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How My U.S. History Students Evaluated Me This Semester

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As regular readers know, I have students anonymously evaluate the class, my teaching, and reflect on their own contributions at the end of each semester. In addition to sharing in writing, students discuss their thoughts with each other and we also have a class discussion. I find this process incredibly rich — for both students and for me — and that’s just one reason I am frustrated with the Gates Foundation warped use of student evaluations (blog posts reporting on my previous evaluations and sharing my more detailed critiques of the Gates Foundation use of them can be found at My Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) ).

I always share the results of these evaluations with my administrators and colleagues, and in this blog — warts and all. Student know I do this, and I believe it helps them see that I take their comments seriously. I also think it’s a good model for them to see the importance of hearing critique.

Our semester ends this week, and this post is the first in a series of three I’ll be writing about the evaluations students have completed. I’m starting with my two United States History classes. One class (First Period) is composed of intermediate English Language Learners and the other (Fifth Period) is a combined Intermediate and Beginning ELL class.

I’m going to highlight several (thought not all) key questions, student responses, and my reflections. You can download a copy of the form I used here.

Did you like this class?

In first period (only Intermediates), everyone said “It was great” except for a few who said “It was good.” In my fifth period class (the one that combines Intermediates and Beginners), one third said “It was great,” one-third said “It was good,” and most of the rest said “It was okay.”

These responses are  reflective of the responses to several key questions. First period is incredibly positive, while fifth period, though generally positive, is more mixed. Fifth period is a bigger class, and I have to differentiate more since it’s a combination of Beginners and Intermediates. This answer, combined with a few others, leads me to believe that I might tend to not differentiate enough for the higher-English level students, and might need to be more conscious of that issue.

Did this class make you want to learn more about U.S. History on your own?

Here, both classes did seem to agree — with only a couple of exceptions, half of each class chose “Yes, I’m very interested in learning more” and the other half chose “Yes, I’m interested in learning more.”

In many ways, I think this is the most important question on the survey and, perhaps the most critical result of the class (of course, it’s a question that you won’t find on any standardized test). I’m interested, and our school culture is interested, in creating life-long learners.

Do you feel you improved your ability to understand spoken English in this class?

Both classes had similar positive responses to having improved their ability to read, write and speak English, but the fifth period class, though positives, was not as positive as first period about having improved their ability to understand spoken English.

This reinforces something I’ve been thinking about — even though I have a lot of small group, I’m thinking that I should consider incorporating a little more time for whole class discussions where I can model and re-state what students contribute. In addition, a few more short Read Alouds wouldn’t hurt, either.

Was this class hard for you?

Most students in both classes said “It was hard, but not too hard,” though a bigger portion of students in fifth period said “It was pretty easy.” These responses, I think, again point to a need for me to do a better job differentiating for students with a higher-level of English.

How would you rate Mr. Ferlazzo as a teacher?

In first period, two-thirds gave me an “A” and one-third gave me a “B.”  In fifth period, it was  a similar percentage, though I did get one response for each of the lower grades, too.

Did you like using the computers in this class?  and Did you feel like the computers helped you learn more?

Both classes were very enthusiastic about using the computers (we use them once a week and you can see our class blog here) and liked them and learned from them. However, a good fourth of each class felt like it didn’t help them learn a lot more. This is a similar result to a year-long experiment I did a few years ago, and could point to my needing to think more carefully about how I can maximize tech’s effectiveness. Of course, it could also point out tech’s limitations, too.

How often did you try your best in this class?

Three-quarters of the students in First Period said they tried their best “most of the time” and one-third said “some of the time.”  In Fifth Period, it was evenly divided.  No one in either class picked a different response.

Again, even though they are both relatively positive, I think the same issue arises in Fifth Period.  I definitely need to have some one-on-one conversations with the higher-level (in their language ability) students to see if my analysis is correct — prior to having a class discussion.  I also am going to do some lessons on grit and perseverance, and see if that can help move that percentage up a bit.

There you have it….

I’m all ears if people have other ideas on how to analyze these results or ideas on how to improve the survey. And, of course, feel free to share the results of your own student surveys!

Next up — my IB Theory of Knowledge class….

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Author: Larry Ferlazzo

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

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