Listening to Our Students

Thank you Richard for inviting me to guest post at Free Tech 4 Teachers. Thank you for all you do every single day to share with teachers all over the world.

I had a very insightful experience this past Friday that I’d like to share with you before we jump into some conversation starters. Some of my coworkers and I  invited students to share with us what they liked (and more importantly what they didn’t like) about taking one of our online courses. Mind you, this was on a district professional development day. Students did not have school. Which means they came voluntarily. I really wasn’t sure heading in to this meeting what to expect. I wondered if they would really open up and talk to us about their experience with the online course(s) they took last semester.

We had about ten students come to this meeting which was great. We took a few minutes at the beginning to frame our time together and then we broke them up into a few smaller groups based on the course they took last semester. We had some guiding questions to get the conversation going and once that happened, I couldn’t take notes fast enough. This was a good thing. A very good thing I quickly realized.

The students did such a great job of sharing what made the course(s) engaging and relevant for them. They were sincere, honest, and respectful with their criticisms (I didn’t expect them to be disrespectful). Nothing was out of line with their requests and suggestions for how to make the courses better. Needless to say, they all had excellent points. These students were truly “getting it” about what e-learning should look like and understood its place in the rest of their educational lives. They understood where our program began, where it is now, and what we’re planning the future of our online program to look like.

When this meeting was over I was blown away with these students. I was so proud of them and it was the first time I’d met them! They were so helpful. We immediately began a Google Doc for all of us to compile our thoughts from the furious note-taking we’d done.

Here’s my question: Why are we not doing this more? Particularly for me I think about its potential to leverage educational technology additions and improvements. Are we spending enough time listening to students and in turn using their input to make education in general better? Kids have great things to say if we make the time to value them and listen.

I’d love to hear more ideas and examples from you in the comments section. I’ve already had some great discussions on Twitter around this topic so feel free to chat with me there too.

Thank you for reading.

Kyle Pace

19 thoughts on “Listening to Our Students”

  1. Kyle,

    Your post brings up many interesting points. You’re right, students are social by nature, and classrooms should breed that creativity into a focused channel.

    Some of the most engaging classrooms that I’ve observed all practice collaboration in a structured manner – Kagan style.

    When I taught at the elementary level, it seemed like most teachers were natural with their craft. They used rubrics, differentiated instruction, infused lessons with hands-on activities, used scaffolding to support all learners, and truly knew each of their students. Do you think it’s more difficult for middle school or high school teachers to build such connections and have such individualized lessons due to the number of students they teach?

    Thanks for a great post,

    Erin Klein

  2. This follows an early #edchat discussion (February 1st), and is such a great point. Why aren’t we having students participate in our professional development? Can’t they often tell us what is/isn’t working? I think it also reminds us that we should be asking students in our classroom about how learning is going in our communities? What’ working? What’s not? Students should be in charge of their learning and their voices provide much insight. Thanks for sharing.


  3. I think there is great value in asking our students for input. In the times I’ve been a part of asking students for constructive input/criticism, they have been nothing but respectful and helpful. Kudos to you for taking the initiative to involve students so the district can benefit.

  4. Kyle,

    If you don’t ask for student input you are failing as a teacher in my opinion. They know themselves as learners better than anyone. Their feedback should be used to guide instruction, assessment, and the overall learning process.

    I think in some cases we don’t ask students their feedback because we are afriad of what they might say. They might not like something we are doing in class or state they are not learning as well as they would like. This would obligate teachers to change their instruction which is sometimes a tough pill to swallow.

  5. Great points, Kyle! I have actually been working with several districts regarding their IEP processes and I have challenged them to include their middle and high school students as part of the evaluation process here. Too often, we use the excuses; “They’re too young to know what’s good for them,” or “We’ve always done it this way,” when the reality is their insight is more critical today than ever. Yet, as with many great ideas in education, it will take time to catch on with some. Keep doing what you are doing and be that guiding light and positive instigator for change!

  6. Kyle,

    I love the idea of actually having a conversation with our students. It can be very enlightening, as a few of mine have gone. Our relationship strengthened though because they were then able to see that I genuinely cared about what they did and didn’t like in the classroom. What a novel idea!

    I do think that Josh says it best, when he says we don’t “because we are afraid of what they might say. They might not like something we are doing…This would obligate teachers to change their instruction which is sometimes a tough pill to swallow.” It can be tough to hear students admit to things that they do and don’t like, but what better way to learn?! There really isn’t, and that is better than any class, PD, or advice from a veteran teacher ANY DAY!!

  7. I think this a great topic and an awesome idea. I try to do some of this in my own 8th grade language arts classroom with feedback forms and suggestions.

    I truly agree that student input is a forgotten link or key element in many of the decisions that are made in regard to how teachers teach, what tools they use, what classrooms look like, and how students receive their education.

    I think they should be involved much, much more. It would be great experience for them in local government and public service to spend some time in a different role with school administrators, teachers, teacher educators, professional development personnel, and various other education professionals.

  8. Hey Kyle,

    I give all my students opportunities to tell me what’s going well in my Science classes and what’s not going well for them (yey Google Forms!). Since I see 132 students a day I find that what some like, others don’t like as much, and vice versa. One thing that keeps reminding me is to continue to change things up, use different strategies, and give students choices. Gee, isn’t that differentiation? You can’t please them all, all the time, but I try to make sure that my students get exposed to different opportunities to learn and different ways to show what they learned. Another lesson I learn from my students is that I need to expose to different things so that they can learn what is available. How do I know, or how do they know, if they like something if they’ve never tried it?

  9. I agree with Josh. I’d also like to say that I taught in a district that used shared decision making and I was on the decision making team for four years, along with representatives of all other stakeholders. It was often the students’ input that swayed the opinion of the rest of the group. Whether it was budget items or hiring a new principal the students always seemed to have a perspective the adults didn’t, and they were always spot on.

  10. Such an important reminder for all of us in education to listen to our students more! They are typically so helpful and honest in the sharing of their experiences and we have nothing to lose and all to gain from taking the time to honor their thoughts. Thanks for the post!

  11. Love that you had that opportunity, Kyle!

    I think sometimes, it comes down to two things: 1) a paradigm shift where the teachers are supposed to be the experts and students the willing sponges, and 2) disrespect for students.

    Students are able to do much more than we give them credit, and they need to know that their opinions are valuable even before they graduate high school. Yes, sometimes they don’t know what they don’t know… but often they know more than we think they do. I love when my students surprise me like that. I learn more from them daily than I do anywhere else.

  12. Couldn’t agree more! In any product/service design, we first start with understanding the customers and their needs..developing mental models, conduct ethnographic research etc.

    Why should our approach be any different while designing learning solutions. I’m surprised we don’t listen to the customers (students/learners) more often!

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