Getting a Grade

Today, I decided to try an experiment, one that sort of scared me to death. I asked my students to reflect on my teaching and to give me a grade this trimester. It was part of a larger reflection in which they thought about what they had learned this trimester – what had they worked on; what had been challenging; what had been too easy. I had them list some goals that they had for themselves for the rest of the year. In talking about why I wanted their feedback, I told them that they know how I teach far better than any administrator or head of a department. They laughed when I asked them, “Who knows the best when I teach a boring class or forget to collect the homework?” They clearly loved the sense of power that it gave them, knowing I knew they knew me better than those who have real power in the school.

While I know that many of my students like my class, it was definitely intimidating to leave the security of my position as the authority and ask them, the students who must be in my class each day, to speak and have a voice. I asked them about activities that they enjoyed and ones that they found boring; the ones that were too easy or just seemed irrelevant. I wanted to know if there were times when I lost their attention or when they were confused and didn’t speak up to let me know. Then I asked for a grade. I told them that they could make the grade anonymous if they liked, but that since they always are graded by me, now was their chance. I also made it clear that giving me a bad grade would not affect their grade in the class in any way, but that they would help me to be a better teacher.

The range in grades was from C+ to A+, but I learned the most from the low grades, especially from the C+. It was from a student who suffers her confusion in silence, always doing her work, though often without understanding its meaning or its connection to other work that we have done. My teaching was not meeting her needs in many ways, and she had the courage to say so. She wanted more structure and fewer activities (things others love), because she struggled to understand what each piece had to do with the others. This was amazing information for me to have! I now understand this particular student in a way that I hadn’t before. Because she was willing to take a risk and share what class was really like for her, I can now figure out the scaffolding that will make it easier for her to have success.

Part of the wonder of asking my students to evaluate me was in learning that for each part of class that some students love, there are often as many students who find it challenging or boring. By giving me their responses to different tasks, I can be that much more aware of who to support and who to push further. It was just great information about how they are experiencing their learning. There was not one of them who wanted to fail, and it is now my job to use this information to to make sure that they have more success than failure . My job now is to learn from them and change, so that in June, when I ask them again, they can see that I took the time to listen to them and honor their honesty. It is sort of scary to hold myself accountable in the same way that I hold them. Can I change and grow between now and the next time someone writes a comment about me? We shall see!

9 responses to “Getting a Grade

  1. Hadley,

    Nodding my head, up and down–yep, yep, uh-huh, yep! I have tried similar student evaluations with similar emotional responses (from me).

    Scary is right. And my kids are 12. Here, here, on learning the most from the lower grades–it turned out for me that that was what I was after in the first place: honest, maybe even negative, but constructive, student comments.

    Thanks for sharing,

  2. Hi,
    I loved your post. Thanks for sharing.
    Getting feedback is a great idea, I also do it from time to time and I wrote about it some time ago. It’s usually good to get it during the term when we still can have time to reach some of the so-called lazy ones. As you mentioned in your post about your student, we learn how we can help them, when they need support or what types of activities are helpful for them.

  3. Yoon Soo Lim/@doremigirl

    I just have say, “Wow, you are brave! You took the plunge!”
    After reading Deven’s similar post on being graded, I’ve been thinking. A part of me wants to do it. A part of me is too scared to even try. You are getting me to think and helping me to take a step toward learning about my students. Thanks, Hadley!
    One of many reasons why I’m so glad you and I are in PLN together is that we teach the same age group. Our students in MS are wonderfully fun, vocal, sometimes so confused, and are always searching. Taking risks, as you pointed out, is part of learning that I’m convinced that I need to do more of. And being more transparent with them as these young people look for people who genuinely care and are real about what they “preach”. We are just starting out our third trimester. I have missed a week of school due to a fall (darn ice – had me in hospital for 4 days (longer than both postpartum stays!). I’m trying to stay connected as I’m recovering at home. I think I will post a blog post to the 8th grade today about giving me a feedback. I also want to give better support to students who need it and teach better.
    With all this time, maybe I should start blogging!
    Thanks, always, for challenging me with your actions and thoughts.
    You are a brave and admirable teacher. (N.B. if some parts of my response made no sense, I blame it on the meds…! 😉

  4. I appreciate this activity and your reflection. You communicated not only your desire to grow as a teacher but also the value you place on relating to your students.

    During my first year teaching, I was required to have my students evaluate me using a survey designed by the administration. Unfortunately, it left me defensive. I received mostly (but not all) positive marks, but because the responses were closed rather than open, I didn’t have feedback that I could act upon. I felt the students who had marked me high, were just being nice, and the students who marked me low were just angry about their grade. Since then, I’ve tried to remember that feedback must be specific and descriptive. Telling me I did a good or poor job really doesn’t mean anything unless you can describe why you believe that to be so–and that’s a two way street, both when we provide feedback and when we receive it.

    You should be commended for asking the questions and being open to the students’ responses. So you know, I’m adding you to the list of teachers I wish my children could have. It’s a very exclusive list of people who are passionate about learning, compassionate toward kids, and in my book – really cool! :0) Thanks again for Monday’s Skype!

  5. Chris Miraglia

    Great idea. I used a Google Docs survey to have students grade me (found at under student evaluation.. Somewhat scientific yet good data gathered about how I teach and what students think is important. I also keyed on some areas that we focused on during the year.

  6. I enjoyed this post so much. I have asked my students in the past to evaluate lessons we have done, but never to evaluate me as the teacher. It is a bit scary to contemplate, but I think it is something I am going to try. I really liked the specific feedback you got and how it is now helping you help your students. Thanks for posting.

  7. Hi again!

    My name is Katherine and I recently wrote on another post for an assignment for my EDM 310 class. I really enjoyed this post. Giving students the opportunity to express how they feel regarding your teaching is great. At the end of the semester I get to do that for my college professors. I actually have been doing since high school. I enjoy giving my teachers feedback on how they teach. I don’t know if it truly helps, but it does make me feel good because it’s almost as if a huge weight was lifted off of my chest when I got to give feedback. I would like to do that for my students when I become a teacher. I’m studying to be a special education teacher in the elementary school system. Even from them I want to be able to know the exact same questions you asked.

    -Katherine P.

  8. That is great what you did. Getting your students to talk to you about your teaching is something that more teachers need to do more of. I know that when I was in high school, and even in middle school, I wish I had been given an opportunity to tell some of my teachers how I felt about their teaching, or lessons, or even activities. This probably would have helped me succeed even more in school. Most teachers feel too uncomfortable to give up the power in the classroom, but for you to be brave enough to listen to you students and to hear what they had to say is an amazing thing. Kudos to you! I know that I am only in school to become a teacher right now, but I know that being able to do something like this with my students in the future will help me to better understand my students and will also enlighten me on many different things.

  9. Hadley,

    Glad to see the reflective taxonomy taken to the next level! Especially what you learned from your C+ grade. Keep it up!


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