No teacher has all the answers, especially when it comes to improving their performance. In that regard, teachers have almost as much to learn from their students as their students do from them.
While regular appraisals by colleagues, principals, and superintendents can be helpful to identify areas for improvement, nothing compares to asking students what they think of the curriculum and your performance as a teacher. This honest (and sometimes painful) feedback can help you turn around a class mid-semester or deliver an even better teaching experience next year.
The secret to getting great feedback is asking the right questions. While there are several ways to find out what your students are really thinking, using student surveys is one of the best.
Why teachers should survey students
Collecting student feedback through surveys is the best way to improve their learning and your performance as a teacher.
Students, more than anyone else, are in the best position to provide feedback about the classroom environment and teaching practices, says Jamie Scott, director of partnerships at Evidence Based Education. Educators are already using many forms of student surveys, and there’s a growing body of evidence that illustrates their value.
“The Gates-funded MET project identified student surveys as one of three ways of reliably measuring teaching effectiveness, producing more consistent results than classroom observations,” Scott writes.
“When asked the right questions, in the right way, student perceptions can be harnessed to offer an important source of information on pedagogical practices and the classroom environment. In turn, the feedback they generate can be a powerful tool for teacher learning — offering additional insight that allows teachers and leaders to personalise professional development.”
Surveys also give students a chance to speak up, and they help create a two-way conversation between teacher and pupil —something that can be a little tricky to foster.
Surveys make it easier for students to tell you how things are going, says former Edutopia assistant editor Emelina Minero. “A student survey allows students to voice their issues, needs, and desires, giving feedback on how a teacher can change his or her instruction to help them perform better in class.”
The kinds of student survey questions you should ask
Student surveys aren’t pop quizzes or standardized tests, so refrain from creating a list of multiple-choice questions or asking students to rank you on a 1–5 scale. Instead, ask open-ended questions to gather qualitative feedback that makes a real difference.
Doing so will provide far more insight, says teacher Jordan DeWilde. He advises teachers to “Ask questions like, ‘What was your favorite lesson so far and why?’ ”
In addition, he recommends that you phrase every question to solicit constructive feedback. Asking what students didn’t like can lead to negative responses. Asking how you can change your approach in the future gives you guidance on how you can improve.
Curtis Chandler, a professor of teacher education at Brigham Young University–Idaho, offers an example of what such a survey should look like. He regularly gives a survey to his classes that includes the following topics:
- Which parts of the class are the most and least helpful to learning
- Which elements of instruction they want more or less of
- Suggestions on how he could help them be more successful
You may think three questions isn’t much of a survey, but that depends on the answers you’re looking for. You could use simple yes-or-no questions, which would allow you to ask a lot more, but they might not give you substantive feedback.
If you’re not sure which way to go, however, choose quality over quantity. It’s far better to get detailed answers to a few questions than many answers that require little thought.
How to gather data with the right tool
When designing any kind of survey — in the education sector or otherwise — you need a way to easily collect and store the data you receive. A secure drag-and-drop survey-building tool like Jotform is the perfect tool for schools and other community organizations to create customized surveys to fit their needs.
Jotform has a prebuilt student survey template that you can use to create a feedback form in seconds. You can share surveys with students via a link or email, and all of the answers are automatically stored in a Jotform table. This is a powerful and easy way for teachers to access and analyze feedback and start taking steps to improve.