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Let the Students Speak

As a teacher, it’s important to provide students with the feedback they need – but, does the feedback always have to come from you? See how changing the direction of feedback can re-engage students and improve classroom culture. 

By now it’s no secret that providing students with feedback is essential. However, it does not, and perhaps should not, only go in one direction. Feedback doesn’t need to be limited to a teacher-to-student conversation. Instead, feedback should be multi-directional and get everyone involved in the process. Feedback can be from teacher-to-student, student-to-student, student-to-teacher, and even teacher-to-teacher.

Let’s begin by defining these four types of feedback:

  • Teacher-to-student: The teacher provides the students with information about their performance in relation to a particular goal or standard. The teacher provides information about what the student did well and what the student could improve upon.
  • Student-to-student: Students evaluate each other’s work. This is a time where students can praise one another’s abilities, ask each other questions and give suggestions about how to improve.
  • Student-to-teacher: Students have the opportunity to give their teachers feedback. This feedback could include how a student perceives their own performance in a course, what aspects of the class a student likes or dislikes, what materials are most helpful, what topics may be confusing, teaching style preferences, etc. Teachers can use this information to better engage and meet the needs of their students.
  • Teacher-to-teacher: Teachers provide constructive feedback to one another. This might come in the form of observing each other’s classrooms or lessons, evaluating and discussing student’s work and progress, or simply sharing ideas and strategies with one another.  

Feedback is powerful because it can help teachers and students improve their performance in order to achieve their goals. It’s beneficial for students to experience all four types of feedback as regularly as possible. Teacher-to-student feedback ensures that students receive specific feedback in relationship to the learning targets they must achieve. However, student-to-student feedback can give students a greater sense of ownership over their learning. Allowing students to evaluate one another’s work not only provides them with feedback but it can build questioning skills as well as collaboration skills.  They have a chance to view their peers’ work, which can provide them with a positive model. Regularly engaging in peer evaluations can also inspire students to develop a growth mindset. Soon they’ll begin to focus on the strategies and skills they can improve upon, rather than simply aiming for a certain grade.

Not only is it important to provide students with feedback, but teachers should receive feedback as well. Asking for feedback, and actually implementing changes as a result, sets a powerful example for students and can strengthen classroom culture. Teachers can collaborate with colleagues to discuss ideas and upcoming lessons. They can present student work to one another and discuss what strategies could be implemented to help students grow. Lastly, teachers can solicit feedback from their students on a wide variety of topics. For example, teachers can ask students what topics are confusing to them versus what topics they understand clearly. They can survey students to determine which teaching styles they prefer and what course materials they find most useful. Teachers can also gather basic information about their students in terms of interests, hobbies and lives at home, all of which can help better meet student needs.

Jennifer interviewJennifer Stauffer is a professor in Accounting and Business Management at Minneapolis Community and Technical College. Jennifer gathers feedback from her students throughout the entire semester, in a variety of forms. She makes sure to gather student feedback regarding course content, course materials, and exam format. One of her favorite methods of collecting feedback is what she calls “one minute papers.” Students are able to write down their thoughts about the class, content they understand or don’t understand, or questions that they have.  Jennifer also has students complete online course evaluations. These course evaluations are anonymous and allow Jennifer and the university to see which components of a course may need to be improved. Finally, with the help of the Center for Teaching and Learning, Jennifer completes 5 on 5 reflections. During these reflections, a representative from the Center for Teaching and Learning visits Jennifer’s classroom while Jennifer steps out. Students are able to engage in an open and honest dialogue about what is going well in the class and suggest changes they would like to see in the future.

Taking the time to ask for feedback can help teachers better reflect on their teaching styles and practices. Jennifer has already implemented some of the changes her students suggested, such as: more assignments and projects that involve problem solving, less lectures, more discussion boards, and changing the textbook. She knows making changes like these makes her courses more engaging. She explains why she thinks gathering feedback from students is so valuable: “Students want to be heard. They value that professors are asking for their feedback. Student’s learning styles vary and I want to make sure I’m accommodating everyone.”

Jennifer Stauffer is a professor in Accounting and Business Management at Minneapolis Community & Technical College. She began teaching in 2002 and has been at MCTC since 2006. During her time in MCTC, she has been a division chair for Accounting and Business. She was an Interim Dean of Academic Affairs for 15 programs from Fall 2014 to Spring 2015. This fall, she was a part of the Institutional Learning Outcomes workgroup. She is also a faculty champion for Credit for Prior Learning and Competency Based Education. She can be reached at jennifer.stauffer@minneapolis.edu

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