Larry Ferlazzo’s Websites of the Day…

…For Teaching ELL, ESL, & EFL

April 12, 2013
by Larry Ferlazzo
1 Comment

Gates Perspective On Student Surveys Was Bad, But Now It’s Getting Weird

I have posted numerous times about how I use student evaluations in my class, their results, and why I think it’s a terrible idea to connect them to the teacher evaluation process (see The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) ).

And, of course, The Gates Foundation has come out squarely in support of doing just that in their Final MET “Effective Teaching” Report.

Now, however, their recommendations have gone from being bad towards approaching just plain weirdness.

In a piece titled Ask the Students, Thomas Kane, the director of the Gates project, is suggesting that now it’s important to start “aligning the language of the surveys with the language of the teaching standards.”

Yup, this practice, in line with the particularly useless directive that some teachers are given to write the standards that are supposed to be covered that day on the front whiteboard, is really going to give teachers helpful information about their craft. How about this question:

Was your teacher effective in helping you learn to interpret words and phrases as they are used in a text, including determining technical, connotative, and figurative meanings, and analyze how specific word choices shape meaning or tone?

Or how about:

Was your teacher effective in teaching you to integrate and evaluate content presented in diverse media and formats, including visually and quantitatively, as well as in words?

You can see my previous posts about the questions that I think are truly helpful — both to us teachers and to our students….

October 1, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

“What education reformers did with student surveys” Is Clearly A Candidate For Best Educational Policy Post Of The Year

As regular readers know, I’ve been very outspoken in my support and use of student evaluations of teachers as formative assessments and outspoken in my criticism of efforts by the Gates Foundation to incorporate them in formal summative evaluations of teachers (you can see many of my posts on this topic at The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) ).

Today in The Atlantic, Amanda Ripley wrote a feature titled Why Kids Should Grade Teachers, which parrots the typical school reformer line.

Also today, Felix Salmon at Reuters wrote a devastating critique of her article and the whole idea in What education reformers did with student surveys.

It’s clearly a candidate for best educational policy post of the year. Here are some excerpts, but the whole piece is a “must-read”:

….along comes the Gates Foundation with a 36-question survey, severely chopped from a much longer one developed by Ronald Ferguson. Since there are 36 questions, the survey essentially measures teachers along 36 different axes, all of which are aligned with each other to differing degrees. In and of itself, that’s more useful than just measuring test scores, which are much less teacher-specific and which only provide one axis of educational quality.

But then what do the reformers do? They regress the survey answers against test scores, look at which survey questions align most closely with that test-score axis, and declare that those axes — the ones which test scores, by definition, are already measuring — must be the “most important”. Did you think that caring about kids was of paramount importance? Silly you! It turns out that caring about kids isn’t as correlated with test-score results as, say, whether the class learns to correct its mistakes. And therefore, we shouldn’t be worrying as much about whether teachers care about their kids; we should be worrying more about other things, instead. That’s what the test-score regressions tell us, so it must be true!…..

No! Stop! Do none of these people get it? What everybody wants, here, is better teachers. These surveys could be instrumental in helping to improve teaching. Teachers would be able to see where they score well and where they score badly, and ask themselves how to improve their scores in areas where they are weak. Principals could see which teachers were good on which axes, and set classes up so that students ended up with a balanced range of teachers. And generally, everybody could treat this data as an interesting and very rich way of improving educational outcomes.

Instead, reformers are rushing to use this data as a quantitative performance-review tool, something which can get you a raise or which can even get you fired. And by so doing, they’re turning it from something potentially extremely useful, into a bone of contention between teachers and managers, and a metric to be gamed and maximized.

July 12, 2012
by Larry Ferlazzo

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling About This: “Next Up in Teacher Evaluations: Student Surveys”

Education Week Teacher has just published a report titled Next Up in Teacher Evaluations: Student Surveys (Learning First also has a good post on the same topic). It discusses the growing interest in using student survey results as a part of a teacher evaluation process and specifically talks about what’s happening in Pittsburgh. Here is how it ends:

But there was no denying that linking the Tripod results to evaluations is the logical and likely next step for Pittsburgh—and one that a few other places have already taken.

(ADDENDUM: I just remembered I wrote specifically about Tripod surveys earlier this year)

You will find few, if there are any, other teachers who have written as positively and as often about the value of student evaluations (see The Best Posts On Students Evaluating Classes (And Teachers) ). I do them regularly, post results — warts and all — on this blog, voluntarily report them to my colleagues and supervisors, and always learn a great deal from them.

But I’m not convinced that tying them to a formal teacher evaluation is a good idea.

They are great tools for formative assessment (not summative) and can be key ways for me to be data-informed (not data-driven).

Just as formative assessments have been found to be much more effective in supporting student learning than high-stakes summative assessments like standardized tests, the same can hold true for educators.

As I’ve written before, I just don’t understand why “reformers” like the Gates Foundation and others continue to take tools that have incredible potential for teacher development as a formative assessment and destroy their many positive attributes in the name of summative assessment. They’re doing it with videotaping teachers and now they’re doing it with student evaluations.

This is what I’ve written before about how and why I use student surveys:

I want to know more from students than what Gates is asking. I want to know if they think I’m patient and if they believe I care about their lives outside of school. Yes, I certainly want to know what they think I could do better, and I also want to know what they think they could do better. I want to learn if they think their reading habits have changed and, for example, when I’m teaching a history class, are they more interested in learning about history than they were prior to taking the class. I want to find-out what they believe are the most important things they learned in the class and, for many, it might be learning life skills like the fact their brain actually grows when they learn new things or the fact that they had in them the capacity to complete reading a book or writing an essay for the first time in their lives. And, in the discussion that follows (one thing I learned during my nineteen year community organizing career is that a survey’s true use is as a spark for a conversation) we discuss all these things and many more, including the differences between what might be what we like to do best and what we learn the most from.

Just as I don’t believe standardized test scores give an accurate assessment of student learning (though I incorporate it as part of my being “data-informed”), and just as I doubt the value of feedback on a video of my teaching offered by someone a thousand miles away who knows nothing about me or my students, I question how helpful a standardized student evaluation form created by people completely disconnected from my students and me is going to be.

And, though I’m confident that the vast majority of my students will take it seriously and not view it as a grade on whether they were entertained or not (one of the reasons I know this to be the case is because we do a mini-unit on the qualities of a good lesson, and they have to incorporate them in lessons that they teach to their classmates), I’m not confident that this is  the case everywhere.

Do we really need to ratchet up the pressure even more on teachers — many of whom leave within their first five years now?

What do you think?

November 20, 2008
by Larry Ferlazzo

Update On The Best Tools For Surveys & Polls

I rated as the number one site on The Best Sites For Creating Online Polls & Surveys.

At the time, it just had one drawback — you couldn’t restrict the number of times an individual voted.

I just received an email from them announcing several new features to their web application, and that ability to limit multiple answers is one of them.

I’d encourage you to give it a try.

September 19, 2008
by Larry Ferlazzo

Kwik Surveys

Kwik Surveys is a new site to create embeddable online…. surveys.

I haven’t experimented with it enough yet to determine if it deserves being added to The Best Sites For Creating Online Polls & Surveys. I’d be interested in hearing from people who have used or will use it.

The tool does look pretty good to me at first glance.

June 22, 2008
by Larry Ferlazzo

The Best Sites For Creating Online Polls & Surveys

'Quora in 20 minutes' photo (c) 2011, Nicholas Wang - license:

I’m planning to involve readers more in ranking sites for some of my year-end “The Best…” lists, and so thought I would investigate various web applications that allow you to create online polls and surveys. I wasn’t able to find exactly what I was looking for that would work for my purposes but, at the same time, I was able to identify a number of sites that would work great for most teacher or student surveys/polls.

I have students create polls/surveys that they generally do face-to-face, but I expect that they will be making ones that could be used in our international Sister Classes Project — and those would have to be done online. In addition, our mainstream ninth grade English classes might be creating some online polls, too.

The criteria I used in to determine if a site would make this list included that it was:

* accessible to English Language Learners and/or people who are not very computer savvy.

* free-of-charge.

* difficult, if not impossible, to access polls that other users of the site might have made (to minimize the chance of finding inappropriate content for the classroom).

* able to be embedded in a blog or website.

* pretty flexible on restrictions about the number of polls created or the number of people responding to them.

Some, though not all, of the sites that made this list also allow people responding to the poll to provide multiple answers to one question, which was a key criteria in the kind of survey tool I was originally looking to use for engaging readers in helping rank sites in some of my “The Best…” lists. However, none of those had one other key element I needed — the ability to restrict voters from the same IP address. It looks like I’m going to have to pay in order to get that ability, which is not one that the vast majority of teachers or students will need in online polls/surveys they create. However, I wouldn’t be surprised if some site-owners would try to vote multiple times in my reader polls if given a chance, so I would like to make doing that at least a little more difficult.

I’d be interested in hearing people’s suggestions about which “for pay” service would be the best for that purpose.

But, for now, here are my picks for The Best Sites For Creating Online Polls & Surveys:

With Micro Poll, you can ask multiple questions, and people taking the poll can provide multiple answers. You do have to register, but it’s easy to do so.

(Editor’s Note: I’m adding one more online poll/survey application to this list — PollDaddy. Not only is it easy, and has a lot of features the other sites on my list have, it also is one of the few that has a security feature to prevent multiple voting.)

Yarp is a new web tool that very,very easily lets you create a simple online invitation or survey. I’m particularly interested in the survey aspect, and I’m adding it to this list. It has a lot of benefits:  no registration is required; you can quickly type a question in and choosed various responses (a or b; true or false, yes or no); and those who respond can also write their own comments. This is a stand-out application for English Language Learners who want to use a simple survey for an in-class project or, even better, with sister classes in other places.  It provides wonderful and accessible opportunities for reading and writing.

Doodle is another addition. Registration isn’t required, and it’s extremely easy to create a poll that can be embedded in a blog or website or be accessed via its url address.  Participants can leave comments, too. It appears to have been set-up primarily to organize group events, but it can be used as a poll for just about anything. The Make Use of blog has an extensive explanation of how it works, though it’s pretty darn simple.

Flisti is a new and extremely easy application that lets you create a very simple poll. No registration is required, and you can post the link to the poll on a teacher/student website/blog, or embed it there.

Obsurvey is a very flexible and easy web application for making online polls/surveys.

The Answer Garden is an intriguing combination of a survey tool and a word cloud generator. Without requiring any registration, it lets you pose a question to which people can write their own short answers. The answers appear as a word cloud below the question, with the words changing in size based on how often they are used in responses. Responders have the option of writing in their own answer or clicking on one of the words already in the word cloud. The entire “garden” can be embedded in a blog or website, and you can also link to it. The fact that anybody can answer anything to the question without identifying themselves makes it problematic — to say the least — in many school settings. But in certain mature situations, it could be very useful.

SurveyMapper is a tool to create simple surveys. It’s unique twist, though, is that it also shows you a map (of U.S. states or countries in the world) of where the people who answered the question live. Just because it gets “points” for being creative in a crowded field, I’m adding it to this list.

I’m not very impressed with the features that are available for free from Survey Monkey, but that’s the service I use when I have a poll on this site. I need to pay a few bucks, but it makes things easy if you are doing a larger poll.

QuizSnack is a simple tool that is also worth a look.

Kwik Surveys is a new online survey tool.

Zoho has unveiled a nice new survey tool called…Zoho Survey. The free version includes unlimited surveys and up to 15 questions and 150 responses per survey. You can read more about it at TechCrunch. Here’s a video about it:



Riddle looks like an exceptional site that you can use for creating a survey or a quiz.

Poll Deep looks like it has potential…

Use “Opinion Stage” To Create Tests, Polls & Lists

Thanks to reader Fred Armstrong, I learned about Votesy, a free and simple survey tool that lets you ask one text, image or video-based question.

It really does seem super-easy to use, and the polls are embeddable.

As always, feedback is welcome.

If you found this post useful, you might want to consider subscribing to this blog for free.

August 6, 2007
by Larry Ferlazzo

Even More Online Surveys

I’ve posted twice before about using online surveys and polls with English Language Learners as a language development tool — Create an Online Survey/Poll and Another Online Survey Application.

If the ones I listed there and on my website weren’t enough for you, Mashable has just written a post about forty online survey tools.

I’m happy with the ones I’ve already written about, but there might be some gems in Mashable’s list if you get a chance to look through them.

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