Published Online: February 29, 2012

The Flipped Classroom: Students Assessing Teachers

This post has nothing to do with the flipped classroom model of Khan Academy. Instead, I want to tell you about another kind of flipped classroom—in which a teacher flips the concept of formative assessment back on herself.

A homemade laminated sign behind my desk announces, "In this classroom, everyone is a teacher and everyone is a student." For me, teaching is a fluid interaction of constantly shifting roles. My students and I are engaged in a cycle of mutual learning.

Effective teachers provide concrete feedback throughout the school year. Through formative assessments, students recognize their growth and understand where they can improve.

But what formative feedback do teachers receive? How do we identify our weaknesses, acknowledge our strengths, and inspire our future successes? We examine student work, of course. A lucky few experience regular peer observations—but most of us are observed only once or twice a year. We have all been encouraged to reflect on our own practice in journals, but it's probably not a daily routine for most: Who can find the time between urgent activities like meetings, emails, grading, and planning? We rarely prioritize our own learning.

However, we often overlook a promising source of feedback: our students. Each of us works with 25 to 150 individuals who regularly experience our lessons and strategies. Why not ask these "experts" about the teaching and learning that takes place in our classroom? Our students could complete the feedback loop … if only we would ask.

Eliciting Student Feedback

By asking targeted questions and respecting students' responses enough to take action, we can learn a lot. We can better understand what makes our students tick, what activities engage them, and what methods equip them for success.

How do we do it? First, look at activities already in place and think about whether they can be altered to provide additional information.

For example, after each major project or writing assignment, my students complete a reflection form. They are prompted to think about their process, identify strengths and weaknesses, and create goals for future assignments. Then I add two or three questions that look something like this:

(1) Which activities helped you understand this assignment, and which were less valuable?

(2) What questions do you still have about what we learned or about the feedback I have given you?

(3) With what skills or ideas do you feel that you need more practice?

These questions prompt students to better understand themselves and articulate their learning styles. In providing constructive criticism, students practice higher-order thinking and communications skills. And the process helps all of us take ownership of the learning that occurs in our classroom.

It's win-win: Students develop metacognition skills, and I gather valuable intel.

Organizing Feedback

Gathering student feedback doesn't have to mean cramming 25 (or 150) handwritten forms into a folder. Technology can help us store, organize, and make sense of student responses.

For example, my students complete reflections via Google Docs. This allows for quick submission, a permanent record stored on the web, and access to that shared document by me (and the student) from any device with Internet access.

I sometimes ask students to use Google Forms, which are simple to create. I enter each question and then select the preferred answer format for each: text box, multiple choice, check boxes, or short-answer. I can share the form with students instantly by providing a link or embedding it on a blog or wiki. The results are automatically organized in a Google spreadsheet which provides summaries, pie charts, and line graphs. With these visual aids, I can quickly identify patterns in student responses—patterns that I might have otherwise missed (or that might have taken me too long to track).

Although I discover a great deal about students' learning by plowing through a stack of essays, the direct feedback of a simple survey can offer immediate, relevant information. I can draw upon that data (along with what I learn from examining student work) to change my instruction or assessments for the next lesson or unit. My learning coincides with my students', and I adjust my strategies in response.

Using Student Feedback to Plan

If my students tell me they learn better by working in small groups with peers than independently, do I reconstruct my classroom for collaborative work in every lesson? Probably not. But I do consider how I can incorporate additional structured group work. Each member has a role and each group is accountable for a product. Then I monitor to see whether my students' level of engagement and understanding increases.

Likewise, if 70 percent of my students claim that work in their textbook did not help them learn, I have a choice: Do I vow not to use the textbook for the rest of the year? Or do I try to use that resource in more relevant and engaging ways?

Embedded in every piece of student data is a professional choice. We must respect students' perspectives while applying our professional discernment. We can then take risks, change patterns, and ask for feedback again.

Learning From End-Of-Course Evaluations

In addition to the final assessment, an end-of-course survey is a great tool to gather feedback from our departing students. What lesson, unit, or activity made the greatest impact? Which units did they find the most relevant to their lives? Of all the resources used in the course, which do they credit for helping the most?

Survey Monkey and Moodle are free, easy-to-use tools that share survey functionalities with Google Forms. All three web tools also allow for anonymized responses—like most of us, students tend to be more honest when they know their identity will be protected.

My anonymous end-of-course surveys include closed-response questions:

• How do you best learn information? Choose 1-3 answers based on your individual learning preference.

• Choose the resources from the following list that you found to be helpful for learning in this course.

• Identify any resources from the following list that you did not find helpful for your learning.

Other questions are open-ended:

• Please provide one grammar or writing concept that wasn't sufficiently covered for you to feel that you have achieved mastery.

• How valuable were the goal sheets and post-essay reflections? Please clarify your answer with a brief reason.

• What was the most valuable lesson or concept from this course? Why?

• What was the least valuable lesson or concept from this course? Why?

I can't wait to read students' feedback—to understand where I went right (and wrong) in my hours of planning and implementing new approaches. Their answers rarely disappoint. Even through conflicting responses and contradicting advice, I always manage to find insight in their honesty and inspiration in their reflections. And I'm always so glad I asked.

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