Student Feedback – Rigor

Ken Templeton | 07.7.2014

“My teacher wants us to use our thinking skills, not just memorize things.”

“My teacher asks students to explain more about answers they give.”

Think back to the teachers who changed your life. How would you respond to these statements about those teachers – are they true or untrue? The statements come from the Measures of Effective Teaching survey, developed by the Tripod Project, which we have used to design iWalkthrough Student Feedback. In our work with schools, we help teachers reflect on their practice by focusing on specific aspects of the student experience that lead to deeper learning.

When we talk in education about rigor, challenge, and high expectations, we need to think clearly about what these ideas mean from the student perspective—these survey statements give us valuable insight. It isn’t about having a ton of work to do—it is about the depth of thinking required to solve problems. As Dan Meyer asked in his talk Math Class Needs a Makeover, “what problem have you solved … where you knew all of the given information in advance; where you didn’t have a surplus of information and you had to filter it out, or you didn’t have sufficient information and had to go find some?” In classrooms where students “use thinking skills” and “explain more about answers,” the focus is on depth of learning and problem solving.

Let’s suppose that you have asked students about these aspects of teaching in your school, and the results leave some room for improvement. What can you do as a school leader or a teacher?

Define what “rigorous” education looks like. One of the critical aspects of school improvement is having shared understandings of what it means to have high expectations and challenge students. Talk with students, parents and colleagues about what kinds of challenging or rigorous learning experiences will help prepare students for success. One place to start could be reading Rigor Redefined, by Tony Wagner, and discussing the article with a protocol like The Four A’s or Text Rendering. The key outcome to think about is a shared definition of what rigor, or challenge, will mean in your school—and it’s critical that this view is shared among kids, parents, and educators.

Keep track of questions. Peers and administrators can visit classrooms and write down all of the questions asked—including the ones students ask. Usually, educators only reflect on the types of questions teachers ask. It is certainly important to do so, but if we know that students will have to be able to ask good questions to be successful, it makes sense to reflect on their questions too. At a faculty meeting, all of the questions can be projected or posted and then a simple Data Dialogue protocol can guide the group toward implications for teaching and learning. The Right Question Institute also has some great resources for helping students develop questions that lead to deeper learning.

Tune your assessments. Do assessments measure mostly procedural and declarative knowledge, or do they use open-ended prompts to elicit student thinking? Are they focused on higher-order thinking skills? Do assessments ask students to engage with novel material? Using a Tuning Protocol with colleagues can help, especially if you have a clear focus question for feedback. Oh, and check out this great (and free) resource to think about the task students are asked to perform—and how you might differentiate it.

Don’t just survey students—talk with them. When schools use iWalkthrough Student Feedback, we stress that if the faculty has intense, thoughtful, practice-focused conversations based on the results of the survey, but teachers never reflect with students, you may as well not conduct the survey. Students have valuable insights to share, and the survey should prompt conversation with students, not preclude it.  Some schools do this through an advisory session, and others ask individual teachers to think through results with their classes. Check out our post on useful ways to process student feedback with students here. For student thoughts on challenge, these videos from What Kids Can Do are really powerful.

How do you think about improving rigor in your school or classroom—and how might students help?

Featured photo is courtesy of UBC Learning Commons and was retrieved from flickr creative commons.

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