Students from the WNY Young Writer’s Studio, assessing me in 2011.
I was fortunate to have incredible mentors as a pre-service teacher, and as I was finishing my final student teaching placement, one of them taught something no one else ever has: the importance of student feedback.
As I recall, we were wrapping up our study of J.R.R. Tolkien in 8th grade, and I was exhausted. I’d spent the previous weekend in bed with bronchitis, swearing over a stack of portfolios that had already taken me weeks to review. I knew nothing about managing my paper load then, I was staring down the week ahead with nary a lesson planned, and my raging fever had me convinced that it was time to declare a new major.
“We’re graduating in six weeks,” my housemate reminded me without missing a beat. “Take your antibiotics. Take a shower. Get a grip. You’re doing fine.”
I didn’t feel fine. I felt like a failure, because I didn’t know then what I know now.
With experience comes wisdom, and I know now that good teachers rarely feel fine about what they’re doing. They’re constantly questioning themselves and their work. They’re rarely satisfied.
I know that this is a good thing. But back then? Well, let’s just say that I was hardly stable enough to appreciate my supervising teacher’s advice when I returned to my placement the following Monday.
“You know what you should do now that the unit is over?” she beamed at me, and I almost began resenting her enthusiasm for our profession. “You should ask the students to assess you. Their feedback will be invaluable.”
I nodded, but said nothing. I was afraid that if I spoke, my breakfast would come up.
I followed her advice though, and I didn’t regret it. These students provided me much perspective. I realized that I wasn’t failing them. I also learned a bit about what mattered to them most, and this actually helped me refine the feedback I was providing on their portfolios.
I found their assessments a few weeks back, as I was digging through old files. Reading them over twenty years later was enlightening. So much so that I tacked a few of them onto the inspiration board next to my desk.
I wonder if they knew what a difference their words made back then and the difference they’ll continue to make today.
I wonder if they know that I still ask the students I work with to assess me often, using very similar questions. Perhaps you’ll appreciate them too.
Invite Your Students to Assess You by Asking These Seven Questions:
- What needs and interests did I help you address this year?
- Where did I miss the mark, and why do you think this happened?
- What were your best learning experiences this year, and what role did I play in creating or supporting them?
- What do you wish we had more time to learn?
- What type of learner would do best in my class and why?
- What type of learner would struggle in my class and why?
- When you’re fifty years old, what will you remember about our time together? What will stick with you?
There are so many other questions I could have asked, depending on what I hoped to learn from them. For instance, sometimes I’m eager to know how they feel about their relationships with other students in the class. At other times, I find myself wondering if we share the same perspective about which learning has been most important. The answer is often no.
Do you ask your students to provide you feedback at certain points during the year? How do you approach this? What have you learned?
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A former English teacher, Angela Stockman is the founder of the WNY Young Writer's Studio, a community of writers and teachers of writing in Buffalo, New York. She is also an education consultant with expertise in curriculum design, instructional coaching, and assessment. Read more from Angela at Angelastockman.com.