I believe that student surveys are a crucial of creating a positive classroom climate and to encourage communication and growth for both students and teachers. Surveys show students that I value their opinions and want them to be a part of creating our classroom culture. They also provide me with information that I need to continually improve as a teacher.
I begrudgingly wrote my first student survey while student teaching to fulfill a course requirement. After spending time with the results and opening them up for discussion with my students, I have become dedicated to consistently polling my students.
The first student teaching survey confirmed one of my worst fears: I wasn’t talking loudly enough for all students to hear me. Once I confronted that this was a problem for student learning, the results provided the impetus for me to commit to finding my teacher voice.
I want to consistently improve my classroom and my teaching. While I am a good teacher, I want to be a better teacher.
I want to respond to the needs and interests of my students. When I make changes to classroom structures or lessons, I want those to be based on evidence and input from students rather than on my own whims.
I also want to learn from the people who have the most experience with my teaching; my students. While many of us rely on feedback from administrators and other observers, these people are rarely in your classroom, often less than 0.5% or even 0.05% of the school year.
Results can be valuable feedback to share with administrators or observers to explain how you are responding to the needs of your students and why you have made certain decisions. Your students know you and the way that you teach better than anyone.
Therefore, the feedback that I rely on most comes from my students. I ask for many different types of feedback, but the ultimate goal is to improve and enhance their learning experience.
Also, student answers are amazing. They are honest, creative, and thoughtful. I love learning about my students by finding out more about what they think and how they think about our classroom.
How to Create Thoughtful, Purposeful Surveys.
First, you need to define the purpose of the survey as you would with a lesson plan. The questions should be designed with the end in mind.
What do you want to learn from your students? Where do you need input from each and every student to make the best decision?
What question formats will allow you to gather that information and analyze it easily?
Survey Question Tip: I often come up with ideas for questions at odd moments, in the shower, while driving, in staff meetings, etc. I keep a running list of ideas in Google Keep, a wonder for lists and much more. This way I can keep track of my ideas and find them when it’s time to actually write the survey!
Writing Your Survey
Since you have a unique teaching style and classroom, I would recommend writing your own surveys to ensure that the questions fit your defined purpose. Occasionally I do stumble upon individual questions on surveys created by other teachers that I want to implement. I add these to my handy list for when I need them, but otherwise I create the questions myself. The exception would be something like a learning style inventory, where someone else has already made exactly what I need.
When you make your own survey, you can keep it concise while ensuring you get the information you need. Using blocks of questions or an entire survey from another educator often leads to questions that are filler questions for your students. While these questions are significant to the original writer, they may not have meaning or application in your classroom. Keep in mind, the longer the survey, the more likely the students are to lose interest and choose random answers. Don’t ask three questions when you could get the information you seek with one question.
Additionally, be thoughtful about using student-friendly language in your survey. You might understand what formative assessment and project-based learning are, but your students might not recognize your teacher terminology even if they have participated in these types of learning experiences.
Lastly, your questions should be actionable. Create questions that will allow you to either have a class discussion about how things are going or that will allow you to make changes within your classroom. Students will buy-in to regular polling once they see that you are taking their responses seriously rather than just saving them in a file.
For example, instead of “What do you like about the layout of our classroom?”, ask “What would your dream classroom look like? Consider furniture, technology, and decor.” The first question might be beneficial if you are seeking student opinions about the layout, but if you want to utilize student input, the second question gives you an idea of what kind of changes you could make.
When to Survey Your Students
Consistently and with intent. If your students are under the impression that you are just gathering information and not doing anything with the information, they will not take the survey seriously and will just randomly choose or write answers. Students need to see that see that surveys are a regular and meaningful part of instruction in order to take them seriously.
Some concrete ideas for when to survey:
- At the beginning or end of each unit of study.
- When you try something new.
- After each lesson. I actually know a teacher who does this and makes improvements to specific lessons and pieces of each lesson based on this feedback.
How to Actually Make the Survey
During my student teaching experience (7 years ago!), I asked students to write answers on paper surveys and tallied the results by hand. Thank goodness times have changed! Online surveys are much quicker for students, automatically place responses in a spreadsheet for manipulation, and can summarize the results for you.
I survey my students with Google Forms. I have not tried other online tools like SurveyMonkey or Typeform, so I don’t have a lot of room to compare. Here are just a few of the reasons I am devoted to Google Forms:
- It is free and easy to use.
- The results are saved in my Google Drive.
- Google Forms creates visual representations of the results for you.
- You can create any additional visuals and analyze your data using Google Sheets.
- The responses are summarized in a format that is easy to share with my students immediately.
If you need a Google Forms tutorial, I would recommend following video.
How to Manage Your Surveys and Results in 3 Easy Steps
- Create a separate folder for surveys and results in Google Drive.
- Label each survey with an informative title as well as by the date, semester, or school year. Example: Unit 2 Plate Tectonics Fall 2016.
- Once you have compiled a year of survey questions and results, separate them into folders by year.
Share the Survey with Students
Introduce the Survey
When you first give a survey to a new group of students, be sure to explain why surveys are an important part of your classroom. I always start by saying that I utilize surveys to get student feedback so that I can plan a lesson, seating arrangement, unit etc. that best meets their needs.
I also inform students that their responses and their completion of the survey will have absolutely no impact on their grade. We also briefly consider the difference between constructive criticism and complaining. Lastly, I make surveys anonymous as often as possible to encourage students to provide open and honest feedback. The exception is when I am asking about seating arrangements and need to know who is making the request.
Give the Survey
I strongly recommend giving your survey during class. If you want to ensure you get feedback from every student, the survey has to be done during class. If they are asked to answer the questions at home, some of them won’t have access to technology which will skew your results. Additionally, since my surveys aren’t for a grade and are often anonymous, it is difficult for my students to make them a priority when faced with a multitude of homework assignments.
Set aside time for students to take the survey during class. I like to do this on student work days or after assessments. For example, have students begin class by taking the survey and when they are finished they can begin the lab or activity for the day.
When sharing the survey with your students, I would recommend placing the link directly on your website or utilizing the shareable link. If you are using the shareable link, turn it into a bit.ly rather than using the Google URL Shortener. The Google URL Shortener creates links that are case specific and this tends to be confusing for my students, especially those that are still trying to achieve grade-level reading and writing.
To ensure that every student can easily access the survey, I typically customize the bitly URL to spell out words or phrases. For example, bit.ly/unit6survey (this link will take you to an actual example from my class or you can just look below!) or bit.ly/catandmouse (I made this one up, but I might use it next year!).
What to Do with the Results of Your Survey
Schedule Time to Review Results
Do not give a survey if you are planning to sit on the results until the following school year. Just like students need timely feedback and opportunities to improve, the survey is your timely feedback. Take time to consider what the results mean for your teaching as well as for your students. Schedule 15 minutes of planning time to review the results. Then determine what the results mean for your classroom, how to share them with students, and what actions you need to take as a result.
Sharing Results with Students
I try to make a point to talk with my students about the survey results. They took the time to respond to your questions and students deserve to see the results.
Sometimes this is simply sharing the results with students and letting them know how this feedback will inform instruction. If the feedback signifies the need for a larger discussion, I post responses (anonymously!) on the board to create a reference point for our conversations.
Take Action with the Results
Show students that their ideas and feedback are important by taking action and addressing the results and taking actions.
Sometimes this means that I need to only partially accept or reject their feedback. I had a class that struggled to stay on task ask for more time to work on assignments. This feedback didn’t mean that they got more time, it lead to a discussion of how time is used during class.
Regardless of the results, I tackle them with the intent to take action, whether that be starting a discussion, watching an extra video, moving the desks, or changing groups.
Now it’s your turn to take action!
- If Google forms is new to you, create a Form with one of each type of question. Then have a few friends or family members take the survey so that you get a better idea of what the results will look like.
- Determine what you want to learn from the survey. Then make your own with a purpose, concise questions, and actionable results. Then give the survey and get student feedback!
- To find some great question ideas, read 15 Questions to Deepen Your Student Surveys.
- Share your survey practices and you in the comments!