Vanguard Teaching

Front and center of tomorrow's society – learn smarter, teach harder

Critical Kid Criticism: Why Educators Should Ask Their Students to Evaluate Their Teaching Performance

In our equations for determining teacher effectiveness, we usually leave students out of the conversation. Legally and socially, we relegate minors’ thoughts and opinions to a level of insignificance all too often. Even the word “minor” itself diminishes their existence and infers that they are lesser. But in order for us to properly educate our children, we must first listen to them.

The most important client in the business of K-12 education is the student. Teachers, principals, and administrators should be there to serve the children and improve their lives, both in the present and for the future. So why are we not letting children have a bigger voice in determining what is an effective education? Any other self-motivated and goal-oriented business would be asking the clients about their experience so that they could make improvements as necessary. Why are schools an exception to this rule?

Yes, children are immature, curious, and inexperienced — but these qualities can be valuable ingredients for improving the education landscape, and it certainly shouldn’t be a reason we ignore their opinions altogether. These qualities in children are exactly the reason we should be listening to them.

Take this interesting situation as an example. Who would magicians rather perform in front of, children or adults? In the introduction of Stephen J. Dubner and Steve Levitt’s May 2014 Freakonomics Radio podcast, “Think Like a Child,” they explored a magician’s preference for performing in front of adults instead of children. Why not children? According to Alex Stone, the magician interviewed, children, unlike adults, usually think outside the box and notice small details because of their naïvetés. When Stone performs classic magic tricks, such as the hidden handkerchief trick, kids are constantly coming up with theories of what they think happened. And this doesn’t bode well for the illusion of magic overall.

Adults, on the other hand, are geared to looking at the big problem and not paying attention to “trivial” details. This makes sense because as we grow older, our schema database and pre-conceived notions increase. To paraphrase I Corinthians 13:11, growing more “mature” is throwing away our childish ways and making our world view more concrete; consequently, this weakens the inherent capacity for creativity that we all hold as children. This childish creativity is slowly taken away from us as we grow, bit by bit, as society tells us what to think and how to act. Thus we, as adults with a lack of creativity and an abundance of preconceived notions, fall for the magic trick much easier as we only see what the magician wants us to see and nothing more.

But how does this relate to the classroom? Well, let’s use students’ inexperienced approaches to finding solutions. I recall when my 8th grade U.S. history class was having a debate on whether a gender-separated class would be beneficial. The whole class was presented with the statistics that ladies lag behind boys in math and science possibly due to the “dumbing down” effect. As the debate raged on for about twenty minutes, one of my cool, calm and collected students, Usbaldo, suggested, “We shouldn’t have to separate a whole school or all the classes by gender. If the stats say math and science, why don’t we just separate those classes? In other classes like English and history where both genders need to hear each others’ opinions, there’s no need to separate.” A simple but profound solution, in my opinion. All the time this student made his comment, I was in the mode of all-or-nothing with gender- schools. But his child-like views struck right to the heart of the matter and came up with a solution that is truly something to consider.

Furthermore, Dubner and Levitt add that children’s immaturity allows them to ask “dumb questions” and sometimes state or question the obvious, something most adults are afraid to do. And often, these “immature” questions get right to the heart of the matter. It is the innocent and immature mind of children who ask questions about movies and fairytales to expose plot holes that sometimes angers the storyteller or reader. Remember the fable of “The Emperor’s New Clothes”? The thieves hustled everyone into a mass groupthink scheme where they believed that the naked emperor was wearing beautiful garments. It was no accidental irony that a straight-shooting child exposed the lie by openly stating the awkwardly overlooked truth that the emperor was naked!

Levitt compares this childlike thinking approach to his work as a consultant. A consultant can add fresh eyes on an environment that is new to them. Because they are outsiders, they are more or less allowed to ask “dumb questions” and comment on the “obvious.” But in doing so, it helps them to illuminate things that the insiders may not notice. This is the “fish are the last to discover water” phenomenon – think Alexis de Tocqueville and his famous observations of America.

Students can serve as very insightful consultants to your class and school. It seems quite elementary actually – asking students how better to serve them. They should be considered professionals in this arena, no? Sometimes the problem is that students’ opinions and observations are dismissed or even punished. It is easy to do so because their inputs may be ill-timed or layered with sarcasm or some form of humor that can make the educator lose face in front of their students, or even worse, their colleagues (gasp!).

Kids Talking

Teachers, students may hold important information to your success as an educator.

It is like the angry customer who is yelling at the boss during peak hours. The screaming aggrieved customer may have a right to be angry, but we need to make this scenario benefit all parties involved in a civilized manner. The name of the game here is eliciting helpful opinions (even if many are tactless) in a controlled and timely manner. Try adding your children in the conversation of “how to make you a better a teacher.” Children’s immaturity can harbor helpful, creative solutions. Moreover, the curious nature of children keeps them attentive, inquisitive and always discovering even the smallest of details that you, as an adult, may simply overlook. Your children can be your canaries in the class coal mines – just listen to the songs they sing.

You can solicit information about your performance as a teacher from your students in many different ways. Let’s take a look at some of the best practices for getting the valuable feedback you desire from your students in a constructive, positive manner.

Tools You Can Use to Get Student-Client Feedback

New School

  • There are many websites that allow you to create surveys that collect and disaggregate the data. Qualtrics and SurveyMonkey are the most formal and popular sites you can use to gather information from your students. Both sites make it easy to setup and distribute surveys, especially if your students have cellphones.
  • Quia is a website I’ve used for eight years now to administer surveys about my class performance. The respondents have the ability to be anonymous or place their name on their responses. It is not as thorough as the previous two, but it gets the job the done rather well.
Quia Survey Example 2

On this October 2008 QUIA survey, I wanted to get a feel of how the students were receiving my lessons so I could make proper adjustments early in the school year.

Quia Survey Example

An anonymous Quia survey from my 8th-grade history class in October 2008 directly asking my students what I need to improve.

Old School

  • The old “suggestions/comments” box is great for the classroom. It gives off the impression that you mean business and want to hear out what the kids have to say. This method is very cost-effective, too. All you need is a shoebox, old wrapping paper and scissors. Done!
  • Once you have established an open and trusting relationship with your students, conducting discussions with them about what you can do better is golden. You must humble yourself and attentively listen to make this experience beneficial for you and the students. Doing one of these teacher evaluation discussions in a defensive manner can lead to a clash with your students and many valuable opinions may not be voiced as students become too afraid to speak their minds.

When To Administer Surveys

Choose wisely when you want to solicit feedback from your “student-clients”. You don’t want to oversaturate your kids with surveys (imagine how annoyed you get when overzealous business shove surveys in your face). Play it smart— you know your students. You can distribute feedback surveys on an interval schedule (e.g. beginning, middle and end of the year, at the end of grading periods, etc.), at the end of select lessons or units or in another manner that makes sense to you and your classroom. No matter what time-frame you decide upon, be sure, at the beginning of the year, to let the “student-clients” know when you will administer the surveys and how best they may let their voice be heard.

Why Invest the Time on Giving Surveys?

Four reasons why you should give your “student-clients” surveys:

  1. It shows the clients that you want to give them the best service that you can provide, which in turn shows you care about their education.
  2. It shows an example of professionalism that they may carry into the classroom and beyond.
  3. It is a great way to improve your craft from in-class experts.
  4. Self-efficacy! What better way to show youth that their voice matters?

Who? And To What Age Group Should Teachers Give Surveys?

I suggest teachers at any level of K-12 schooling should give some form of student surveys to get feedback. The method of administering the surveys and the type of surveys will depend on the developmental level of the students (differentiate guys!), but feedback is feedback. If you think you cannot get valuable information about your job on a daily basis from a 1st grader, spend a day really talking and listening to them, then rethink your position. It’s true that kids say the darndest things, and in those quotable kiddy moments, you just might find words to live by — or at least to teach by.

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