The Harshest Of All Critics

Want some honest advice and feedback about your classroom practice? Ask your students what they think. They will not lie.

One of the defining moments of my career to date was when a year eleven some years ago now leaned back in her chair whilst responding to feedback, stared in despair at the ceiling and said loud enough for everyone in the room to hear: “Oh. My. God. I want to kill myself”.

Her soliloquy continued with which method she’d choose; she wasn’t so bothered with which would bring her the least pain – more so on which technique would end this misery the quickest. Despite my very best efforts, I couldn’t help but laugh. “Miss, you really shouldn’t find that funny” another student mumbled under their breath. So, I don’t always get it right… but I will always try to.

Students enjoy being given the opportunity to feedback to you. And it is important. Teachers should find the opportunity to actively seek for and welcome student feedback.

I really like Alastair Smith’s student questionnaire in ‘Accelerated Learning: A Users Guide’. One of the questions is: are you praised more than you are criticised? The questions get to the heart of what it important in classrooms.

Another simple feedback tool is the: like, change and grow model. What did your students like or enjoy? What would they want to change? What would they like to grow or see more of?

A popular task to ask students to complete is: I wish my teacher knew…

Finally, personalised questioning during lesson time can provide teachers with immediate feedback: how much time have I spent helping you this week? How many questions have I asked you so far this lesson? What do you like about this activity? How can I help you learn? Do you have a voice in this classroom? Are you being challenged enough?

Ultimately, it all comes down to what teachers do with the feedback. Being explicit about changes put into place as a result of what students said is powerful. I remember sharing with a year 8 class a couple of years ago: “you said you’d like more of your work up on the wall to help you learn, so I’ve made this display for you.” And a student responding with: “Miss, you actually listened to what we said?”.

I will always strive to create a high-performance learning team in my classroom where accountability is key. The question I am going to ask my students this week is: how am I doing as your teacher? Hopefully, none of my students will consider death a more desirable option to the learning opportunities I plan for them!

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 edition of UKEdMagazine

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Caroline @Caroline_Alice_ is an English Teacher and SLE in North Devon. She loves everything Teaching and Learning and thinks teaching is the best job in the world; a job full of adventure and challenge and joy and heartache.

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