02 January 2015

Giving Student Opinion Surveys: Data-Driven SELF Evaluation and Reflection

Being a reflective teacher isn't only about writing - you need to give yourself some data to write ABOUT.

I know that "data-driven evaluation" gets a lot of action from talking heads on any conversation about school reform, and good intentioned teachers and administrators argue both for and against using surveys as evaluative tools for teacher-effectiveness.

I don't exactly know how I stand about student surveys and test data being used on my official tenured evaluation, but I AM here to speak in favor of student surveys for YOUR OWN data and uses. 

I've given a paper or electronic form of this survey for every (nearly) every semester I've taught (I may have missed one out of my 7 years, back when I was still administering them by hand.) Back when the students took the survey on paper (before I had a class set of iPads), they were good to take a glance at, file them away, and make mental notes. I never did anything more with them because as I've written before, entering paper-based data into spreadsheets IS AWFUL.

If you really want to make the time it takes giving this survey to your students worth it, find a way to do it electronically (or make it short enough that you CAN reasonably transcribe the results) so that you can archive the results and analysis trends. 

I was anxious to analyze these results at the end of the semester because when last spring my results were NOT good. They were still acceptable with my AP Stats kids (my students who can "play" the school game the best), but for my other, lower-level courses, the results were disheartening. Nearly every quantitative question was as low I could remember it, and many of the open-ended responses said things like, "argues too much," and "too sarcastic." I went back further through past semesters' results and noticed a trend developing. This was not the teacher I wanted to be. I did a lot of introspection over the summer of how I viewed my role as teacher, re-examined some of my classroom policies, and (no matter what my official professional development plan says) made a goal to have a classroom where kids were comfortable and their teacher was an ally instead of an adversary.

The open ended questions further down this spreadsheet for this semester were very positive and several Algebra 1 kids said they would "recommend his class" (which I can't really remember ever happening on this survey), and that they were going to miss my class.

That makes me feel really good, but because I also have these quantitative numbers to go with that, I know in part their positive responses were because I was 58% more in control of class, was able to give 38% more individual attention, provided a 38% more relaxed atmosphere, and gave 14% more relevant work.

"Why are all those numbers important?"

I can hear you thinking right now.
"I was IN the room, Chuck. I know how my semester went. I know what things I did. I know how good I am. I even keep a journal. What good to me is this extra work?"
The value of doing this is that getting your students' opinions and reflecting on THAT will give you information you cannot gather on your own. When I was reflecting only on my perception of how this crazy, #Ferguson distracted semester went, I was feeling quite discouraged. Yes, some kids will use the surveys as a means to vent all of their frustrations (and that's of some use, too, I think. Even just this semester, I got a "can you fire this teacher" response), and some will use it to sugarcoat everything, but through my years of experience looking at my own survey results, I can tell you with confidence that your students will just tell the truth.

How do I get started?
You've got two options:

  1. Make copies of the PDF and have students fill out with pen/pencil (how I started)
    1. Pros: 
      1. not reliant on technology
      2. students don't have to type
    2. Cons: 
      1. analysis more difficult, particularly over several semesters
      2. "I forgot to make copies"/"I ran out of copies"
  2. Use the PDF above as a guide and create your own Google Form (how I do it now)
    1. Pros:
      1. No paper to copy/keep track of
      2. Analyzing/observing trends over time
    2. Cons:
      1. some of my students struggle with persevering through typing the open-ended questions on the iPad

One last note on administering the Google Form:
For the first couple of years, I embedded my Form on a Google site that I often used for class notes or our benchmarking bubble sheet (because I hate scantrons). This year I tried sending my students directly to the form via a shortened link (bitly.com/cbakersurvey), and I had fewer "Where is the survey?" "How do I get to it?" type questions.

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Thanks for sharing!