As part of my MEd research on teacher attitude to student feedback, I did a survey on SurveyMonkey which I posted on twitter in the hope of getting a few ideas. A few days later, I ended up with 360 responses from teachers who had taken the time to respond and also to share the link for me. Looking back, I could have put more time and thought into the construction of the survey, but perhaps the timing was serendipitous and I seized the moment! After 100 responses I added the question about working in primary, secondary, FE, HE or other establishments. This has been taken into account in the analysis. There are many other variables I could have added, including age, sex, and country (there were a few responses from the USA). I may do a second survey in the near future and would welcome feedback on how to improve this one.

In this post I will look at the initial results of the survey, and start to analyse them in light of other research and reading I have been doing. Apologies for the size of the images, but you can click on them to open a full-size image.

The first question asks teachers in which educational environment they work. As you can see, the majority work in secondary schools, but there are a significant number of respondents from primary schools, and it is useful to have a few respondents from Further and Higher Education, where student feedback is already used more widely than in schools (77% of respondents working in HE get formal feedback from students, compared to 55% in FE, 27% in secondary and 18% in primary). Generally speaking the results from primary and secondary teachers were broadly similar, whilst there were marked differences between these two groups of teachers and those in Further and Higher Education, which we will look at for each question. The sample sizes were very different, with 60 respondents from primary, 158 from secondary, 9 from further education and 17 from higher education.

The second question asks whether teachers get informal (mostly verbal) feedback on their lessons from students. I understand that the question is vague, and that the notion of informal feedback needs to be developed further. However, I wanted to get an idea of how may teachers listen to their students in any sort of way. As expected, the majority of teachers (77%) agree or strongly agree that they get informal feedback from their students. For Higher Education the figure was 88%. Whilst these figures are high, that still means that a lot of teachers are not getting any feedback at all from their students.

This next question was really one of the key ones, and shows how many teachers get formal (mostly written) feedback from their students. Whilst again, the concept of formal feedback was not clearly defined, and could include anything from sticky notes to longer questionnaires, the fact is that this process is one that is usually initiated by the teachers, and so the responses show how many teachers are actively seeking written feedback on their lessons. Overall only 27% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that they get formal feedback from students. For Further Education the figure was 56% and for Higher Education it was 77%. I should stress that the sample sizes for FE and HE were small, and that in many HE and FE institutions the student feedback process is a mandatory part of course evaluation. In very few schools is formal student feedback on lessons a process that teachers are encouraged to do, or have to do. Having established that formal feedback from students is not a common occurrence in schools, the goal of my research is to identify teacher attitudes to student feedback, with a view to encouraging and helping colleagues to use student feedback as a powerful tool for personal and professional development.

The next question attempts to begin to unpick the question of why few teachers get formal feedback from their students, and asks teachers whether they think that students should evaluate their teachers. Worded in a reverse format (to encourage reflection on the questions and to avoid a set of questions which all lead in one direction (nod to the fans). 75% of teachers disagree or strongly disagree that students should NOT evaluate their teachers (and 12% were not sure). This to me is encouraging and shows that most teachers are open to some sort of evaluation from their students (the type of evaluation was not defined or specified to leave deliberately open what this might be). I expected there to be more than 12% of teachers who do not think that students should evaluate their teachers. In Higher Education, 94% of teachers disagreed or strongly disagreed with this question (with 59% strongly disagreeing).

The fifth question asked teachers whether getting informal feedback from students can help them to improve their teaching. The wording is interesting here and puts the results from the previous question in a new light. 92% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that informal feedback from students can help them improve their teaching. These results were the same across all types of educational institution represented in the survey. If we now look back to the 12% who did not think that students should evaluate their teachers, we can see that the type of feedback process and how it is defined is vital. The notion of evaluation by students is different to that of teachers seeking feedback. There is perhaps an element of control or ownership of the process which is important to address, and which we will look at in later questions and in the comments given on the questionnaire.

Question 6 asks whether teachers believe that students are able to give useful feedback on lessons. My intention was again to see what might be the reasons for teachers not to seek formal feedback. Again I was surprised and encouraged by the responses. Only 9% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that students are unable to give useful feedback on lessons (in Higher Education, no teachers agreed with this statement). Interestingly (and perhaps paradoxically) the figure for those agreeing with the statement was higher for secondary schools (12%) than for primary school (5%). It will be interesting to analyse this point further and to see whether and why primary teachers value their students’ voices more than their secondary colleagues.

The next question, together with question 3, is one of the key ones. It asks whether teachers believe that getting formal feedback on lessons can help improve their teaching. 70% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, with 17% responding “not sure”. 88% of teachers in Higher Education agreed or strongly agreed with the statement (with 53% strongly agreeing). I believe that this question shows that the vast majority of teachers see the potential value of student feedback, and challenges me to explore further the reasons why so few actually seek formal feedback, as well as seeing how to encourage and enable teachers to start a formal feedback process with their students.

Question 8 confirms the results of the previous question as 64% of teachers would like to get formal feedback on their lessons, with 18% “not sure”. Whilst this indicated that 17% of teachers would not like to get formal feedback, only 4% strongly disagreed with the statement (although the figure for secondary schools was 7%). I will look in depth at the comments, and will be conducting interviews with secondary colleagues in an attempt to analyse further the results from this survey. I hope to find out the reasons why teachers do not want to get formal feedback from their students. As we will see later in the comments section, and as we have seen already in the responses to some of the other questions, it may be due to other factors than the inherent validity of student feedback on lessons.

The next question was an attempt to find out whether some teachers may not want to get feedback from students because of a fear that this may undermine their authority. Only 6% agreed or strongly agreed that asking for feedback from students undermines the authority of the teacher. The figure for secondary schools (over 6%) was far higher than that for primary schools (less than 2%) and raises the question of whether the authority of the teacher becomes more of an issue in secondary schools.

The last question is another attempt to ascertain potential reasons for not seeking feedback on lessons. 22% of teachers agreed or strongly agreed that they are worried about getting negative feedback from students. Again the figure for secondary schools (26%) was higher than that for primary schools (15%). This may indicate the different nature of relationships in the two schools, and the fact that primary teachers generally have one class, whereas secondary teachers may have over 200 students.

The word cloud below (created using tagxedo.com) shows some of the high frequency words from the 124 comments on the survey. As you can see, the word “depends” figures strongly, and many of the comments said that some of the statements were difficult to answer without being able to qualify one’s answer. Another theme which figured was the concern about who would be using the results of the feedback. Here are a few comments which I feel are representative or particularly noteworthy (I will be coding and analysing these comments in more detail at a later date, and it will be interesting to look back at my initial impressions at that point.

“Informal feedback is constructive. It creates a dialogue between teachers and students. If relationships are good ‘formal’ feedback shouldn’t be needed.”

“Informal student feedback can be useful if taken in the right way but formal student would just increase unnecessary pressure on teachers.”

“As students are the client we need to listen to proper critique but they need to be trained and coached in how to do this as comments like “more fun” aren’t helpful.”

“They need significant training to be able to give feedback”

“Feedback to teachers is a very practical way of modelling learning to students.”

“Much depends on how written feedback is construed by SMT etc, and the (potentially devious) purposes to which it is then put.”

“For last question worry would be if personal criticism rather than on teaching but should be able to learn from all feedback”

“I’m a reflective teacher. It isn’t often that I get feedback that I didn’t expect. Questions need to be asked in a particular way.”

“No teacher doing a good job should fear feedback from students, parents, or administration!”

“I have noticed that since end of module feedback forms were introduced students are much less likely to give any verbal/informal feedback straight to me, which is a shame”

“The most valuable feedback comes from one-off conversations with individuals about what they found helpful. We have student observations as part of faculty reviews but these are too formulaic to be very useful.”

“Not sure = depends on the student and the design / context + purpose of the feedback. Also impt is that student feedback tells you as much about the student and their learning needs as it dies about your teaching. What is ‘good’ teaching for one may not be the same as ‘good’ teaching for another so what it means to say ‘improved’ teaching is complicated. Student feedback is often contradictory. It is always important to listen though.”

“I think it would be more appropriate for teachers to receive feedback from someone who is a qualified teacher. Feedback from students could be about what was challenging or easy about the lesson, what needed more clarification but not about the quality of the lesson.”

“Informal feedback organised by the teacher themselves is fine, however I have serious concerns about student making formal evaluations. It is open to abuse or misinterpretation when feedback goes on to SMT.”

“No way to improve lessons without student feedback of one sort or another.”

“Constuctive feedback on lessons and learning methods is always appreciated. It takes time to build trust between a teacher and pupils in order for them to be truly honest in their feedback.”

“One needs to keep in mind that sometimes students want to say the ‘right thing’ to keep in favour with the educator. However, this should not be used as an excuse to not do student surveys on one’s teaching.”

“This is very much predicated on my view of what ‘formal’ feedback is. If it is teacher managed and base around learning – no problems. However, if formal feedback is driven by external forces – then I do not agree at all. There is real value in feedback – effective teachers do this regularly to gauge students engagement, learning etc. Feedback can be quite informal however and still provide effective information for teachers. :)”

“However much dialogue you have in person or perhaps written in books you still don’t really know how your students are feeling. If you give them opportunities for formal feedback (we do a student voice questionnaire) then you find all sorts of feelings are uncovered that you might otherwise have missed.”

“after a picky feedback from practice Ofsted inspector my yr 10 RE group gave me their formal feedback explaining that it had sufficient pace, good balance of revision to new material and that they found the questioning to be fair with good distribution…no honest that’s what they actually said, with correct terminology and everything. they always informally rate all our lessons,we may as well ask them what they think officially.”

“Would be interesting to see the link between responses and age of teachers.”

“Formal feedback will need training. Training means pupils are off timetable and not learning curriculum.”

“Best way of getting feedback is to develop action research cycles as an embedded element of curriculum/pedagogy work.”

“I’m scared to – negative feedback from Ofsted bad enough!”

“I’m worried but it doesn’t keep me from gathering it. Who likes hearing negative things, even if we plan to use the feedback constructively? It’s hard, but what about teaching is easy?”

Many thanks for reading, and special thanks to all who completed the survey and who continue to give me help and guidance with my research.

Please continue the discussion in the comments box here, or on twitter – @EddieKayshun.

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