As I write this, I’m finishing up the school year.
The last exam is written, and I’m marking the last dregs of the deadline hugging academic daredevils. Report cards are in various stages of completion. Graduation celebrations are in full swing. I’m getting my family ready to travel halfway across the country in our annual pilgrimage home.
The end of the year is a special time. I look at the last few weeks as special opportunities to give students opportunities to show what they can do for the last time in the course. The wonderful thing about this is how many take this to heart. There is no greater feeling than marking an essay that not only exemplifies what you asked them to do, but actually exceeds your expectations. I’m kind of an analog guy, and I write notes about the assignments on my marking sheets. Without prompting, or discussing it with me, three different students added elements to an essay that I had them write, adding depth to the assignment. I’m hitting my notebook later with those suggestions, and that piece will be stronger next year.
The last few years, I’ve forgone any kind of formal reflection or feedback piece from my students. There have been a couple of reasons for this. I guess I ran into a few classes in a row where the responses were best summed up in one pithy, “Why are you asking us how the course could have been taught differently? It’s your job to plan it dude.” It seemed like at this point of the course, many students weren’t in the most reflective place. There were a lot of lists of products they liked, claims to have learned a few skills, and a general complimentary vibe. Like so many feedback opportunities, it was taken as a thing they had to do to be done, but not really worth investing the time.
I was reflecting on this this week, as I marked. In procrastination, I went walkabout in my room, and visited some colleagues. They were sharing their feedback forms, and had much the same result that I’ve had in the past, stock responses with a few gems peppered throughout. With others, I discussed projects and materials we had planned together, and how students responded, as well as performed.
Upon reflection, I feel as if the way that a handful of my students just did what they saw was necessary reflects a more organic feedback model. See, I work to encourage this kind of spirit, this intentional way of working to improve things. I try to be open and purposeful as we work, explaining what we’re doing and why. I’m open to questions and feedback. Sometimes, our work evolves as we’re doing it. Other times, we work to understand why I’m being rigid on something, from a pedagogical or metacognitive stance.
See, I don’t ask for feedback at the end anymore because I want it to be a regular part of doing business in my room. I tell students that I believe that their education is something that should be done with them, not to them. They are active participants in what happens in our room, and not just jumping through the hoops that I set up for them. The goal is learning, and we work towards that goal as a community. As I expect them to be using their strengths, and working to do their best, I must do the same. As a result, we talk a lot while we’re working. That talk is where I draw my feedback from, our discussion of the work and ideas we’re dealing with. We reflect frequently, as we’re in the midst of things, and as we finish them.
I like that a lot better.
What is your model for getting feedback from your students? What is the value of their feedback to you? What’s your system for keeping track of that feedback?