Do we trust students to tell us something meaningful?
“What can students really tell us about our teaching?” – This is a question I have been asking myself over the past two years, and which has led me to look at using student feedback on lessons as a powerful tool for personal and professional development.
Building on my MEd research on student voice and, specifically, on teacher attitude to student feedback on lessons, I have started using student feedback on my lessons in order to become more self-reflective about, and ultimately to improve, my teaching. I will be presenting some ideas at #PedagooSW in Bristol and hope to show some of the reasons why I believe we should listen more to our students. The session will primarily look at how I am using student feedback for my own development, as well as looking at some of the studies which have been done on student voice and what they can tell us. My research has been informed by the MET (Measure of Effective Teaching) survey in the US, and on a pilot project introduced into Turnford School by Nick Rose. My school has agreed to my forming a professional learning community of teachers with whom I will continue to develop this project over the next school year.
A four-part model of professional development, centred on learning.
My vision is to set out a model for personal development based on 4 key points:
- student feedback,
- peer observation,
- teacher narrative.
Data will always be an important element in education, but should not be the over-riding factor in judging schools, or individual teachers. A sensitive and long-term view of data analysis can yield useful information on student performance and can indicate teacher effectiveness; it is thus a powerful tool in professional development, especially when this analysis is tied into the whole school development programme. Value-added scores are gradually replacing pure grades as a more accurate record of progress, and can be analysed in the light of other factors, including subject differences, social context, etc. Staff (and especially senior leaders) should have training in data analysis, so that they can recognise when statistical information is valid and relevant or not. There must also be an element of reciprocal trust in schools so that teachers trust leaders to use data ethically, and leaders trust teachers to use data effectively. The idea of “broad data” which is “for accountability purposes rather than to help class teachers plan”, needs to be replaced by “granular data” which can be used by teachers, individually and collaboratively, to improve their practice.
Do we know how to interpret and use data effectively?
Student feedback on lessons can show what students perceive to be their teachers’ strengths and weaker areas. It is very interesting to see how this correlates or not with our own perceptions and those of our colleagues. Again, this element alone should not be used to determine a teacher’s place or progression in a school. The results of the feedback must be treated sensitively and confidentially, and used by the individual teacher to determine where and how they aim to develop. We should look at the discussions around student evaluations in further and higher education to inform implementation in schools. Whilst there are many ethical and logistical questions raised by the use of student feedback on lessons, there are also great advantages for both teachers and students. The individual teacher can decide how much they want to ask their students, and also how much they wish to act on the feedback, but experiments carried out in schools in the UK and USA have shown that the more open the dialogue, the greater the benefits can be. I continue to research teacher attitude to student feedback as part of my Masters dissertation, and welcome any feedback and ideas on this question.
Do we listen to feedback?
Peer observation (or collaborative practice and reflection) rather than management observation could help to foster feelings of trust and openness between teachers, and allow for pairs or small groups to work together to build their teaching practice. The student feedback could allow teachers to highlight strength areas where they could mentor other teachers. The results and observations from these observations could remain confidential amongst the groups, and the collaborative or individual reflections from these observations inform the development process. Lesson study is a process that is becoming more popular in schools, and which can be a very powerful tool in personal development for teachers. This recent blog shows how it is being implemented in UK schools.
What and whom are we observing?
The teacher narrative part of the development process is inspired by two ideas: one is the Australian model of teacher development developed by Brenton Doecke and others on the STELLA project; the other is the growth of the whoiamwhatido blog. I believe that encouraging teachers to express their narrative in a safe forum can be extremely powerful. Teachers will not need to publish or share their stories, but could write for themselves or for their small development group. Most importantly, the act of writing self-reflectively before and after the first three parts will help teachers clarify their strengths, their vision of teaching and core values, and how they see their own personal and professional development. “Educational biographies” are used by some teacher training providers, and this post by Laura McInerney shows how all in education could benefit from reflecting on their educational journey, both as learners and teachers.
This is very much a work in process, and I look forward to comments on, and criticisms of, these ideas.