Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Survey your students

Spring Break Questionnaire 2012:

I believe in the importance of feedback, whether it's:
  1. Customer feedback regarding a product
  2. Feedback about a restaurant, their food, service, cleanliness, etc.
  3. Feedback from colleagues, administrators, students in your class or 
  4. The feedback Jimi Hendrix produced wailing on guitar (that's definitely a topic for another day).
I gave my students this questionnaire last week, right before we went to Spring Break:

The feedback I received from my students is invaluable. My favorites were:

  1. A student that responded to question 5 and a difficult concept: "I need more space, there were too many."
  2. A high percentage of students used the same verbiage for question 6 regarding the warm-up: "It helps get my brain ready for math and I like the second question because it's fun."

So here's the how, why, and when I do questionnaires.

Keep it simple. Type up a one page questionnaire your students can finish in about 5-8 minutes. Give it to them on the first day of school or at the end of a short test or quiz. Give your students the premise, don't just throw it at them. Tell them their feedback is important to you (because it is). Explain that their honesty and constructive feedback helps you (the teacher) help them (the students). Again, tell them again that their input is important to you (because it is).

I don't feel much explanation is necessary here as we could come up with a million reasons, but hopefully the reasons are instinctive, logical, genuine, and simple.

Questionnaires allow student's to take the initial step in the ownership of their learning. They see that you are open and willing to make their learning experience rich, rewarding, and reflective of their interests.  They see that you care. Students can possibly gain a better sense of appreciation for your hard work, but this shouldn't be your main objective. If they see you working hard to meet their expectations, then maybe it will rub off on their work habits in your class and pay dividends towards your expectations of them.

The students (your customer) can give you a perspective that you might miss. They might remember something they enjoy in another teacher's class and want to share it with you. Don't take it as a slight. Take it as a Professional Development opportunity. I'm not saying the students dictate the curriculum, daily agenda, or always know best about their learning behaviors, but their input and perspective keeps you connected and in tune to what they are thinking. Simply put, how does your customer feel about the product you are selling? What can you do to enhance your product and better appeal to your customer base?

This a great opportunity to teach your students that constructive feedback is a life skill that benefits from some etiquette. The questionnaire is not a 'comments' section they can anonymously fill out online, bashing the subject or person while they sit in front of a computer screen. Students are given the opportunity to provide words, explanations, and reasons that are constructive, diplomatic, and appropriate. It's a great opportunity for a teacher to teach a life skill... embrace it.

Don't wait until the end of the school year. IT'S TOO LATE. I always found the rating forms at the end of a college course or graduate class pointless. Why ask me after the fact, especially if the instructor was terrible? How do my classmates and I benefit from taking the survey at the end? How come we didn't benefit from a survey given to this instructor's last class? I digress... However, it's important to me that I survey my students frequently. So when do I poll them for their feedback?


Don't abuse questionnaires. Students will see them more as a task instead of an opportunity to provide meaningful feedback. Don't overuse: 4 times max.
Beginning of the year
It allows you an opportunity to find out information, fun facts, learning styles, and their attitude towards your subject area. What a great way to immediately make connections with your students. Use questions that encourage detailed answers. Avoid 'yes' or 'no' questions. Hey, you're gonna spend the next 180 school days together, don't you want to make a connection with your students immediately that will catapult you together into the subject area you teach? Lastly, ask them what is something they would like to know about you...

Before Winter Break
By this time you have been using various techniques, strategies, learning activities, and have gotten to know the make up of your classes. The newness of the school year has definitely worn off and it's time you get some feedback from your students. Use Winter Break to evaluate their responses and give yourself some New Year's resolutions and an action plan upon your return in January. Your response is pivotal. Return in January reminding them what they did, some common threads, and your action plan. It's imperative you follow through with your plan, or you subject yourself to losing your customers...

Before Spring Break
Spring cleaning, right? It might be time for you to utilize some fresh ideas/activities or maybe trash some that are just ineffective. Maybe there's some concepts you need to reteach before those lovely standardized tests arrive. Use Spring Break to prepare some improved ways of reaching your kids. They're older now. They've seen your best and your worst. Give them something fresh upon their return. Maybe this is where you bring out some 'secret weapons' or some awesome activities you found from a colleague on Twitter,, Teaching Channel, a blog, etc. Do something so both you and your students have something to look forward to as you close the school year. Trust me, by this time, your students will feel comfortable enough to tell you what they like/dislike, and how effective/ineffective activities have been in your class. Plus, if you followed through on your January action plan, they trust you will respond equivalently. 

At the end of the year
This isn't one where you just do it as a formality. You have spent 180 days with your students and hopefully have left a positive impact on their life by now. Hopefully they returned the favor. If you're always looking to improve and be a better teacher, this is your opportunity to take the good with the bad so you can better prepare for next year. I know by this time you are looking forward to summer and the last thing you want to do is think about next year, but it will be here before you know it and guess what? Your current students will help you prepare to have an even better and stronger year next year. Yes, your students might be brutally honest on the final questionnaire because they may never see you again, but take off the rose-colored glasses. It might hurt at first, but it can only make you stronger (sticks and stones..., right?). Take the summer to find ways to better connect with that 'one' student who will be in your class again next year. Decompress over the summer, but keep in mind that your former students have given you a valuable gift. They're feedback, their insight and their words are teaching you now. They have left you with a lesson. Think about it, we expect our students to learn from their mistakes, to take chances, be lifelong learners, and always strive to do their best. Expect that of yourself too. Take their feedback and give back. 

Good luck,


  1. A questionnaire is a good idea. I have a couple of other tips:

    - Ask questions about how effective your teaching is that are more general. You have some specific questions related to your teaching style, but every once in a while the "what do you think Mr. Stadel can do to improve" question hits a home run with a student and you get some useful feedback.

    - What specific topic have you found confusing? What did you find easy? (These questions you should attempt to match against whatever measures of student performance you are using).

    1. I agree, asking "what do you think Mr. Stadel can do to improve" clearly strikes a better connection with the students. A follow up to your second bullet could ask "What needs to change so the information, concept, lesson has more clarity?"
      Thanks for the feedback and suggestion.