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The Right (& Wrong) Ways To Get Student Feedback On Our Teaching

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(This is a bit of a meandering post — Sorry)

As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of having students provide formal written feedback (and oral) on my teaching (see My Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) ). Using this process has helped me make major improvements in my classes.

At the same time, I’ve been very critical of how the Gates Foundation has been pushing the use of student surveys (and videotaped teacher lessons), and then connect the feedback to test results, in order to judge teacher effectiveness. You can read my thoughts about this misuse of excellent professional development tools at:

Gates Foundation Minimizing Great Tools For Helping Teachers Improve Their Craft

Videotaping teachers the right way (not the Gates way)

The Gates MET Project just published the actual questions they use with students (you can find them on pages twelve and thirteen of this PDF). Jeez, students are asked forty questions — it seems more like a standardized test…

The ones that I use — and which are available at my “The Best…” list on the topic along with the summary results — are considerably shorter. Though they include a few similar questions, I also typically include ones specifically about the activities we do in the class and elicit suggestions on how they think I can improve (and how they think they could have helped make the class a better experience, too)– those seem to be omitted in the Gates’ survey.

I also always then use it as an opportunity to teach what community organizers view as the difference between “opinion” — what you think in isolation and “judgment” — what you conclude after discussions with others. I would suggest that our public discourse, and, often, our own private decision-making, is negatively affected by an emphasis on “opinion.” So I have students share with each other what they wrote to see if they want to make any changes while I remain at my desk and am not able to really hear what they are saying. And we usually are able to have a pretty candid class discussion afterwards.

Coincidentally, thanks to Best Practices Weekly, I just read an article about the creators of the student survey instrument being used by Gates, The Tripod Project. They actually sound pretty well-intentioned, though a bit naive:

Ferguson’s hope is that schools and districts can use this data as an improvement tool, and that school and district leaders find ways to make clear to educators that the purpose of such tools is not punitive. Ideally, districts would say, “ ‘We’re not going to judge you or judge what your potential might be based on any measure that we’ve taken today. We will use the measure we took today in order to get a better understanding of what we need to work on,’ ” Ferguson says.

Yeah, right. It doesn’t sound like Gates’ is listening very well. As I wrote last week, here was Randi Weingarten’s reaction to the recent Gates report:

Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers, expressed concern that too much emphasis is being placed on evaluating teachers and not on improving their performance.

“Until we make a commitment to develop evaluation systems that are first and foremost about continuous improvement and professional growth, we will continue to struggle in our efforts to provide every child with a high-quality education,” she said.

I wrote in a piece titled Icarus and School Reform that it almost seems like Gates and their allies are determined to twist and misuse any teaching and learning strategy that has the potential to actually help students, teachers, and families — student surveys, videotaped teachers, social emotional learning, and parent engagement.

It’s like having the opposite of the Midas Touch.

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

I'm a high school teacher in Sacramento, CA.

One Comment

  1. I’m with you on distrusting Gates & Co., but I can’t help but notice a certain irony here. That is, teachers are essentially calling for formative assessment of their own performance in the classroom, as opposed to summarize. I wonder how many of them fail to do the same for their students. (This is not to suggest, by any means, that teachers’ concerns should be dismissed–only that they should take a critical look at their own practice, which should, after all, be the real point of evaluation.)

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