Saturday, October 8, 2016

What are Students Saying? - First Grading Period Reflections

As I've often said, I like giving students regular opportunities to reflect. I've had a goal for some time to gather student reflections at the end of each unit. That has not become a reality, yet, but there are few points of the school year in which I make sure I ask some reflection questions: the end of the first grading period, the end of the first semester, and the end of the year.

Believe it or not, it's the end of the first grading period.

I love Google Forms for student reflections. I can ask multiple choice questions and short answer questions and easily see responses and trends. I also save lots of paper. :)

I used a survey I used at the end of the first grading period last year that I called "The Goldilocks Survey." There were five multiple choice questions addressing such areas as how the class has been going, course difficulty, class structure, student-teacher interaction, and (self-perceived) student effort in which the answers were some variation of "too much," "too little," or "just right."

The three short answer questions asked students to describe something they enjoyed about the class, something about the class they would change, and anything else they would like me to know.

I questioned Algebra 1 kids and Pre-Algebra kids separately, so I could see responses of kids in the same course together and notice any trends for a particular course.

Most of the responses to the multiple choice questions fell overwhelmingly in the "just right" category. I was thrilled to see a large percentage (almost 40%) of my Pre-Algebra kids say that the class was going "better than expected."

I haven't done a specific survey about flipped lessons this year - I might do a short one when we return from Fall Break - but videos were mentioned frequently as a favorite part of the class for both Algebra 1 (videos for homework) and Pre-Algebra (in-class videos).

Students appreciate light homework loads.

The aspect of the class brought up the most and that has me doing the most thinking is group work.

What do you like about the class? Group/partner work
What would you change about the class? Group/partner work

I have become a huge believer in partner work. I found several years ago that students are much more focused and accomplish so much more with a partner as opposed to groups of 4. With a partner, there is less hiding and letting two or three other people do your work for you.

I was reminded this past week that groups of three or four are not as successful as partners.

On the survey, my Pre-Algebra kids asked for more partner work. I agree. I had an "a-ha" several weeks ago that my Pre-Algebra kids were not getting enough opportunities to work and talk together. I've made it a point to give them more of those opportunities.

Several students in the survey mentioned how helpful it was to discuss their thinking with someone else. One student likes that they have a partner to ask for help if I am busy.

A few students talked about how groups are selected. I've been giving students more choice in who they work with. But occasionally I pick the groups. Sometimes I allow students to work alone, if that's their preference.

All of these aspects were alluded to in the responses to the survey questions.

Some students want me to pick groups/partners less often. I am a (developing) believer in student choice (I have made great strides), but I believe it's important that students learn to work with a variety of personalities and not just their peer group (I am reminded, though, of teachers' reactions when we are made to "mix it up" and sit with someone different in a meeting).

Some students never want to work with someone else. My heart hurts for my introverted students who would rather crawl under their desk than work with somebody. I do feel it's important they learn to work with others; it is unlikely anyone will go through life and not have to work with another person.

Some students feel alone in class; this makes me sad. I've seen those kids who are excluded when students are allowed to choose who they work with. I appreciate the kids who make an effort to include them.

I think a balance of all the options - sometimes I pick their partner, sometimes they pick their partner, sometimes they are allowed to work alone - is necessary to keep most everyone happy most of the time.

I find that's true with most things in the classroom. Keep things mixed up, and don't ever do something the same way every time.

I might give my "Partner Preference" survey when we start the second grading period (have I mentioned how much I like Google Forms). That way I can lend a little bit of structure plus choice to our work with partners.

Overall, I believe students have had a positive experience in my classroom to start the school year. I think we've laid a good foundation, and I can't wait to see the growth - in them and me - as we continue to work through the 8th Grade.


  1. This is awesome Mrs. Gibbs! I love how you promote student ownership in your class with surveys and reflection. Thank you for sharing!

    1. Thanks for reading, Stacie. I love questioning my kids; they have great ideas and lots of insight!