Within the past two months I have heard more and more conversation regarding the use of student feedback within teacher evaluation systems. As with many teacher evaluation topics there are supporters and skeptics. An argument by supporters is that student feedback may be more reliable and effective than traditional administrator-based systems. In part, this comes from studies like the MET Project where survey tools like the Tripod Student Perception Survey have shown strong correlations between student opinions about classroom life and effective teaching. Skeptics, such as teachers I talk with, bring up excellent questions about the way that student feedback would be solicited: one time survey, random basis, etc. They also want to know how data will be analyzed in terms of classroom dynamics: behavior problems or classroom placement decisions. These differing opinions do not diminish the fact that supporters and skeptics agree on one point: student feedback is important. For me, the question is what manageable practice within my classroom can help me obtain valuable student feedback?
Recently I took part in a short, 30 minute professional development session on constructive feedback. The presentation was based on the work of Liz Lerman and her Critical Response Process (CRP): a feedback system based on the principle that the best possible outcome from feedback is for “the maker to want to go back to work”. Throughout the presentation I found my mind wandering back to times when my attempts at student feedback fell short. Whether it was exit tickets or student self-assessment of a learning goal or scale, my final conclusion was that in many ways my past feedback attempts were well intentioned but inconsistent (or ineffective). What I was forgetting is that student feedback is a two-way street. Or, when looking at Lerman’s process it is important that “the maker” is teacher and student. I realized that for me feedback should inform my instructional process: materials, instructional flow, timing, questioning, etc. A simple question or rating response doesn’t tell me enough. For my students, the process should let them access their engagement and content understanding of my lesson. If the goal is to differentiate learning experiences then feedback has to address the effectiveness of differentiation. This is the beauty of Lerman’s response process – it is simple, informative and addresses the needs of all “makers”.
Lerman’s method was developed to provide feedback to dance students and has been extended to a number of other professions including education. Based on the following four simple steps, the shared feedback process makes lesson closure an informative experience.
- Ask student’s for a “sound bite” – one word that is structured as a positive affirmation of the lesson (e.g. engaging, important, interesting, etc.). This is also an excellent opportunity to build vocabulary. Additionally, any student can “pass” which creates a sense of safety in terms of participation.
- Address possible confusion points – what I see as the task of “noticing” by the teacher. I often consider these the “uncomfortable” parts of my lesson where I notice students having confused looks. While the temptation may be to “skip over” these situations, instead get them on the table for discussion. This is an excellent time to list these points for students to consider in step 3, and to acknowledge that it is perfectly acceptable to still “be in the dark”.
- List any questions from students. This is the time to ask students who passed in step 1 to share their questions. Many of these questions may relate to confusion points, but the important thing is that students are sharing.
- Solicit suggestions in response to questions. This is the time to get everyone involved. Students should be actively responding to other students along with the teacher. The goal would be a Socratic dialogue that resolves confusion points. Any items left on the list are points for the next lesson.
If a goal of student feedback is to improve the instructional process and classroom environment, then doing so in a collaborative fashion may yield the greatest benefits. Once mastered, this process may then be considered as evaluative.