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Research You Can Use
Student feedback can encourage reflection in teachers
January 18, 2021
Lauran Hood, Ed.D., wrote the dissertation “Teacher Perceptions of Student Feedback as a Tool for Reflection” for his Doctorate of Education degree from The University of LaVerne in 2020. The following is a summary of that dissertation. He is currently assistant principal, Office of Instruction, at Chaffey High School.
The last time I went to grab a cup of coffee, I received an email asking me to rate my beverage quality. Marketing teams rely on feedback from their consumers to make enhancements and grow their businesses. This feedback is valued, sought after and disaggregated. Why is it that, as an adult, I am surveyed all the time, yet students have little input on their own education?
There are several perceived reasons why students are not consulted: their beliefs are biased, they lack “educational expertise,” or student input offers little utility. The American school system has been designed to exclude the voices of the students it serves, despite the purported function of schools. If our students serve as constituents in the process of learning and teaching, why then do classroom teachers, generally, not bother to seek their opinion? Something as simple as a cup of coffee warrants a survey, but a 180-day math class does not?
Teachers who have used student perception feedback in their classes have found that students are generally able to provide input to teachers that is constructive and useful. As any parent can tell you, young people sometimes have a tendency to be honest, sometimes overly, with their opinions and beliefs. This honesty usually translates into genuine feedback about their perceptions. Teachers have also felt validated from hearing students’ positive perceptions of their classroom practices that are working.
In addition, the following statements are supported by previous research:
  • Students know what makes for good teaching (Lee, 2017).
  • Students as young as third grade can identify effective classroom management, engagement, and whether the classroom climate is supportive (Fauth, Decristan, Rieser, Klieme, & Büttner, 2014).
  • Students have knowledge and a perspective and that is unique (Levin, 2000).
  • Students “do not use consultation as a vehicle for vendettas” (Morgan, 2011). In fact, they often take a responsible and analytical stance when asked to provide input.
  • Benefits of providing students with an opportunity to express themselves includes an improved student sense of motivation, identity as a learner, increased engagement, a better feeling of mutual respect, positive attitudes and improved attendance (Mitra, 2018; Bahou, 2011; Morgan, 2011).
Create a culture of consultation
The concept of teachers as reflective practitioners appears to have originated with educational philosopher John Dewey (1910). He wrote about the dissonance that is created by an unsettling experience that forces a practitioner to think critically about a problem. More contemporary scholars write about teachers being motivated by their own desires to do better by their students. According to teaching professor Stephen Brookfield (2017), teachers make certain assumptions about their classrooms, their students, their effectiveness, and about how students learn. These assumptions need to be checked against reality if a teacher’s effectiveness is to grow. CSUSB Education professor Barbara Larrivee (2008), wrote that there may be an “assault on emotions” where people are asked to question their own assumptions, and that this troubling experience can encourage reflection.
Student perception surveys are one way to create a culture of consultation in classrooms and/or on your campus. While these are not new to the world of education, they are not used with much consistency in K-12. There are many research-based survey instruments that are available online. My favorite is the Panorama Survey (panoramaed.com) because it’s free, has a variety of topics, and there are classroom-level and school-level surveys available. Panorama also has a new distance-learning survey. The Tripod Tool is another option (tripoded.com). Of course, you can always create your own survey using Google Forms, Survey Monkey or in Canvas.
Best practices for teacher classroom surveys
  • Be open to honest feedback (the students will be honest, and it’s OK).
  • Make it anonymous and don’t grade it.
  • Make it simple and quick to complete.
  • Be sure it’s asking what you want to find out. (Does it have questions about pedagogy? Instruction? Curriculum? Workload? Pace? Environment? Relationships?)
As a result of new research conducted among high school teachers at a large, public high school in the Inland Empire, the following conclusions came to light.
Student feedback aids in instruction and teaching. Teachers stated that student feedback would likely impact their decision to make change in their classroom or to their practices and that, in fact, many have used this information to adjust their practice in the past. Most teachers in this study indicated that student feedback was generally valid and helpful. Encourage teachers to collect survey data from their students. Share some of this research with staff.
Negative comments from students help to spur reflection. Teachers overwhelmingly indicated that a “negative” comment about their teaching would encourage reflection. Remember Dewey, Brookfield and Larrivee? This is part of the process! Encourage teachers to hear what students are saying. Reassure teachers that an open-mind is necessary and that true reflection requires both recognition of a problem and acceptance of uncertainty.
Student feedback helps to build relationships between teachers and students. The teachers in this study indicated that asking for feedback shows students that you care about being a good teacher. Teachers were keenly aware that the relationship they have with their students is important, and that collecting their feedback may be one way of validating them as learners and as people. Perhaps most importantly, feeling “listened to” goes a long way to improve student behavior and performance. Listening to students is also a way for teachers to give voice to those that might be marginalized. Each student views the world differently and these differences have implications for classrooms and schools. Awareness of these differences allows teachers to understand, support and fulfill the needs of diverse students. With distance learning, and the other events of 2020, teaching and learning have changed so drastically that input from students might be just the authentic source of information that teachers need.
Teachers must be vulnerable to feedback. It is completely normal for teachers to have a sense of trepidation, or even intimidation, about collecting input from their students. Feelings of confusion, angst and uncertainty are normal when teachers are facing a reflective process. This vulnerability, however, can lead to critical reflection about a class or a practice, which can lead to change.
Final thoughts and tips
  • You can’t make anyone reflect. You can only encourage it and provide the space, the tools and the time.
  • It is important to remember that student feedback surveys without any actual change become tokenistic and can further exacerbate student feelings of disconnectedness (Arnot & Reay 2007; Mitra, 2009).
  • Student surveys are not a panacea — the data gleaned should be viewed as one aspect of a school’s operation and not the sole reason to make change.
  • The real power of student voice, in this context, is the reflection, and the change that can come from listening to student perceptions. Teachers need not share their survey results with administration for them to have utility and value.
  • Modeling a similar survey for site administration may show teachers that you, too, are willing to be vulnerable in hearing staff perceptions. The work of Gehlbach and colleagues (2018) shows that teacher perceptions about being open to student feedback shift when they are asked to evaluate their administration.
  • These surveys are not part of a teacher’s formal evaluation process. The goal is to encourage reflection and to provide student-centric feedback to teachers to help in improving relationships, and to better teaching and learning.
References

Arnot, M., & Reay, D. (2007). A Sociology of Pedagogic Voice: Power, inequality and pupil consultation. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 28(3), 311–325. https://doi.org/10.1080/01596300701458814
Bahou, L. (2011). Rethinking the challenges and possibilities of student voice and agency. Educate, 1(1), 2-14. Retrieved from http://educatejournal.org/index.php/educate/article/viewFile/286/236

Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. San Francisco, CA: John Wiley & Sons.
Dewey, J. (1910). How we think. Lexington, MA: DC Heath. Fauth, B., Decristan, J., Rieser, S., Klieme, E., & Büttner, G. (2014). Student ratings of teaching quality in primary school: Dimensions and prediction of student outcomes. Learning and Instruction, 29, 1-9.
Gehlbach, H., Robinson, C. D., Finefter-Rosenbluh, I., Benshoof, C., & Schneider, J. (2018). Questionnaires as interventions: Can taking a survey increase teachers’ openness to student feedback surveys? Educational Psychology, 38(3), 350-367.
Larrivee, B. (2008). Meeting the Challenge of Preparing Reflective Practitioners. The New Educator, 4(2), 87–106. https://doi.org/10.1080/15476880802014132
Lee, B. (2017) High school teacher, student, and evaluator perceptions regarding student involvement in teacher evaluation systems. (Doctoral dissertation) Available from Education Database. (Order 10618482).
Levin, B. (2000). Putting Students at the Centre in Education Reform. Journal of Educational Change, 1(2), 155–172.
Morgan, B. (2011). Consulting pupils about classroom teaching and learning: Policy, practice and response in one school. Research Papers in Education, 26(4), 445- 467. doi:10.1080/02671520903330992
Mitra, D. (2018). Student voice in secondary schools: The possibility for deeper change. Journal of Educational Administration, 56(5), 473–487. https://doi.org/10.1108/JEA-01-2018-0007
Mitra, D. L. (2009). “Strengthening Student Voice Initiatives in High Schools: An Examination of the Supports Needed for School-Based Youth-Adult Partnerships.” Youth & Society 40(3):311–35.
Research You Can Use is a periodic feature of EdCal that provides an opportunity for ACSA members to share their dissertation research. Publication of these summaries does not represent endorsement by ACSA of any specific program, policy or strategy. Dissertation summaries written by ACSA members in the past five years are welcome, along with a photo of the researcher and present job title and location. Prepare a 750- to 1,200-word summary and e-mail to EdCal Editor Michelle Carl.
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