As regular readers know, I’m a big fan of having students evaluate me and our classes each quarter or semester. I share the results publicly — warts and all — here on my blog, and you can see them at The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers).
I’m a little behind on publishing results from our first quarter. However, Massachusetts teacher Jessica Haralson told me that she had been inspired by my posts to do the same with her class. Here’s her guest post about what happened:
Last year, Massachusetts’ DESE piloted an evaluation tool, asking students to “graded” their teachers. While there are pros and cons to the idea, I saw an opportunity. Why not adapt this for my English language learners?
As a fan of creating a climate of two-way respect – and a fan of Larry Ferlazzo’s – I modified the surveys Larry Ferlazzo regularly gives his students. Our first school quarter ended this week; I administered the survey on a Friday after students evaluated themselves. With some tweaks fitting the context of my school, I made a survey very similar to Larry’s. (You can see the form I adapted here.)
When I told people about this idea, the response was universal: “You’re so brave.” “I could never do that.” “Aren’t they all going to give you bad grades to vent?” Some were even more concerned. (One teacher proposed I get a mental health evaluation.)
I, too, feared my students might use this opportunity for an ego-shattering pile-on . However, my students were honest. They were positive, but pointed out blind spots. I took these results with a growth mindset.
(Some context. I teach two double-block ESL courses [and one sheltered English instruction history course; I will be giving them a similar survey later in the year.] I am fortunate to have small class sizes; responses totaled 33 out of a total of 37 ESL 3 students. The ESL 3 2-3 block and 4-5 block both compromise intermediate ELLs, but the “personalities” of each class couldn’t be more different. My 2-3 block is younger, rowdier, and I tend to lose patience with them more; they need more instructional support to complete writing activities. The 4-5 class tends to be older and quieter, but needs to be “pushed” to verbally participate and do effective collaborative learning work.)
Here are the results, with raw data available here:
It felt good to see this. Only one student said they learned “a little” – and this was in my “rowdier” class.
I was glad to see independent reading was so popular, as I completely revamped my independent reading library this year and “pushed” free reading intensely at the start of the quarter. Additionally, it was surprising how popular learning vocabulary was. Students seemed indifferent about our vocabulary study sections of class, so that was an interesting twist.
It’s dismaying to see that presenting is so universally unpopular, with writing a close second. I interpret both results as reflecting the “difficulty” of the endeavor – presenting (producing speech) and writing (producing the written word) are cognitively more difficult than reading and listening. I could also be doing a bad job “selling” the value of presentations – or need to adapt the presentation assignments in my class so they are less daunting.
This was a bit of a surprise; I perceived that students found vocabulary activities “boring.” I was even reflecting on changing or removing vocabulary study in the class! I’ll need to ask students more what they mean when they say they learn the most from vocabulary – do they want to learn more words, do more “word studies” (learning about roots, prefixes, suffixes, etc?) Or something else? Need to ask them. I’m glad to see that students perceive the gains they are getting from our independent reading program. A not-so-small part of me feared they would pan it.
This was by far the biggest surprise. I think my two biggest weaknesses are patience and organization – and these grades reflect that perception. However, students identified a bigger weakness that wasn’t even on my radar – perceived “caring.” While I got more “As” than not on these traits, the spread in “Caring” is the widest out of each factor.
This could mean a lot of things. Am I playing “favorites”? (Possible.) Am I not doing enough to individually check in with students and ask them about their lives? (Very possible.) Should I be doing more to communicate with students besides verbal check-ins – writing notes of praise, for instance? (Most definitely.) This was a total blind spot for me – I know I care about my students! – but this shows I’m not doing enough to show it.
This exercise will change my practice. Next week, I plan to share these results with students, inviting them to clarify responses in writing or after school as appropriate, and with interested administrators. This has given me some focus points for quarter 2: (1) revamp presentations, (2) expand vocabulary instruction, and (3) work on demonstrating caring.
All in all, this was a valuable exercise, and I’ll definitely be inviting students to do it again. Thank you, Larry, for opening your classroom so we can open up ours.
(About the author: Jessica Haralson is a second-year ESL educator teaching at an urban public school in the greater Boston area. She credits Larry Ferlazzo’s ELL Teachers’ Survival Guide with carrying her through her first year, and she’d love to hear from you at firstname.lastname@example.org) )