Monday, July 18, 2011
In order to determine the effectiveness of teachers and schools, we must learn from their students.
The most obvious metrics of student learning come from testing students on content. While critically important, those aren't the only metrics.
Another way to learn about effectiveness is to do periodic student surveys. Student surveys will not tell you how much the students have learned (tests tell you that and students aren't very good judges of their learning). However, students are the world's best experts on some other important information: their perceptions and their feelings.
Here are some student feelings that can lead to changes to make teachers and schools more effective.
- Enthusiasm - are you growing it or killing it? Only the students can tell you. What we're really talking about is the student's intrinsic motivation. Ideally, we would do everything possible to nurture intrinsic motivation. We use the terms "enthusiastic" or "enjoy" because we can ask even students in early grades if they enjoy learning to read, but not if they are intrinsically motivated to learn to read.
- Fear - are students afraid of teachers, classmates or the trip to and from school? Fear can be debilitating.
- Stress and anxiety - other names for fear, but typically referring to a chronic situation. Stress can be a motivator...until it gets too high, when it degrades performance.
- Frustration - perhaps the teaching is proceeding too fast or is not as well organized as it should be or assumes prerequisite learning which hasn't occurred.
- Difficulty - there is nothing wrong with teaching challenging material. But challenging material without the appropriate methods for meeting the challenge (small steps, review, deliberate practice, analogies, extending existing concepts, collaboration, etc.) is more difficult than it needs to be.
- Confidence - how does the student feel when approaching a challenging topic? (And shouldn't they all be challenging?) Does the student approach it with confidence that she will be able to master it with appropriate effort?
Notice that we aren't talking about replacing education with entertainment. It isn't worth having students be enthusiastic about their schooling at the cost of compromising learning objectives. But if we want students to be enthusiastic about their learning, we must measure their enthusiasm and discover what increases it and what decreases it.
If you want to improve the student's emotional reaction to learning, you must first measure what it is.
The only way to measure student emotions like these is to ask the students.
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