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Using Student Feedback To Inform Teaching And Change Lesson Plans

November 10, 2014

With all the talk about public education seemingly focused on testing and the subsequent results, a very important aspect of the testing process is often overlooked. How can teachers use the feedback to make informed decisions to alter their instruction and better suit the needs of their students? Also, when do teachers have the time to do this? One solution is for teachers to use technology to aid them in this process.


Most recently, I had taught a lesson in AP Calculus requiring students to use the chain rule. The chain rule is a process that requires students to understand how to find derivatives and also requires students to have a strong understanding of composite functions, a pre-calculus topic where one function is essentially “plugged” into another. Based on advice from experienced calculus teachers and my own personal experience with teaching this lesson for the first time last year, I knew that this topic was a major road block for many students. Although I had already made adjustments to my lessons from the previous year by changing the order of the presentation, spending more time comparing and contrasting different sets of problems, and finding alternate ways to teach the concept, nothing provided me with more insight than directly asking my students for their personal opinions.


After the unit test, I had my students complete a Google Form (a digital survey that presents the results into an easy-to-read-electronic spreadsheet) that posed three questions. The first was a multiple choice question that asked students which activities had we done that helped them the most. The students were able to pick multiple answers and the list of choices ranged from activities that the students worked on in class, to specific worksheets that were assigned, to independent learning that the students may have done on their own time. When 12% of the students responded that their textbook helped them a lot compared to 81% of the students choosing a specific worksheet that I had not chosen to use until the third day of the unit, my mind was instantly made up on how to approach and how to focus the lesson for the following year. I realized that I needed less reliance on the textbook, and that I needed more examples and problems from the worksheet that was highly favored.


The last two questions on the Google Form asked students to tell me “what I was doing well” and “what I could improve upon.” Students gave anonymous feedback that had already directly impacted the delivery of my next few lessons. Based on the feedback, I have continued to alternate and blend together direct instruction and group activities, and I have made sure to give students more time to figure out some of the questions that I pose in class.


By getting feedback directly from students, teachers are able to make informed decisions on how to alter instruction. This feedback could be used to instantly change the course of a leseson midway through, or it may even be used in over a year’s time. Either way, teachers can use student feedback to adjust their teaching to the varying levels of background knowledge and learning styles that each of their students possesses.


Dave Schultz is a math teacher at Westerville South High School in Ohio