Purple is the new “please consider trying.”
White is the new “please keep doing.”
Orange is the new
black “please consider stopping.”
I have blogged previously about collecting feedback from students and how I think we might be missing something if we rely too heavily upon end-of-the-term-please-rate-from-one-to-five situations. In this post I’d like to share one way of collecting feedback that I have found pretty successful as well as some general thoughts regarding such feedback.
The procedure is quite simple, just give students cards in three different colors and tell them you are interested in hearing their feedback on the course. Depending on factors like mood and rapport it can also be nice to say something about how this feedback is for you as a teacher (and not for admin) and is so you as a teacher can help them better and thus you are interested in honest feedback. I like to also mention that feedback is most helpful when it is something that can be changed and is in my control so mentioning the dirty bathrooms at this point is not so likely to be helpful. When I say that I’d like feedback in 3 areas and that I am interested in doing what I can to help them learn better. The three areas are:
Please consider stopping
Please consider doing
Please keep doing
I also tend to mention that is fine to make more than one point/comment/request/what have you on each card. I give students plenty of time to complete the cards (and ideally something else to do/think about when they have finished). Then when they are done they can toss all the cards in the box at the front of the room without worrying about color coding the cards for me. That’s my job.
When I have all the cards I sort them into the three categories and then flip through them, trying to find patterns and generally take the pulse of the group and what they are thinking. Then, perhaps after a bit of distance (and a drink or a walk or something) I go about organizing them and trying to find similar points. The next step is to type up the results. I like to organize it so that the most frequent comments have a number next to them which shows how many times this particular comment was mentioned.
I am always particularly interested when similar issues appear on multiple lists. Someone might say to keep on doing something while others might request the teacher to stop it and others still might offer some suggestions on doing it differently. I find it can be powerful to share these statements and numbers with the students. I also think it can sort of help students see how common (or not) their requests are. My sense is that when students see they are alone in a certain request they are less likely to be adamant about it. Likewise, if a student asks the teacher to stop doing something but many others requested that the teacher keep on doing it they might be more willing to see the other side of it.
I like to print out the list of comments and give students a chance to look them over before addressing some of the issues. I feel that having the list can be a nice starting point for a discussion about the course and what changes might and might not be possible or advisable. Sometimes I give a reading task like identifying the common trends or something like that but mostly just a chance to read over the comments and maybe discuss their observations with a partner is enough.
I said the list can be a great starting point. What I mean is that the list can be a great catalyst for a discussion or a chance for the teacher to address certain issues. I don’t mean to imply that the teacher needs to follow all the requests or suggestions. I do think that simply addressing them can be helpful for students to feel heard and respected. In collecting feedback this way, I have discovered that many of the more negative thoughts and feelings mostly stem from a different understanding regarding the roles and rules of teachers and students in the particular context. I think by calmly addressing these the teacher can help the students see things from a slightly different perspective. Whenever I do feedback in this way I am always pleasantly surprised about the existence of a minor issue that could potentially have festered if left alone.
One particular example that comes to mind regarding an issue that might have been problematic if unaddressed was about students not receiving corrections on journals they were asked to write. Their expectation was that teachers correct writing, all writing that students do. My intent with the journal was to focus more on the content of what was written rather than the form. So, what some students saw as a dereliction of teacher duty was actually a considered pedagogical choice. Simply taking a few minutes to make this explicit seemed to have a very positive impact. Also the offer to correct 10 students per week as chosen by the students (rather than correcting every line of the journal) was met with approval (even though most students did not in fact take the teacher up on this).
So, that is one way I use to collect feedback and to start a conversation about how the course is going as well as address requests and concerns (as well as to see what students thing is working and should be continued).
I wonder what other ways people have used and found successful?
Tips, notes, and confessions:
Tip: If possible, try to avoid red, orange and green cards as it can be too confusing due to traffic colors and traffic color metaphors not exactly matching up to the categories here.
Tip: Stick a labelled card on the board in order to make sure confusion about what each color stands for is minimal.
(In my experience there is always a bit of confusion). Feel free to model examples of what you are looking for but I don’t usually do this.
Note: Lately, in doing this I have been extremely impressed with the quality of the feedback I’ve received. This means that I have found it useful for opening a discussion and possibly making some changes.
Tip/Note: I think an emphasis on “I statements” in the feedback has been helpful as well. Rather than students saying “We were all bored to tears during that grammar explanation” I can just find out how one person felt and treat it as such. Again, when the comments are tallied it seems to provide a clear picture of what people at thinking.
Confession: I don’t want to lie to you, dear reader, I have actually never done this with English students, only with training course participants. The main reason I have not done it with students is because lately my classes are extremely small. I would surely be willing to give it a try with English students though.
Confession: Another half-confession is that I have never actually done this 100% on my own without a co-trainer. In fact, lately, I have asked co-trainers to set it up so I could get a feel for how they do so. This means when I wrote, “I” in the post above I could have written “we.” I just thought it read better in the first person.
Note: I remember one particular training course that lasted over 5 months. A few participants on the course mentioned the time when my co-trainer and I dealt with their feedback stemming from this cards as the most memorable and powerful moment of the course. They said they were impressed with how calmly we told them we wouldn’t be doing some of things they’d asked for and appreciated us taking the time to share our thoughts on why we wouldn’t be doing certain things. They also mentioned that in Korea their is often the expectation for the teacher to always be right and in charge and they appreciated how we were willing to make changes based on what they wrote and the different atmosphere that collecting feedback in such a way helped create.
Note: While not always easy I find it helpful to mentally separate the feedback received from being generally about me. Students are simply writing about what was done or wasn’t done in class and it is not a referendum on my worth as a human or as a teacher.
Note: I like the anonymity involved here and the fact that they are expected to share 3 different types of thoughts here. I do think sometimes anonymity in feedback is overrated. Perhaps I will address this in a future post.
Note: I fully realize there are many different ways to collect feedback and know that this is just one of them. I hope the main takeaway from this blog post is not about colored papers (which is a cool idea) but rather about feedback as a conversation.
Note: In re-reading the above I think I focused bit too much on the “please stop doing” and the “please consider doing” instead of the “please keep doing” part. I think they are all important and helpful. I guess it is human nature (teacher nature?) to focus on what might need to be changed/improved rather than what to keep doing. Maybe this is another reason I like this way of collecting feedback because it ensures that at least 1/3 of the feedback is about what students want to see continued. In any case, I think this is very valuable and many times have been considering stopping something only to find that many students enjoy and appreciate it.
Note: Lest anyone get the wrong idea, I am not
really on a crusade against end-of-the-term-please-rate-from-one-to-five situations, I realize they have their place. I just don’t think that place is everywhere.