Responding to student feedback, an experiment

I’ve been experimenting with feedback a bit lately, though that’s material for another post. Today I want to talk specifically about one class. They are all in the third grade of middle school and mostly an intermediate level. We study genre writing together twice a week. I enjoy teaching and learning with them. Today’s small change was in how I responded to their feedback.

Last week at the end of a unit (formal letter writing), I asked them for feedback in the form of three sentences: “I liked ______.” “I didn’t like _____.” and “Please change _____.” I borrowed this feedback format from Mr. Michael Griffin’s blog post, “Orange is the new please consider stopping.”

Unsurprisingly, their feedback was quite a mixed bag. Some of it was specific; the rest very general. Some of them liked using the book, others hated it. Some of them enjoyed free-writing at the beginning of each class. For others, it was the worst part of each class. Some of them submitted anonymous feedback to complain about difficulties with other students. Others used it to express their personal challenges with English (and kindly signed their feedback slips). Some added helpful suggestions (“more group work, please!”) as well.

I noticed a lot of the feedback was similar to the previous months’ and I realized that I needed to address this more directly. Previously, I read the feedback and made changes to the things I could and tried to explain the things I couldn’t change – but I didn’t link it directly to their feedback.

This time I compiled all the feedback in a chart for everyone to see and today I went through it with the class, point by point. They listened attentively, adding additional thoughts that came up, and were interested in what I planned to do about the discrepancies. Some things I told them we couldn’t change (like the books). Some things I needed to ask how many people agreed about (like the group work). Some things I needed to explain why I was doing them in spite of similar feedback last unit (like the free writing).

The end result was a happy class who appreciated that I am listening to them, and showed me with their smiles, thanks, and hard work. The next round of feedback will hopefully reveal whether they felt answered this time.

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  • David Harbinson  On November 12, 2013 at 12:40 am

    I think what you’re doing with the feedback is a great idea. Even when we make changes from feedback, the students might not realise, and think that we have just ignored what they’ve said. But addressing it directly really helps them to see that you do care what they think and not only that but want to involve them in the process. How empowering! I wouldn’t be too surprised if next time you got quite a bit more feedback (some negative, some positive maybe). On the face of it, that might not appear good, but actually I think that would be great because it would show that they trust and respect you enough to take the time to give feedback, because they know it means something. I know whenever I have to give feedback, if I know it’s going to be ignored, I never really bother, even if I have a lot I want to say. I’d be interested to hear what type of feedback they give next time.

    • livinglearning  On November 13, 2013 at 11:47 am

      I think another part of it is getting the students used to giving feedback, both to me and to each other. Especially when the receive feedback from each other they get a sense of what kind of feedback they like to get or is useful or helpful to them. I hope that also makes a difference in the kind of feedback they give.

  • Rose Bard  On November 12, 2013 at 6:42 am

    Thanks so much Anne for sharing that experiment with us. I loved the idea of using a chart to discuss with the students. I should add this to my next year classes right from the beginning of the term. It makes so much sense and it is also a wonderful opportunity for them to develop other skills. 🙂

    • livinglearning  On November 13, 2013 at 11:48 am

      Thanks for reading, Rose. I agree that there are a lot of skills (as well as language points) that can be learned from giving feedback. Part of my experimenting has been how to make feedback a good use of class time. I’m not sure I have the answers yet, still learning!

  • kevchanwow  On November 12, 2013 at 11:19 am

    Hi Anne,

    I lik ethos very much. I think the way you took class time to really explain how you are using the feedback is quite amazing and something I can use as a framework to give my own feedback sessions a bit more shape.
    Thanks for sharing,

    • livinglearning  On November 13, 2013 at 11:50 am

      Thanks for reading! I think there is a lot to be said for experimenting with feedback. I’m glad my chart works for my class. No matter how I collect feedback, responding to it directly will always be a part of the process from now on.

  • Matthew Walker  On November 12, 2013 at 12:38 pm

    Much props for doing your own mid-course feedback elicitation. Often it is done only at the end, and the students never really know if actually means anything to the instructor. Looking forward to the next round!

    • livinglearning  On November 13, 2013 at 11:53 am

      Thank you. I used to only collect feedback at the end of courses, and students (university students) questioned me about it. I ended up telling them it was so I could improve the course for the next session. But with more thought and “training”, I realized that it would be much better if I could improve the course for THESE students, and show them that I care about their opinions.

  • Josette  On November 12, 2013 at 5:23 pm

    I love the chart idea! What wonderful, visual way to let your students know that you value them and their learning. And that you value them as decision makers of their learning! Empowering!

    • livinglearning  On November 13, 2013 at 11:54 am

      I hope they feel that way. I wonder if I can find a way to collect feedback on the feedback on the feedback. A feedback loop! Maybe I’m dreaming…

      • Josette  On November 13, 2013 at 8:02 pm

        Oh the fantastic feedback loop. I think I shall offer you the challenge. why not!? 🙂

  • Anna Loseva (@AnnLoseva)  On November 13, 2013 at 1:30 am

    Hi Anne,

    I really like this idea and I’ve been using similar charts myself for class discussion on feedback, too! Going through their responses together and outloud at the beginning of the course (when I try to investigate their previous language experience) helps to build rapport. During the course, as you’re saying it, it’s a great way to show students we can actually take into consideration what their learning experience is! I like that you also explain what you can’t change and say why – that’s a strong teacher position!

    Thanks for the post, and for reminding me to do it again and again)


    • livinglearning  On November 13, 2013 at 11:55 am

      Hi Ann, thanks for reading! I hadn’t thought of feedback as rapport-building, but I can see now that it is. I think I have new classes starting in January and that would be a great way to begin. Thanks for the idea!

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