My Students' Feedback #1

One of my goals for this year is to gather regular feedback from my students.  This is something I did regularly in the first few years of my career, but moved away from doing for no good reason.

I took my survey from Understanding by Design.  Friday, I asked asked students for thoughts on the following questions:

  1. What was the most interesting thing we’ve done in the past two weeks?  What made it so interesting?
  2. What was the most boring thing we did in class the past two weeks?  What made it so boring?
  3. What worked the best for you the past two weeks in this class?  In other words, what specific activity, lesson, technique, or tool helped you learn the most?  Why?
  4. What didn’t work for you the past two weeks?  What activity, assignment, or lesson was the most confusing or unhelpful?  Why?

I also students whether they agreed with the following statements:

  1. The work was focused on big ideas, not just unconnected little facts and skills.  We are learning important things.
  2. I found the work thought-provoking and interesting.
  3. I was very clear on what the goals of the unit were.  We were shown what was important, what was high quality work, what our job was, and what the purpose of the unit was.
  4. We were given enough choice or freedom in how to go about achieving the goals
  5. The assessments were just right.  What we were asked to do was a “fair test” of our learning.

I’ve summarized some student responses below, as well as including data from the binary questions.

What We Did the Past Two Weeks

My first week included a series of lessons on Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. My goal in starting the year with these lessons was to get students thinking about the kinds of knowledge and learning that is typically valued in school, and to contrast it with the knowledge of the real world that would be essential to my government and economics course.  Students read the piece, drew pictures of the allegory, and then we reenacted it, interspersed with relevant scenes fromt The Matrix. Students were formally assessed for their understanding of the Allegory in a Socratic Seminar where students were asked to discuss the connections between it and Rumi’s “There are two kinds of intelligence.” In the second week of school, we began a unit on Identity & Media, discussing the categories that make up our identities, the differences between race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage, and watching excerpts from Race: The Power of an Illusion.

1st Period Feedback

The main takeaway from the feedback the first class gave me is that I have a very diverse class with diverse interests.  About half the class loved the stuff we did on the Allegory of the Cave, the other half hated it.  The same was true for the clips we watched from Race: The Power of an Illusion.  The most positive feedback was for the class discussion we had on the difference between race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage.

2nd Period Feedback

This class was equally split on the Allegory, though with some really strong positive reactions to it.  This section was also more split on the conversation about the difference between race, ethnicity, culture, and heritage.  There were also very strong positive and negative reactions to the Socratic Seminar.  I also got my favorite line, ““To me, learning that race is fake was pretty epic.”

3rd Period Feedback

Again, had really strong positive or negative reactions to the Allegory sequence.  Differently from both other sections, there was specifically positive and negative reactions to both looking at The Matrix and having students draw pictures to help them understand.  There were not any other consistency in responses from this class.


My Thoughts

I had not been very happy with how the Allegory lessons went.  My goal in starting the year was to do something high interest and thought provoking that all students could engage with, and despite the really positive feedback from students, it was clear that my Allegory sequence was the wrong was to accomplish what I hoped to.

I was also surprised to see that the most negative feedback came from my second period class.  I had actually thought things had been going better in that class than my other two, but I was mistaken.


2 thoughts on “My Students' Feedback #1

  1. stephen,

    i liked how you embedded such an elegant and thought-provoking summary of your curriculum so far as merely one element in the larger gestalt of “class”. i really liked the questions you documented – they get to the core – poor math teachers who would have a much harder time scoring as we can on these sorts of questions.

    one of the main focuses of my course over the last couple weeks has been helping students learn to make a distinction between “bubbles” and “thoughts”. bubbles come to mind (usually immediately) through unconscious processes as responses to whatever discourse or situation the person interacts with. thoughts use bubbles as raw materials to be intelligently processed (relatively slowly and relying also on the conscious mind).

    i suspect that the “feedback” game, even with great questions like yours, tends to elicit primarily bubbles – which may be valuable but may also reinforce a bizarre U$-Culture-2.0 opinion-bleating pattern that might be better subverted. i keep thinking of judges on “American Idol” and i really dislike the notion of “student as customer/judge” that some well-intentioned teachers create as a sometimes absurd balance to our ability to grade them. everybody has their like/dislike button in their hand and it would take real work to get past that essentially consumerist orientation.

    so to finally offer a concrete suggestion – what about also including a bit in the survey about what the students could do better for each other, for themselves, etc? that would at least reduce the focus on teacher as sole responsible party. i guess it would be even better if you helped them come up with those kinds of questions and intentions. rulers responsible to feedback of the ruled might fit well with plato (also reading republic right now) but i think we can aim for a more cooperative spirit.

    hasta manana, probably.


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