The results…

I just finished pouring over the results of my students’ final class evaluations.  I have written about them three years ago, two years ago, and I would like to refer you to Larry Ferlazzo who last month and in previous years has written about the evaluations he has given his kids.  Taking a cue from Larry, I like that he shared his actual results instead of just giving a summary…that was brave.  I don’t normally share the actual results but after a brief reflection will give you the link to all of the answers.

First, here is the evaluation I gave to my kids (formatting a bit messed up on the google doc).

After reading Larry’s post, I think next year I will add more academic and skill based questions to it.

I give quite a lengthy intro to the evaluation.  I really stress how seriously I take it and how I want them to let it rip, to not hold anything back.  I also promise to not read them until after school is over.  What surprised me this year about the two questions at the top of the chart, “In one word…” is how they really changed this year from past years.  In past years words like hard, difficult, and challenging were predominant.  This year I was surprised by words like fun–not that I am against having fun, it’s just seeing that word so many times somehow touched on a traditional nerve that school should be about rigor!! not fun…right?!

Here is a wordle (a wordle makes a word bigger the more times it was given as an answer-click on image to enlarge) for the answers to “In one word describe the teacher…”

one word describe the class

And here is a wordle with the answers to the question “In one word describe the teacher…”

one word describe the teacher

For the question “What is one thing you have learned this year I was surprised by how many kids–nearly all–did not mention any content.   Answers like “be creative” and “be myself” filled the list and show me that while I try to push that, I must be doing it more explicitly and wonder if the content is being pushed too far into the back seat of the class.  Next year I think I will break that question into two, one aimed more specifically at content. On the answers I will share on the data sheet please note that they are abbreviated, I took out the key phrase from each sentence.

The answers to the grid always surprise me.  They are told to mark each question from excellent to miserable.  Excellent should represent without question the “best that they ever experienced,”  and miserable should represent the “worse they ever experienced.”  Three questions especially stand out for me and show three areas that I need to improve in…and what really bugs me is that they are the same three questions that I have been struggling with and slowly improving on for the last ten years or so.

7. Teacher created an environment with enough structure for me to be successful
9. Teacher gave students the attention they needed
11. Teacher’s ability to respond to students’ questions

The three questions are linked very closely together.  Early on in my career when I started shifting how I taught I struggled with how to get the kids to shift from a traditional classroom to a non-traditional class.  At first I was a huge failure.  I literally only lasted doing wild creative things for a month and then shifted right back to traditional activities.  I slowly figured out that I had to de-program them slowly and deliberately.   It can be very painful for many kids.  Looking at #7, they want to be told what to do, for #9 they want me to sit at a desk and allow then to come to me to get their needs met, and for #11 they want me to answer their questions with “answers,” not more questions.  So while I am going to continue doing what I am doing, I need to figure out a better way to tell them what I am doing and why.  By January most kids have figured out what I am doing is not just being “mean,” but I have to be more sensitive to the kids who see what I am doing as not meeting their needs. (after writing this I found a good post from Peter Pappas that touches on these questions)

The other two questions which used to bother me are:

12. Teacher’s knowledge of subject
14. Teacher’s preparation for clas

Honestly, the scores for those now make me smile.  There are so many times when kids ask me questions that I respond with something like “I don’t know, go find out and tell me.”  We are also forever adjusting what we do in class and making shifts in what we do mid-way through class, always changing directions, dates, final products, and a lot of what we do I try to make it appear as though we are creating as we go — makes me look unprepared in light of the fact that in a teacher centered room everything always goes according to the original plan.  So I can live with the scores for #12 and #14.

The most valuable part of the evaluation is the final question, “Use the space on the back of this paper to freely express your feelings about the course and teacher…”  I will not summarize them here or include examples because many are very personal answers and I think I would cross a line by sharing some.  I did use some quotes from that last question in this post, and I included examples from the previous years in this video starting at the 2:50 mark.

Here are all of the results from the 2010-2011 school year.  Please note that I ended up organizing each column to find patterns so each row no longer represents a single students responses.  For a copy that would show individual responses you can look here (so row #56 going across is all of a student’s responses). I would appreciate any feedback on the questions I asked, and would like to hear about any questions you feel should be included and how you handle student evaluations.  There were about six kids out, and some kids skipped certain questions.  While I will be brave like Larry and share these scores with you, he actually shares them with his staff!  I can’t ever imagine doing that!

I will end with a push to anyone who does not give their students evaluations–do it.  It might one of the scariest things you do, it might ruin your summer, you will focus on the few that stand out instead of the patterns.  In the beginning of my career the students gave me lots to think about–trust me, even the  evaluation responses from even 5 years ago looked nothing like this year’s evaluation. But in the end, it will re-shape your teaching as long as you do one thing…believe them…all of them.  Don’t start searching for excuses for why a kid answered a certain way, or why they didn’t like you. You must believe what they write is true…because you know what, it usually is, whether we like it, or not.

Striving for perfection is demoralizing…

Today was the last day of school and just as I promised the kids, I waited to crack open the envelopes and read their evaluations after they left.  This year I was determined to not focus on the negatives, but of course it is so hard not to.  90% of the evaluations could be wonderful and I would focus on the other 10%.  I have come to learn that 3-6% of the kids simply will not “like” the class due to a variety or reasons.  This year I hit 2%.  But there were 3 small pockets of kids who while they reported overall to get a lot out of our time together, had some issues.

Issue #1-They though that I should do more “teaching.”  They weren’t happy about having to figure out things on their own.  They didn’t like when they had a question that I would ask them a question in return and help them determine what they next step would be.  In their words, they simply wanted to be told what to do so they could learn more.

Issue #2-They did not “learn” enough.  They equated “learning” with the amount of facts that they were responsible for knowing. One in particular sticks out that essentially said they would like to cover more events instead of going in depth into fewer.  Another one said that their friends “learned” more because they covered more history.

Issue #3-They interpreted me brainstorming with them, working things through with the class, changing plans because of a tech problem, and changing direction simply because we figured out how to do something better based on the previous days work as me not being prepared.

What was also interesting is that most of the kids who had one of the issues above agreed that they became “stronger” because of the issue in spite of me “not teaching,” not giving them enough “facts,” and coming in “unprepared.”  The three issues above always plague me.  When I first started shifting from a more tarditional style there were A LOT of kids who had issues #1 and #2.  I still have a bit to go I guess in making sure I help them interpret why doing things so differently than what they are used to is a good thing.  Could be as simple as adding a “here is why we are doing this” sort of statement when they are happening.  I have tried to add more “here is how the skills used on this project will help you when you…”  I think that makes a big difference for them, and for me to make sure I am having them do something that is important.

Drives me crazy that I am still sitting here in school focused on the several evaluations that pointed out problems.  The reality is though that by focusing on those is what will make my class stronger for everyone. Yea the good stuff makes me all warm and fuzzy and feeds my soul, but the ones that rip me are the stuff that challenges me. The stuff that drives me to become a master at what I do.  It’s funny how I am kind of a messy person.  My desk is piled high, my clothes are usually a bit ruffled, and I don’t care if my lawn is 5 feet high.  But when I am in front or with the kids I want to be perfect(however, I work really hard at pulling off a class that seems to be spontaneous in nature).  I don’t want to be good, I want to be perfect.  That quest burns me out, it sometimes sucks me down.  I constantly feel as though I am not good enough or I should be doing better.  I end up focusing on the negative instead of the positive.  I totally lack balance.  Grrr….alright, a future post should be about all the good stuff they said to balance this one 😉

Striving for excellence motivates you; striving for perfection is demoralizing.  ~Harriet Braiker