Over the last 6 months I have found student voice to be a powerful tool. Whilst it has always been something I have taken seriously, in the past I have found it to take more work to gather and analyse data than it was necessarily worth. However I have revisited this recently and have found how easy now is to garner students’ views, and how effective their ideas can be for enhancing learning, when implemented.
Since beginning my endeavours in this area I have found the process has helped my teaching in a number of key ways including:
Getting to know students a little before teaching them.
I posted previously about my concerns about the use of data and the risk of labelling students before even meeting them (https://jmsreflect.blog/2017/09/04/reflecting-on-critical-use-of-student-data/). However I still wanted something of a head-start with some of my new classes. Once I received class lists in the summer, I was able to offer all my new GCSE students the chance to complete a brief (14 question) survey before the summer. From it I learned:
- That they were most looking forward to studying Crime and Punishment and so I decided to start with that unit.
- That they were worried about remembering the information and writing extended answers, so I left that for a few weeks to get comfortable with the new GCSE. Most assessments so far have been open book for long answer or simple memory tests so that they only have one anxiety at once. I have devised ways to build their confidence at learning large amounts of information: for example, with the help of the Horrible Histories song we can now list all the British monarchs for over 500 years which has greatly changed the attitude of some students to the quantity of information they can remember.
- Some valuable individual comments about what supports their individual learning best which helped me to plan my lessons until I got to know them better individually.
Time to devise and share this questionnaire: 25 minutes.
Time for students to complete (out-of-class): 5 minutes each, responses submitted within 2 weeks.
Time to analyse data: 20 minutes.
Reflecting on the impact of my teaching and adjusting it to better support the students.
At the end of my first A-level unit, I ran a simple (6 question) survey about how successful the learning had been, which strategies had most helped them and how I could better support them. As a result of their feedback the next 3 lessons were given over to their ideas: we watched a documentary, and reviewed our essays and some core content they wished to go over. The survey had the impact of a round of carefully planned assessments … but without the marking and the struggle to infer the gaps from a written answer!
Time to devise and share the questionnaire: 15 minutes.
Time for students to discuss and complete (in class): 15 minutes.
Time to analyse: 5 minutes
Answering specific questions, comparing learning tools and planning developments for the future.
I have since employed similar questionnaires with a range of other classes and very much plan to continue so to do at the end of this term. I have discovered that:
- One A-level class was astoundingly uncommunicative in class discussion. They shared their reasons for this with me and we tried a range of tools to help, which they then evaluated. Silent/Paper debates and the use of Socrative for anonymous open commentary has really boosted the quality of dialogue we are able to have in the lessons.
- Some of my exam classes were finding the range of support resources available slightly overwhelming. I was able to run a survey with last year’s students to find out which ones they had most used during their revision and generate a ‘Top 5’ list. This wasn’t necessarily what I would have expected; but that is the point of asking the students themselves!
- The year 7s have greatly enjoyed their history and geography units and have found the level of challenge suitable, but do not feel the same engagement with their first RE unit. That will be rewritten and redeveloped for next year.
Time to devise and share small, focused questionnaires and teaching-tool comparisons: less than 10 minutes.
Time for students to complete (in class): less than 10 minutes.
Time to analyse data: less than 5 minutes.
Part of my interest has been driven by reading McIntyre and Rudduck’s ‘Improving Learning Through Consulting Pupils’, especially Chapter 7: What Pupils Say About Being Consulted. Pupils were very positive about the idea of being consulted, but felt more comfortable giving comments directly about the teaching through questionnaires, rather than face-to-face, for obvious reasons. The process of consultation helped build their own confidence and, in some ways, their understanding of the learning itself as they looked at lessons from the teacher’s perspective. However a number of comments were raised about authenticity and the need to see teachers taking their ideas seriously. For it to be a useful and valuable exercise for both students and teachers, there needs to be follow-up.
This somewhat echoes my experience of large-scale consultation in the past. Although the students’ ideas were always valued, the exact impact of them can be lost if feeding into high-level systems such as appointments and development plans. Too often I have seen, and been guilty of, failing to explain to students after the process how their feedback has been used. One of the most significant improvements in the tools available to me as a teacher has been the ability to deliver simple student surveys and to act on them with almost immediate impact. It is a tool I shall now be using regularly.
Questions that have helped me to reflect on the use of student voice:
- What exactly am I trying to find out here? How can I keep the questionnaire as simple and focused as possible?
- What will I do with this data when I have it? Is there time to respond to this within my teaching plan?
- How will students know I have reflected on their feedback? Have I planned time to respond to them?
McIntyre, D., & Rudduck, J. (2007). Improving Learning Through Consulting Pupils, (Improving learning TLRP). London ; New York: Routledge.