Using student surveys to improve teacher practice I had the good fortune of meeting Dr. Ron Ferguson at an America Achieves Teacher Fellowship convening in February 2014. Dr. Ferguson, creator of the Tripod Student Survey, was presenting to the Fellowship on the research conducted as part of the Measures of Effective Teaching project (MET), that was conducted by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. The study used Tripod surveys, classroom observations and value-added measurements of student performance to identify effective teaching strategies and the best ways to identify them in a classroom. Of the three, student perception surveys proved to be the most valid. “Analysis by the Measures of Effective Teaching (MET) projects finds that teachers’ student survey results are predictive of student achievement gains.” The study also found that, “student surveys produce more consistent results than classroom observations or achievement gain measures.” I find this to be extremely valuable to me, a classroom teacher. I often felt that my students were an untapped resource in the attempt to gauge my effectiveness as a teacher. One student will sit and observe me for 900 hours a year. If we do not use student surveys we are overlooking a total of 21,600 hours of observations over the course of 180 days in my 24 student class. On the other hand, the traditional observation conducted by highly trained administrators equates to less than 2 hours over 3 days. Surveys are easily administered and relatively inexpensive.
Whether or not to use of student voice in the measurement of teacher effectiveness is often debated. I will simply share my experience of using surveys to improve my classroom teaching strategies. As an America Achieves teacher fellow I was able to secure the right to pilot the Tripod survey in my class last year in 2013-2014. The survey measures 7 significant areas of teaching (care, confer, consolidate, classroom management, clarify, challenge, & captivate) named the “7 C’s”. My second grade students answered 32 questions with answer choices of yes, maybe or no. Each area of the 7 C’s have multiple questions to increase the reliability of the survey. Prior to administering the survey I sat and took the survey as if I was a student. I assessed my teaching and expected strong results. I was confident that I did these 7 identified facets of teaching well. I gave the survey, sent it off and when the report came back I was validated in many of my beliefs and surprised in one or two areas. I was shocked by the outcome regarding my classroom management. My students mostly gave me mediocre feedback on how well students behaved in my class. I had to realistically look at my classroom management. I have been teaching 2nd grade for 10 years and working with students with Individual Education Programs (IEPs) for 8 years. As a male elementary teacher working with young students, many of whom are fragile learners, I have been cautious not to instill fear in my students. Over the years of treating my vulnerable students with kid gloves, apparently I had slowly, incrementally lost my edge in managing my classroom. Upon reflecting on my students’ feedback I was surprised to find that I had let go of many of my positive reinforcing practices. I reinstated them, applied new methods and became more cognizant of the day to day classroom management as a whole. I also deliberately spent more time each morning preparing the room for the upcoming lessons. This year I began my year with far better preparedness in not just the classroom management “C” but in all the 7C’s. Having given the survey I reflected on the importance of the other 6 “C’s”. In late fall I administered the survey and again in the early spring. The results were affirming. I had gone significantly up in Classroom Management and also made sizeable gains in Clarifying and Challenge. The greatest take away from my experience using student surveys is simple. I can see how the manner in which I frame things has a big impact on the students developing those hard to measure traits of grit and perseverance. How I address them when they ask for help or struggle, or the fact that I convey clearly to them the message that failure is okay when it is a step towards success, will have a long lasting impact on their internal voice. I have become more aware of the impact of the relationship with my students on the learning environment I create for them. When they come upon a difficult to master skill, they will develop a voice that aligns to the growth mindset. If I respect their thoughts and take time to allow them to explain, they will develop a greater metacognitive awareness. The survey use has also generated many mini lessons that I previously would not have planned. I now spend time conveying messages that directly stem from the 7C’s. This past Thursday I was invited to sit on a panel by the American Youth Policy Forum, (AYPF) in Washington, DC. The focus of the panel and discussion was the use of student perception surveys to gauge and improve teacher practice to improve student outcomes. I was invited as a result of having used student surveys to reflect and improve my practice. I was excited to be able to have a potentially positive impact on national policy regarding the elevation of student voice and improving teacher reflection. In the room were representatives from the US Department of Education, Center for American Progress, Education Trust, National Association of State Boards of Education, National Governors Association. National Indian Education Association, American Institute for Research, and the Council for the Accreditation of Educator Preparation. Over the years I have become increasingly involved in teacher leadership. You often hear teachers say they want a seat at the table, well this was the table they were talking about and I was proud to be there. I left that room with the distinct impression that my example of how surveys can inform and improve a teacher’s practice was heard. Here is a webinar AYPF recorded last year on student surveys. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8u9FVZwQiT8 Going forward I choose not to ignore the 21,600 hours of observation that will happen each year in my class. For the last several years I have increasingly felt a loss of control over the teaching and learning in my class due to so much reform. Now I have confidence in the value of student voice as a reliable piece of data that can lead to meaningful reflection and improvement. Finally I feel more control over the evaluation of my teaching and the corrective professional development that will lead to measurable improvement. I encourage all teachers to simply read the survey questions and ask, “Do these make sense, do the questions attempt to measure good instructional strategies?” If you agree, you may want to do as I did and find out what your students are thinking. http://www.metproject.org/downloads/Asking_Students_Summary_Doc.pdf http://tripoded.com/teacher-toolkit/