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Listening to My Students

January 23, 2007 by Dustin Swanson · 4 Comments · reflections

For several years I have used a Course Evaluation with my grade 10 to 12 students. The form, although far from being statistically sound, has been very valuable and has greatly influenced my practice. By listenting to my students and allowing them to provide honest and critical feedback I know I’m building better relationships with my students and also improving my practice. I primary concern for me has always been trying to meaningfully engage my students – the evaluation has been a window into how I can do that.

When I first used this form with students I was very nervous…what if they tell me that I’m the worst teacher ever or tell me I’m weak at what I perceive are my strengths? In truth, some of my early feedback was very critical and required me to reflect seriously about how I organize and instruct. However, over the years I’ve come to look forward to the exercise. In fact, in some classes I do the evaulation at the half way point so there is time to make changes. What I have learned over the years is that students (at least those I’ve taught) want some flexibility in the learning through assignment choice and options to work collaboratively. They also like ownership in the classroom and want input into how the class is organized. For example, students decided that as a motivator to work hard all week that if they were to cover a weeks worth of content that on Fridays we could study “fun” topics such as video editing, graphic design, or game programming. The best comment I’ve ever received was that students look forward to my class … on Sunday nights.

Now, granted I teach in an an elective area so it’s likely the students are more motivated due to the fact they chose to take the class. However, could this work in core classrooms? I do believe that by giving students a chance to have a voice in the class and an influence on how it operates schools can improve student engagement. Anyone out there had experience with this? I’d love to hear from you.

4 Comments so far ↓

  • sunnywilliams

    As a system, we talk about knowing we are providing students with engaging work when middle and high school students want to come to school if they are sick or if their parents want to take them out for a trip. When that age student is gets excited about coming to school, we know we are on the right track. Our system works very closely with the Schlechty Centerfor Leadership in School Reform They have found 10 design qualities that when built into lessons make the lesson more engaging. This link has a great explanation of the design qualities.
    We are struggling with the process of change as we implement these into our schools and are fighting the “but we’ve been good for so long” attitudes. It’s coming, but it sure is slow.

  • Elona

    Giving students in a core class a chance to have a voice in the class and an influence on how it operates schools would work even better. Remember, these kids have to take the core class whether they want to or not so what you do in your class is great.. Kids respond well if they can have some say in what goes on in the class. We have class discussions where we negotiate assignments, rubrics, etc. As long as what we do get’s the job done, it’s OK with me. I teach at-risk, “tough” kids and it works for me.

  • Teachers At Risk » It’s Deja View Over Again

    [...] Reflecting Back (Can you say reflecting back, or is that redundant?) Today I was reflecting upon the past semester and what worked well and what could have worked better. In all the hurly-burly of the last day of classes, I forgot to ask my students to give me my report card on how I did as a teacher. Mind you my group of kids don’t hesitate to tell me what they like or don’t like and that’s ok with me because as long as we get the job done I don’t really care how we do it. I’m open to suggestions if they don’t like my suggestion. I just tell them what the outcome has to be, how we get there is open to discussion. The only stipulation is that we get there. I like Dustin’s philosophy for managing his classroom and his Course Evaluation Handout, too. It would give valuable feedback. In fact, I like it better than the one I was using. Thanks for sharing, Dustin. Behaviour Management Blogging Computers in the Classroom Evaluation The Way I See It Uncategorized Useful Handouts Well BeingPopularity: 1% [?]LicenseThis work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 License. [...]

  • Dustin Swanson

    Thanks for the link Sunny. I especially like the design qualities – they make it possible to articulate what is necessary to help students become more engaged. I’ve posted them in my office :)

    Also, thanks for the compliment Elona – It sounds like you have some wonderful discussions with your students. I’m looking forward to reading more of your blog.

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