Do We Really Know What Our Students Want?

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IMG_1111IMG_1110 Do we really know what our students want? Not in terms of 'less homework,' 'better cafeteria food' or 'more recess' but in terms of how lessons are designed and how teachers approach their work in the classroom. Their answers may surprise you.

High school students pivot every 50 minutes or so from one class to another. Within a five-minute passing period they must adapt to an entirely new learning environment. This can be either exhilarating, exhausting or both. Some schools agree to school-wide norms for behavior, procedures and even teaching styles; somewhat evening out the experience. Most, however, allow teachers free reign to do what suits them best.

But what suits students best?

Short of actually going undercover as a student again (or shadowing a student from dawn to dusk...an experience we highly recommend), it's hard to re/imagine what the entire day feels like from their perspective. A wonderful proxy is to simply ask them - several of them; the whole "Breakfast Club" of students whose styles and needs are diverse and varied - and, interestingly so similar, too.

We set up a camera, a chair and asked a random representative sample of 15 students at a large urban high school four questions pulled directly from the Measures of Effective Teaching Project.

  1. What is the best way for teachers to make sure you really understand? (Clarify)
  2. Describe what teachers do to get you to think really deeply/critically about something. (Challenge)
  3. What class is the most engaging and holds your attention best and why? (Captivate)
  4. What is one piece of advice you would like to give to all teachers? [we asked them to write these pieces of advice on a piece of paper with a big Sharpie marker and hold it next to their faces]

The students were appreciative of the short (10 minute) experience in front of a camera with lights and a mic lapel. Some were so unaccustomed to reflecting on the learning experience that it took them several minutes and additional probing questions to get them to 'meta-cognate' on the subtleties and complexities of teaching and learning. And it's surely not every day that teenagers are consulted for advice and asked about how the world can improve for them. Word quickly spread throughout the school and the principal received several formal requests to be interviewed as well. Basking in the glow of this kind of attention felt good to all of them.

How will this feedback be shared?

We are now in post-production with the responses and will share a video of them answering these questions with the entire staff in a couple of weeks. Teachers will use a training day to watch the responses and discuss in teams. Then, we will return to the school in January to ask these same students if they have noticed any changes in their classrooms. Was their advice heeded? Are they noticing more in terms of how their teachers check for understanding; ask questions; attend to relevance and create emotional bonds that hold their attention?

Stay tuned and let us know if you'd like to see what these students had to say! [contact-form][contact-field label='Name' type='name' required='1'/][contact-field label='Email' type='email' required='1'/][contact-field label='Website' type='url'/][contact-field label='Comment' type='textarea' required='1'/][/contact-form]