Do you solicit student feedback?
I usually did as a classroom teacher and found student surveys to a valuable measure of teaching and learning in my classes as well as a significant contribution to my professional growth. However, I quickly learned that I couldn't take responses at face value. I feel that students often told me what they thought I wanted to hear. They tended to be positive, perhaps for fear of repercussions, or offered unrealistic suggestions. At first glance, their responses didn't have a lot of meat in them, but if I dug, I usually found it. Unpacking responses and reading between the lines helped me reflect on my practice and hone my instructional skills. While students may not be our official evaluators, they are the reason schools exist.
During Episode 5 of the Teaching Tidbits Podcast, I had the pleasure of interviewing two high schoolers about their remote learning experience. I encouraged them to speak openly and honestly and to share constructive feedback that would help us navigate these difficult and uncertain times.
Just as I did when I sifted through survey responses, I listened intently and repeatedly to the podcast episode to unpack their feedback. Here were my greatest takeaways.
- Let's not pretend that remote instruction can replicate face-to-face instruction. While it works better for some courses than others, it's way different and it's not easy for any of us. We want to hold students accountable, but we also need to acknowledge that it's challenging for all involved. High expectations are not negotiable, but we need flexibility and grace. Furthermore, some courses don't lend themselves well to remote instruction and lessons may need to be reinvented to make them work or it may all fall apart.
- Easier work and a lighter workload can actually be harder on students. This is especially true for special populations and those with attention issues. Structures and challenges are healthy. While we do want to be flexible, we don't want learning to fold. We may slow down during this pandemic, but we can't quit.
- Technical difficulties are not just an inconvenience they are interference. Videoconferencing tools and internet connections are not flawless and we must keep in mind that these imperfections impact and interfere with learning, engagement, and motivation. They're not merely an inconvenience.
- Meaning and purpose matter. Students may not be masters at pedagogy, but they know full well what a well-planned lesson looks like. Young people want to learn, not just earn grades.
- Maximize the learning management system. Students understand that there's a learning curve for some teachers, but our digital natives expect teachers to effectively utilize educational technologies, especially an LMS. It's about productivity, not the wow-factor.
- Organization and predictability are crucial. Just as it is in the traditional setting, students need to know what the objective is and how they are going to meet it. And laying out a plan - weekly or longer - helps students have a clear vision of timeline and expectations. It's also helpful to be clear and realistic about pace and deadlines.
- Relationships are possible even from afar and they matter. We don't need to be in the same space or see them every day to develop relationships. Students can tell even remotely when teachers are genuinely interested in the whole student.
- It's best for cameras to be on. We learn better, we teach better, we connect better. While we don't necessarily need to penalize students for turning off their cameras, it's important for them to see our faces and for them to see ours, even if for just for part of the class period.
- Students want a voice. They want to be heard, but they want to be anonymous so they feel free to express themselves openly and honestly without fear of repercussions or stigma.
- Cleanliness matters. Covid-19 has elevated the importance of sanitation and wellness and they are buying into it. Students are willing to do their part to stay safe and healthy, but they also want the cleaning protocols to stay in place well after the pandemic passes.
I'm certain these young men had lots more to say, but either it didn't come to mind during the interview or they didn't feel completely comfortable expressing it to an unknown audience (perhaps both). We also didn't talk about solutions, because (just like us) they probably don't have a clue. Nevertheless, I was encouraged by their positive mindset and their willingness to work with what they can control and accept what they can't.
If you haven't listened to the broadcast, I encourage you to listen, reflect, and then start a conversation with your students and/or your own kids. And if you have any comments or opinions about the episode, or about conversations you are having with learners, I'd love to hear from you.
Until next time, keep up the great work! We'll get through this one day at a time, one student at a time, one tidbit at a time. Take care!