Sunday, March 3, 2019

Game Changer: 3 Quick Questions

Two years ago, I started asking my students to voluntarily fill out a course evaluation Google Form at the end of each semester. I allowed the students anonymity, if that was their preference, to encourage honesty. I was terrified of to do this, but I'm also a big believer in being a reflective teacher. To be our best teaching selves, we must look back at the work we've done, find the strong points we want to hit again next time, and identify the problematic areas and design solutions for those problems. The teacher perspective is different from the student perspective, though, and at the end of the day it is the student that I am trying to reach! So I had them evaluate the course and allowed them the opportunity to pass judgement on literature selections, activities, tests, and more. I also included an instructor evaluation, so students were able to assess my teaching strategies, my personality as a teacher, my organization, and various other facets of my educator persona. In addition to rating scale questions, I allowed students the space to write comments. I was a little afraid some students would take advantage of the opportunity and bash me to pieces. I was a lot afraid they would all point out my glaring mistakes and negative attributes, and that the things they saw would be incredibly difficult or even impossible to fix.

you suck donald glover GIF
What happened, instead, was an incredibly enlightening experience for both myself and the students who participated (which was nearly all of them). The students who struggled the most in class (and who I feared would bash me to bits) quite often ended up saying they realized (far too late) that they had dug their own graves in class, that the course and instructor had offered them everything they needed to be successful, and they had not used those resources. The all-star students offered keen insight into my classroom management, ranging from appreciation for the grace I tend to allow students in their mistakes to requests for more built-in quiet time. I could see what was rated most highly ("the teacher shows genuine interest in students and their well-being") and what my weak points were ("the assignments are clear to me; I know what the task is").

Tv Land GIF by Throwing Shade
Was this whole experience rainbows and butterflies? Of course not. There were some things I had to come to terms with. There were always 2-3 students who rated me very poorly on most everything, students with whom I could never make the connection happen. The students put their names with their forms, so they didn't mind me knowing what they thought of me. It was hard not to take some of those low scores personally. Some students would make comments about the class being better if I quit giving them work, made all tests open book, never asked them to read (in my literature class, mind you), and I quit asking them to do more than one thing at a time. While these seemed ludicrous at first, I did recognize these students needed something from me. I couldn't quit giving them work, but I could structure my class to offer them more time to work with me there to assist them. I wasn't going to move to all open book tests, but I did move away from most of my content-based lessons to skills-based, where the book can't really assist that much. I had to build in more reading time in class, and I needed to teach them how to do more than one thing at a time.

The problem with my end of semester evaluations was that this practice was akin to an autopsy.

I was opening up the course after the fact and poking around at it to figure out what went wrong. True, I was able to learn what may have contributed to the death of my class for some students so that didn't happen again, but it would have been more effective if I had learned this stuff much earlier in the course. The autopsy was useful, but a diagnostic tool would have more immediate impact.

house yes GIF
This year, I have made two changes to this reflective practice. The first is the Richardson Report Card.

The students give me and my class a grade at the end of each quarter, the same time they receive their final quarterly grade. 

The students like the idea of grading me. We talk about best practices in evaluating and how to justify earned grades (DOK Level 4, anybody??). Now, instead of getting two autopsy reports a year, I get four. The first one shows up in October, which means I am empowered with my students' thoughts and can make immediate changes that will hopefully result in a better outcome over the next seven months. It is my hope that my first quarter report card will be my worst one. So far, that has proven to be the case.

The other big change this year is what I call 3 Quick Questions. Every once in a while, I'll throw a Google Form into Classroom and just tell the kids, "Hey, when you have a minute, I have 3 Quick Questions. If you could answer those for me, I appreciate it!"

3 Quick Questions is voluntary. I just come up with three questions that relate to something we are doing right now and I give the kids the opportunity to leave me feedback. It is a way for me to take the temperature of the class right away, to diagnose any problems, and to fix those problems now instead of waiting until the problem has killed off the class for a student.

Here are some examples of questions I have asked so far this year in 3 Quick Questions.

  • Why does reading suck? (Even if you don't think it sucks, why do you think some people think reading sucks?)
  • When is reading amazing? (Even if you don't think reading is amazing, why do you think some people think reading is amazing?)
  • We've been together for ___ weeks now. How can I be a better teacher for you?
  • What was your favorite lesson we have done so far?
  • Why was that lesson your favorite?
  • What needs to happen in this classroom that would help you be more successful in class?
  • How comfortable are you with the topic you've chosen to write about?
  • How happy are you with your thesis statement at this point?
  • ISTEP/ILEARN testing is coming up. How do these types of tests make you feel?
  • How can I help you do your best on these tests?
  • What is something you want to learn about or learn how to do before the end of the school year? (It does not have to be English class related).
  • Anything else you want Mrs. Richardson to know?
That last question is a big one. I always include that question at the end of any sort of feedback form I ever ask my students to fill out. Sometimes the kids will use that question as an opportunity to wish me good morning or say something kind that they are too embarrassed or shy to say in person. Sometimes they'll be funny and tell me a joke (some of my best clean jokes come from this question). Sometimes kids will tell me what they are struggling with in class, or they will share an idea they had for something. And sometimes, the kids will tell me about the horrible stuff they have going on in their personal lives. This box can become a bit of a confessional, where kids talk about family members who have recently died, how they feel about mom or dad getting out of jail that day, if they went to bed hungry last night, they need lunch money or a snack, someone at school is picking on them... 

In addition to seeing my students academic needs, this question gives the students a free pass to either reach out and make a positive connection with me via a compliment, well wish, or joke, or they can tell me about something going on in their lives that might cause them to struggle in school.

I would encourage any educator reading this to give 3 Quick Questions a try tomorrow. It takes no time at all to implement this practice, and the feedback you'll get from these questions is better than any formative data could ever hope to be.

tim meadows mr glascott GIF by The Goldbergs
If you want a jumpstart at incorporating your own teacher report card and 3 Quick Questions, here are some Google Forms templates to help you get started!

Happy Teaching!