by Jane Healey, A Teacher Trying Harder To Listen
“The single most important thing I learned in this class is that I don’t have to have tons of homework to learn a lot.”
Mid-year or more frequently, I ask students to complete an evaluation form. I craft the questions carefully so simple answers are hard to write. Instead, I try to create specific, complex questions that cover the material, the classroom activities and the students—peers and the individual.
Many teachers shake their heads and avoid these exercises. They scoff that students would actually take the forms seriously or that the students will say anything useful. But I find the nature of the questions often elicits a straight answer—short, but helpful.
“I learned that research can be about a topic I’m interested in and other people might want to know about it, too.”
One strategy I depend on is formulating inquiries specific to a task. For example, when report cards are coming out, I often ask students to write a comment for an exemplary peer. I get fabulous point-of-view descriptions I couldn’t write myself.
Recently, a student wrote, “Rob really surprised me. He’s usually so quiet in classes, but this time, he talked a lot. He must have been really interested.” That’s information I can share on a grade report, and it means more coming from a classmate than it would from me.
“I learned that history really does repeat itself if no one does anything about it.”
Hey, that’s a big part of an essential question!
Questions As Reflection
After students record the note about a peer, I ask them to write one for themselves. The order of the requests is important, because they are more serious about their own comment after they wrote one for a classmate—usually one they admire.
Here’s the one that followed from above: “I did all the homework or at least almost always. I understood most of it. But I need to talk more and ask questions like Rob did. If he can, I guess I can.”
I implement the same task-specific strategy with class activities. If we finished a research project, I’ll ask the students about their effort and accomplishments for the steps we focused on.
- How well did you shape a question that kept your interest?
- Were your sources all the same or did you find things from different kinds of places?
- What was the most important thing you learned from your research?
Teachers know that students love to talk about themselves, so when I apply the truism to their work as well, they write more than most of us would expect. When I ask about the classroom or the class activities, I aim for specificity and brevity.
- Which kind of discussion do you think worked best? Why?
- What did you learn from the journal entries (and it’s okay if you didn’t learn much)?
- When you read, what strategies did you use to remember the main points (and it’s not okay to say none)?
I’m really glad I invest the effort and energy to create the assessments and review them. Designed with the audience and the goal in mind, I get useful information—and sometimes I laugh, too.
“I learned that teachers don’t know everything. I learned a ton from talking to other students.”
Image attribution flickr user timlewisnm; The Listening Teacher: Getting Feedback From Students