestyle.

As a classroom teacher, I made surveys a part of my regular practice. Students grew to appreciate the opportunity to give me honest feedback. I grew my practice by letting go of things that students didn’t like, or activities that weren’t getting me the results for the time I was putting in.

Life-long Learning

Like you, my fellow teachers, I’m also a lifelong learner. As a secondary teacher, my students really appreciated the opportunity and the understanding that learning was a dynamic process, for both adults and for kids. I would share with them that I used their honest feedback from surveys to grow my own teaching practice, that I (like them) was a lifelong learner, and that I always have room to improve. They seemed to appreciate that modeling. If you are ready to give surveys a try, I’m here to help! Here’s some tried-and-true practices of how to create your first survey today, and get student responses before they head into this summer break!

Options for Administering a Survey

Your surveys can be as complex or simple as you like! It’s really up to you – how much time you have to create them, and how much time you want to provide students to take them. The simplest method is to have students take out a half sheet of paper and write their answers to your questions that you perhaps post on the board or post on the projector screen.

To keep things really simple and to minimize questions and maximize their time writing, I like to have students do one of the following: complete a survey that I have pre-printed for them, or have them fill out a digital survey. The second option is very easy, especially in schools where students are one-to-one with computers and devices. I like to create and have students complete a Google Form (this can be shared with them in your Google Classroom, or by creating a short Bitly link). These Forms are fully customizable, with options to have questions be multiple choice, drop-down menus, Likert scales with ratings, or short- or long-answer forms.

Google Forms can easily be duplicated and modified, in case you teach different subjects or want to have versions of the survey. If you want to get really creative, there are survey-creating websites out there such as Survey Monkey. Their free options often have limitations on types of questions or how many you can ask, as well as how many recipients you can have.

What Might You Ask?

Include some of the following questions in your surveys to help grow your practice and solicit honest feedback: About Instruction:

  • What will you remember that you learned in this class?

  • How do you learn best, and did I teach that way? Why or why not?

  • What was the hardest unit (test, lab, subject, etc) for you? Why?

  • What could I have done to make the class more fun?

  • How might I have made it easier for you to learn?

About Me as the Teacher:

  • How are you going to remember me as a teacher?

  • What about my teaching style worked for you?

  • What about my teaching style didn’t work for you?

  • How would you describe me to a younger brother or sister, if they learned I was going to be their teacher?

  • If you were giving me advise as a teacher, what would you say?

About Them:

  • As you look back at this year, what were some of the big events for you?

  • When you think of next year, what worries you?

  • What are you excited about in the next year?

  • What are your top 5 interests (or hobbies or web searches or activities) right now?

  • Who are your 5 favorite bands or musicians?

  • What movies do I HAVE TO see in the next year?

The sky is truly the limit in deciding what questions to ask your unique group of students. Don’t be afraid to ask tough questions–questions that you may not want to know the answers to. Some of my greatest growth has come from asking tough questions, and growing willing to hear the answers.

How Often Should You Provide a Survey?

As a teacher, I always administered a survey when when we were approaching a natural break, or when my class was coming to an end. For example, as a teacher on semesters, I would issue a survey at midterms as well as at the end of each semester. I also had students all year long, so in that case, I would also issue my surveys at the end of the year. As you can imagine, the nature of the questions would change depending on when I issued the survey. During mid-year, I would ask questions about how I could modify my instruction going forward. I would also ask personal questions about students so I could keep my finger on the pulse of their lives. This helped me build relationships with them and get supports in place, when necessary. At the end of the year, I would ask for more global feedback and ideas about how to structure my teaching in a more natural, sequential way.

Now What Do You Do with Results?

Just as a business has to take regular inventory to stay successful, so do teachers! It’s important to me to stay up-to-date and relevant in my teaching strategies, sense of humor, and methods. Now that you’ve committed to giving a survey, and have perhaps written one, what do you do with the results?

Survey results are often a mixed bag. I find that, just as there are students for whom you can do no wrong, there may be others for whom you can do no right! Therefore it’s important to set aside some private time to read the results. I don’t recommend reading the results between classes, or even right before school starts. Wait until a quiet Saturday morning, or when you’ll have some time to process the emotions that may arise out of what you find.

Reflecting on Results

For the consummate professional, we take our work personally and seriously. Reading the results of your surveys can be highly emotional. When you read, it’s often best to just “rip the bandage off” and read through everything once. Then revisit the questions, looking for themes. Did multiple students tell you that you go way too fast in your instruction? Or that you are too thorough and drag units on too long? Did several students thank you for caring about them, asking them how they were feeling, and treating them with respect? Notice what students noticed. It says a lot about who you are, naturally!

After your emotional response settles (which can take a days), I encourage you to ask yourself the questions: What about this can I change? (ex. ensure that my jokes/sarcasm is never pointed at any students; provide test reviews for every unit–not just the final, etc.) What can’t I change? (ex. I have to maintain my scope and sequence, and can’t spend more time on that unit; I can’t do away with the final project, etc.) What am I unwilling to change? (ex. I love Fiesta Fridays and think they motivate most students; I will continue to wear crazy socks when I’m feeling silly, etc.) What do I need to follow up on? (ex. Student A told me that they’re living with their cousin – McKinney Vento services? etc.)

I would also summarize my results and share them with my administrator or coach. Part of my teacher evaluation was based on my self-reflection and flexibility for students. My analysis of the survey results (and what I did to change) was evidence around those two elements of my teacher evaluation. I also appreciated hearing my administrator’s feedback and celebrating with them what was working well in my classroom.

If you don’t feel as though you can share the results from your surveys with your administrator, consider sharing them with a colleague. It’s great to have someone to bounce your thoughts off of, and perhaps they will administer a survey, too! You can team together in this process of discovery!

Are student surveys part of your teaching practice already? Share with us in the Comments!

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