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Do I Really Wanna Know

As my school year winds down, I try to take a little time to reflect on my year. I try to do this while things are still fresh. Things are so fresh in fact, I still have another week and a half left in school. While this time of year is crazy and so many kids are checked out, i thought it might be nice to get feedback from students on all of the changes i have made this year. Of course when I think of all the work I've put into those changes, the natural question becomes "do I really want to know students opinions?" The natural answer all of us are taught to say is yes, of course we want feedback from all stakeholders and students should have a say in their education. Of course that sounds good in theory, but in practice, it can be much harder. Realistically, it is hard not to take it personally when a kid says they don't like the system you set up.

I wouldn't want to gather data as a show of valuing student opinions while they feel pressure to compliment me, so I have to be careful in the formatting to make it safe for kids to be honest if I want true insights. I decided to set ego aside and give students a chance to say what they really think and offer suggestions for improvement. Since this is the championship round of my Arts Madness tournament, I have a captive audience. I decided to add half a dozen optional questions to this week's Google form. Before students could scan the QR code to get to this week's matchup, I explained that I added optional questions so they could give me anonymous feedback. To set the tone, I explained that while they can say what they want with no repercussions, I would like them to be clear and concrete in their suggestions. The example I give is "you might say 'I prefer silent videos instead of the ones where you narrate the instructions' instead of 'I dont like your voice' because while I can empathize- I mean nobody is more disappointed by my voice than I am, it's not really something I can change so we all just have to suffer through that one together." That gets the kids laughing but also understanding what kind of feedback would be appropriate and constructive.

So far as the data are coming in, I have been very happy. About 95% of the class seems to like the changes I have made and the majority of them are strongly favorable to them. While I would like to see 100% approval of what I am doing, I think it is important to realize that pretty much nothing appeals to 100% of children (except perhaps my one student's suggestion that I could improve art class by feeding them candy; I wont be doing it but I bet all the kids would be on board with such a plan) so a rating that high would really mean that somebody is lieing.  While I cannot please everybody, I do seem to be getting favorable ratings from the vast majority of students and a number of students seem to be offering feedback along the same lines that I was thinking. A fair number of the suggestions for improvement centered around organization of materials. I admit I am a slob. I try to keep things tidy but I cannot seem to keep up with the messes kids make. I need to get a good organization system started and hold students accountable to maintain order. The other thing a number of students said was that they want to have occasional interruptions to the self directed learning for more guided practice. Of course they didn't put it in those terms, but they said they wanted to pause the game occasionally and have me lead the class in projects showing while kids love choice and freedom, they really do want structure too.

As I plan ahead to next year, I think my ultimate challenge will be figuring out the right way to balance those needs. I think one of the main things to keep in mind is that freedom and limitations are not really antithetical. The key is to find the structure that maximizes choice and support/guidance. Currently I am debating whether it is better to have a rotating schedule of weeks that are student led and weeks that are teacher directed or if it would be better to keep the class mostly student led, but set up a station in the room where I would lead a workshop activity so students could choose to have the teacher directed format any day they feel the need for more guidance.

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