Yesterday I launched a new ritual in my class called Feedback Fridays. It’s an opportunity for my students to give me anonymous feedback about what’s working in our learning environment and what can be improved. Each student completed a short survey with the following five questions:
- What do you like about our class so far? Why?
- What could be better about our class? Why?
- Are you able to learn in this space? Why or why not?
- What feedback and ideas do you have for your teachers to improve our class?
- Is there anything else you want to share?
My student responses were eye opening. I learned that overwhelmingly they’re enjoying our first class novel A Long Walk to Water and that many of them appreciate the fact that we welcome them at the door with a handshake everyday. In terms of improvement I learned that they want to do more activities, they want to choose where they sit, they feel I need to loosen up a bit, and they’re bored. While I agree that I need to loosen up - it’s sometime so hard to do! - that last one is especially hard to hear as a teacher.
Regardless of how tough it is to hear it that your students are bored, the timing couldn’t be more perfect because this week I had to let my assistant principal know which of the components of the Danielson Framework I wanted support on this year. As a school we’re focusing on Domain 3: Instruction with an even more specific focus on:
- 3b – Using Questioning and Discussion Techniques
- 3c – Engaging Students in Learning
- 3d – Using Assessment in Instruction
(If you didn’t already know, as a teacher in New York City 60% of my evaluation is based on a series of observations where 8 of the 22 components of the Danielson framework are evaluated.)
After reading the rubric closely and reflecting on my classes and students thus far, I decided that I’d love more feedback and focus on 3c – Engaging Students in Learning. The elements of this component are 1) activities and assignments, 2) grouping of students, 3) instructional materials and resources, and 4) structure and pacing. I could use an extra set of eyes and additional support in all four.
I’ll continue to gather weekly feedback from my students and work to implement some of their suggestions. This week – like most in a teacher’s life – was filled with highs and lows. I had some great moments and some that caused me to closely examine my practice and my actions. I can see that in one of my classes especially students aren’t nearly as engaged as I’d like them to be. I decided that they’ll be my laboratory. They’ll be the space where I focus on the elements of component 3c and see what magic we can create.
Right inside the door of my apartment I have a daily gratitude calendar where each day I record something I’m grateful for on an index card. On Wednesday after a particularly challenging afternoon I made the decision to focus on 3c and that night I wrote, “Today I’m grateful for the ability to embrace a challenge as an opportunity for learning and growth. ¡Que viva Charlotte Danielson!” I’m looking forward to truly engaging my students in their learning and to a series of Friday Feedback forms that let me know that progress is alive and in full effect in Room 413. As one of my students wrote in response to question 5, “If students enjoy the work, they will do it.” So true. So true. Let’s work towards getting there.
If you have ideas or strategies for engaging middle school students in their learning feel free to share them in the comments below. I’d love to learn from you!