This episode, I’m excited to share with you both the tool I used to get student feedback on my first semester of fully remote teaching as well as what I learned from my students and what I’m doing moving forward.
Hi, I'm Lindsay Lyons and I love helping school communities envision bold possibilities, take brave action to make those dreams a reality and sustain an inclusive anti-racist culture where all students thrive. I'm a former teacher leader, turned instructional coach, educational consultant and leadership scholar. If you're a leader in the education world, whether you're a principal, superintendent, instructional coach, or a classroom teacher, excited about school-wide change like I was, you are a leader. And if you enjoy nerding out about the latest educational books and podcasts, if you're committed to a lifelong journey of learning and growth, being the best version of yourself, you're going to love the Time for Teachership podcast. Let's dive in.
Lindsay Lyons (she/her): For this episode. I'd love to talk to you about the survey that I gave to students at the end of my remote teaching semester including the questions that I asked them. And what they told me and what I learned from them through their feedback, is that as educators, we’re always inventing and creating and adapting and iterating our course content. And so I think that's a really important piece, is listening to my students and what worked for them, what didn't work for them and what I can do moving forward. So I thought it might be helpful to just share with you one of my processes and also, two, just some student voice. I think it's really powerful whenever I'm listening to a podcast or reading an article and I can see some quotes from students. I just feel like I get to hear a little bit more of the student voice, even if they're not mine. And so while this may not reflect what your students, particularly thought about learning, I think it is helpful to just hear from some students and think about how that process goes and what that means for us as reflective practitioners. So the first thing I did was I gave them what's called a pre then post test. And this is important because in the research, we found that people who assess where they are around a particular skill set or outcome at the start of a semester, or the start of any period of time before getting the intervention or the lesson or whatever it is, they often underestimate just how little they know. And so it's not really a great depiction of where they are starting. When you do a pre than post test, what you do is, at the end of the course or intervention, you ask them to reflect back to where they were when they started. And because they've learned so much, they have a better sense of where they were at the start, in comparison to where they are at the end of the course. So the pre then post has been asked them on a horizontal scale of one to four where were you at the start of the class around each standard for the course, where are you now at the end of the course. And so we just want to share, I won't share everything, but I'll share the biggest growth areas for standards. So where the biggest shift was from start to finish with the course and the area or the standard that had the least amount of growth.
So the biggest amount of growth was the learning target or the standard “I am aware of the advantages and disadvantages I have in society because of my membership in different identity groups and I know how this has affected my life”. So for context, this is a gender, race in society course. It is the introduction course to Merrimack colleges Women's and Gender Studies Department. So about 82% at the start of the year said, I am probably at a two, very few people said that they were at one, so a two is, you know, “I need help, but I can do it. I just need, I need support to be able to do it.” A couple students said “I'm okay with it, I just need some more practice.” And one or two students said, “I knew I needed a challenge or I could teach someone.” By the end of the course, about 73% said “I need to challenge. I'm at a four. I am feeling really, really confident with this." And then the other 27% said they are a three, they just need some more practice. So that was the biggest growth, again, that was just that self awareness of advantage and disadvantage in society because of identity membership. And the other biggest one was, I can apply a feminist lens to a conversation text event or issue. And this makes sense because of the way I structured the class. Every time we met synchronously in our one hour and 15 minute course on Wednesdays, we would actively apply whatever the readings were for the week to a current event. And so we got a lot of practice with this. So that makes sense that that was a big growth area, just, kind of, putting that reflective cap on and so at the start of the year about 73% said that they were at a two, 9% said they were at one, then the other 18% were split between two, three and four. At the end of the year, we had 82% of people saying they're at a four and about 18% of people saying they were a three. So again, that's big growth, the least amount of growth was on the Intersectional Standard. And so this was, I can ask, what about women and also which women? So we're not just analyzing for gender, we're utilizing for other aspects of identity as well. We're not assuming a single identity or story or experience. We're not assuming that the group of women is monolithic. And so that's really important. There wasn't as much growth there, there was some, but that is an area that students still feel like that's, that's the biggest challenge for them moving forward. If we look at the numbers there, we had a lot of people, almost 50% of the class, who were at one at the start of the class, 9% who were at a 2, 36% who were to three and 9% who had a four. And at the end of the class, we had about 55% who were at a four which is excellent and 36% who were at a three. We still have 9% who were at a two, so just a lot less growth in, in the other standards, but still growth, which is good, but obviously an area that I want to focus on moving forward in terms of course development.
So now I'll just share the rest of the questions I asked for students to reflect on and share with me their thoughts which will, I think, really help me inform my course moving forward. So the first question I asked was, what did you learn? And this includes a lot of things: content, skills, and I also specifically wanted to know if they were willing to share what the biggest change was for them. So there was a lot of different answers here of course, but I'll just share three that stick out. One student said “I learned in the semester, about a whole new way of thinking. I never really thought of these kinds of things before this class. Now I put a whole new lens on how I think.” So this quote was powerful to me because this is what I would like. I would like kind of an opening of the minds and mindset shift, if you will, in the class. And if I can just provide a new lens to look through the world and look at events, I think that's really helpful for students to be able to use that lens in looking at different events and self reflecting. That's something that I was really excited to hear. Another student said that “I became more self aware and more educated on these topics which helped me start more discussions outside of the class.” This highlighted another piece for me. I think my goal is not just that the things that students learn and experience, and the skills they develop, stay in the class. I want them to move outside of the class. It'd be really relevant and applicable to life. So again, this was heartening. The third student used words that I just wanted to highlight in their response so “Power, privilege. analyze, advantage, self awareness". So the key themes we already talked about in those other two responses, but these are words that I think, if I set a goal for myself at the end of the year to hear students reflect in a particular way use certain vocabulary or have certain prioritization of skills they develop, these terms would definitely be a part of it. So we think that's helpful for me and just setting goals for the future of what I would like for students to be able to accomplish and think about at the end of the course. And this also helps me set the stage for how I want to frame my class for my incoming students in the next semester.
Another question I asked was what was your most memorable experience from the class? And these ranged a lot. So some students talked about specific topics that they thought were really interesting. Some even talked about specific facts that they found interesting. So intersectionality was a big one. We talked about first hysterectomies which was really powerful for students. We talked about hidden teachings in school and things that are not covered in school that are factual truth historically, but are just not part of the curriculum. And that was really enlightening for students, particularly because I had a lot of freshman, college freshmen, who had just come out of the high school setting, who were thinking reflexively about what was last year like for me? What was I learning and not learning? The fact that Black Lives Matter founders are women was really powerful for a lot of students. Again that intersection of gender and race being really an important component of the class. Some students talked about specific projects they like the media critique is one that is always a crowd pleaser. I use that in high school I use it still in college. So I definitely will hold on to that project. Specific activities they liked: they liked the discussion we, had a guest speaker, Dr. Sherry Burgess, Patrick. They loved when she came in so that was really helpful and will just kind of remind me to, again, use those same topics, despite every year, you know, I change up my curriculum a bit, but I will try to go back to those topics and those projects and those class activities that were really resonating with students from this class. Now here's a huge one that I think it's beneficial for me. Certainly, because this was the first full semester of remote teaching that I've done. And I think for people who are thinking about remote teaching specifically, this was really fascinating to hear students responses and, obviously, again students vary. These might not be reflective of what your students are thinking, but for my class. I just want to share what they said. So one student said that “I thought the experience was really good. Classes for each week were very organized and easy to follow with the syllabus.” So I think what the student is referring to is in my syllabus, I use that as a one stop shop for every class resource. So projects, documents, each week's course tax readings, podcast, different things that they needed to interact with, all of the standards for the course, the project descriptions, the specific links to course slides, when we were having live classes were in the syllabus. So students knew if they just had to keep track of one document, they could return to that document again. And again, they could bookmark it, they wouldn't have to juggle a bunch of different documents for the class. So I think that was helpful to know, that was helpful for them, it certainly helped me as a teacher just knowing that I bookmark that document myself and just continue to add to that throughout the course.
Students also reflected positively on win time. So what I did for my course we had two meeting times for the course. And that was Monday and Wednesday, I decided to use Wednesdays class as our synchronous session and Monday's class as win time. So I would be there in the zoom room and students can drop by if they have specific questions about projects, if they wanted to meet with me about their grade, if they needed that teacher-student connection and just that personal facetime with their instructor, they could have that. And so there were students who met consistently every week because that's what they needed to learn and other students who just dropped by when they had a project question or at the end of the year, or around mid term grades, a specific grade related question. So around this. I'll share a couple quotes from students, students said “I liked to have in-class on Wednesdays and Monday’s optional. It gave me more time to complete my weekly journal.” So that student really is referring to the ongoing work that we had. Each week we had a weekly assignment, which was a reflective journal and they really liked just being able to dedicate that time. It helped them structure their time when, you know, everything is a little chaotic this semester to be able to say, okay, this is the time that was allocated for class instead of being in that live zoom meeting I now will dedicate this power and 15 minutes to doing some of the reading to working on my journal and posting it before the deadline for the week. Another student said “It was good and it was helpful that there was a day, specifically for extra help or questions and knowing I had access to that if I ever needed it.” So I think that's interesting. I don't know who the student was because this was an anonymous survey, but this is helpful to know that even the students who didn't go because I'm guessing the student probably didn't go to the Monday workshop time or the win time. There were several students who didn't attend win time on Mondays for the entire semester but it's good to know that. Maybe someone who didn't ever attend still liked having the option they like the flexibility of being able to get some face time one on one or in a small group with the teacher.
A lot of students talked about their personal learning challenges based on their learning styles with the remote classes in general. So, for a lot of these students, they were purely remote, working from home, learning from home. And this was the first time they've done that, not out of choice, but because they really needed to stay home for one reason or another due to covid. And so, some students said, “It was sometimes hard to pay attention, just because of so many distractions, but when I got myself in a quiet space I was able to listen and easily pay attention.” Another student said “I would definitely pick class in person rather than online just because of how I learn.” Another student said that “I personally do not like staring at a computer screen for hours at a time and it's hard for me to pay attention.” So a lot of students are really reflecting not about this class, specifically, but on their own self awareness of how they learn which I think is a helpful activity. Again assessment has many different purposes. And I think it's important to note that it's not just assessment for me to improve my learning in the future, right, assessment for learning. But it's also assessment as learning. So just by nature of answering these questions that I've asked students are deepening their self understanding of how they learn and maybe we'll help them make informed choices moving forward in the future. Other comments students said about the remote learning, “Even though remote learning wasn't my favorite thing I found the setup of this class easier to deal with.” I'm guessing that means easier in relation to other classes so it would be great to know who said that cuz I can follow up, but I'm going to use some of these other quotes to kind of help me paint a picture of that. “It was hard and different, but I was able to adjust as the semester went on.” “I liked this remote learning experience. It was easy to follow.” So some students really did enjoy remote learning more than in person learning. It may have saved a lot of driving time because we have a lot of commuters at the college and I think also that easy to follow piece is really important. So having those streamlined processes, every Monday we do this, every Wednesday we do this, the things are always posted on this one document for any resource you will need. I think that was a really important part of my setup that contributed to the comments about positive organization are easy to follow. So I'll continue doing that moving forward because it sounds like that resonated with students. Another student said that “I thought that the remote learning experience for the class was the best out of all my remote classes. I liked the surveys, at the beginning of the class as well as the breakout room discussions.” So just some context for how I framed the class, surveys were self assessments on Marzano’s, on a scale of 1 to 4 that I mentioned earlier, for every standard that the specific class was about. So I would usually have one, maybe two standards for each class that we're focusing in on. And at the beginning and end of the class, I would ask students where they were in that moment on a scale of one to four. I would use Zoom's pull feature and I used the same poll just logistically, if you're wondering, I use the same poll with the same scale of one to four and I would write out what a one meant, what a two meant, etc. and I would just ask the two questions: On the first learning target, on the second learning target, how would you rate? And so I could change the learning targets on the screen. And I would be sharing my screen with them and so that way I didn't have to create a new poll every single class.
For the breakout room discussions, what we would do is we would have about, 50 minutes of a whole class conversation. We would divide it usually into maybe two different activities. The last activity, being a case study where we looked at a current event and thought about how we could apply the week's readings to the current event. And so, we would analyze that. First, I would present some information to the whole class and then I would usually take about 10 minutes, maybe 15 minutes, for students to go into breakout rooms in a group of about four or so. And they would be able to answer maybe two or three key questions in response to the case study, and then we'll come back together and share. The next question I asked is what could I improve when I teach this class next semester? So I really want specific feedback. I've kind of inferred from some of the other questions what I could do, but now I'm just asking students to tell me what should change. So here are some things they said: one, less video projects and possibly more papers. So I did a lot of video projects. I didn't want students writing a paper for the three projects. One was a one page written paper and the other two were video projects or audio projects. So that's good information to have. And I've had feedback in the past. So I think I want to expand a little bit of more choice for students. I want you to be persuasive, so, you know, pick what works best for you. But if you're a persuasive writer and that is your strength, I want you to be able to play to your strengths. I don't want you to write a paper because it's easier. I want you to write it, because it is where your strength lies and you can capitalize on that. So I think the framing of it is important, but I'd like to expand that and see what that looks like in the future. The reason I got away from papers to start with is because I have them “publish” their papers or their projects, I should say to other students and other students will read and comment on theirs. So it's nice to get that peer feedback. I felt like students might not want to read a lot of papers because they're already reading the journals each week and engaging in conversation around those, it would have been a lot more reading, and viewing a video might be more engaging. But, I think I can just ask students that question after giving students the option to respond and have the students say, you know, this one was really engaging because it was a well written paper. Or, you know, this movie was more interesting to engage with because it was audio visual and that's how I learned. So having that discussion, as opposed to just making that decision for students, I think, is a key learning here.
Another student said “The only thing I think should change is that there should be project due dates. I think that because there is no set due dates, students can fall behind and get overwhelmed because they're pushing projects off.” So context for this. I said there are specific dates within the semester that I had as quote unquote suggested due dates. And so I said, if you're pacing yourself, I really would like to see this project at this time. However, due to covid and due to a lot of uncertainty in the world, I'm going to be flexible with deadlines this year. And so I positioned it as a flexible due date. A lot of students, far more than I thought, really saw that as not a real deadline at all and ended up turning in all three projects, the last week of the semester. So moving forward, I will definitely set concrete deadlines and then I can be flexible with them, but maybe not advertise that flexibility as much. Another student said that “I think the only thing to improve is responding to emails.” So absolutely. One of the things I did for my like just self care and ability to be able to turn work off when I needed to was I took notifications off of my phone. And so I don't think I'll put those back on. But I do think what I can do is dedicate time each day, maybe just 20 minutes each day to be able to go through and check my email. What I was doing was only checking email on the days of class because I was already in work mode, I was in that particular email I have set up on my computer, different browsers configured to different email settings, because I have about six different emails for different contracts that I work on. And so I was only responding on Mondays and Wednesdays. And so I think some students were frustrated with that. Absolutely fair point and so I'm going to really think about how I can build that into my schedule next year. A student said that “I think that some of the directions for the projects were kind of confusing.” And so I definitely want to go back and make sure that those are streamlined. I also provided links in the syllabus in that singular document. They had two other Google docs that had rubrics, that had examples of previous projects that were good, but I think that double click, like, having to click into a document and then click into another document was too much. So maybe directly linking those could be more helpful. I mean of course streamlining those directions is something I'll do moving forward. Another student said, “I think one thing that could be done to improve this class is getting grades for the journal assignments. It was hard to tell how I was doing in this class because there was no feedback given about what was right and what I might have been doing wrong for the journals.” Another student said something similar feedback for the journals, just so people know how they can improve them each week.
So previously, in the previous two semesters, I graded journals on a quarterly kind of basis. So every kind of four weeks or so I would give students a grade and I would explain the grade. This year again for flexibility sake I wanted to make sure students weren't stressed about grades specifically and so I would go in and I would comment because we use the journals as prompts for conversation for the whole class. And so I would just comment in those discussion threads, not for every student every single day, or every single week, I should say but occasionally. And I would try to get to every student every few weeks or so just to say, you know, I'm really missing some information here or, you know, here's what I think, in response to your discussion question you asked. I want to highlight and emphasize the quote you referenced. More qualitative in response to what they wrote as opposed to from a teacher lens, here's what I like about this and what I don't like in terms of meeting the assignment criteria. So that was really helpful to hear because I did not at all think that that was going to be something that students wanted. I thought the flexibility and the response to the content as opposed to the criteria for the assignment would be more helpful and so moving forward. I think that's something that I will think a little bit about, maybe, again, go back to a quarterly read with qualitative here's why so that students don't feel stressed about not knowing whether their journals were productive or not. And the final thing students said for this question was, “One thing I would suggest when you teach this class next semester is to limit the amount of breakout rooms. I know I personally do not get anything out of these and I know that many people agree with me. This is not only for this class, but for every other class that does breakout rooms. I find that more times than not, the breakout rooms are just filled with awkward silence amongst the students in them.” This was really helpful for me to learn because in my facilitation of adult learning I often times leave space for people to go into breakout rooms and not feel watched by me as the facilitator, so that they can have time to catch up or talk to people that they actually don't know that well. In many cases, these were freshmen who had never met in person. They didn't know one another. So I thought that may be some nice privacy for students to be able to talk without that monitoring. However, I think this is really powerful. While an earlier student had said they love breakout rooms this student did not. And so what I think it means for me in terms of my course design next year is that I really want to play with various discussion protocols, just like I would, in the physical classroom and then the class can determine which is best for them because each group is really unique. So for example, I could do a virtual disagree/agree discussion. So in a classroom that looks like sit on this side of the room if you agree with this statement and on this side, if you disagree. And then we call on people from each group. So I tried on something like that this year in a virtual setting with zoom annotation. And so I just set up the slide and then I had them in a team where they were. And then we're calling someone from each group to share why they were there that worked. Okay. I would also add, you know, virtual circle. So again, instead of passing the talking piece, passing the mic, when I am done speaking, I'm gonna pass the mic to and then name the person. Maybe breakout rooms could work, but with an accountability task or maybe I need to pop in more and accountability tasks might look like a Google slide deck where you know in your breakout room you're speaking about these questions and you're jotting some of your responses in a shared Google Doc or a shared Google slide and your group has this slide to fill out so you can also see what other people are saying maybe for inspiration and motivation to complete that assignment. I could also do something like a live paddling or a jam board where people are annotating the typing we're all seeing live without needing to go into different breakout rooms so people just, again, have a different mechanism. If they don't want to speak, a lot of my students do not want to unmute their mic and speak. A lot of students also choose not to show themselves on video, which I think is something that they should have the choice to do. But it made it for a difficult conversation because they weren't as comfortable unmuting because we couldn't see them, because their default was to be on mute. And even when they entered into the chat, the chat feature usually they use the private setting and so other students couldn't see a public message. And so I think this is really interesting and maybe a path that would actually help this a little bit. So students are generating again with options they could record and pilot, you can record an audio, you know, or do a drawing, or you could just type. And we can see that live so that might generate some more responses that people don't feel comfortable sharing verbally.
Other things that I just wanted to pull out from some of the responses to various questions that I didn't share are things like “I enjoyed the class and the expressive freedom that came with it, whether it was in the journals or the projects. I really liked how approachable you are and that it's not intimidating to email you with questions or concerns." One person said she was excited to teach and that was important to them. And then another student said, “I do like how you provide choice boards for the journals. I, along with many other students find it much easier to complete journals, when we are given inspiration as to what to write about. I also like how you provide the ability to veer away from these topics too. I enjoyed reading my classmates’ journals over the course of the semester each week because everyone’s is different.” So I think this is really important to name at the end because as I go forward and share my takeaways, well, I'm thinking about a lot of ways in which I was trying to be flexible was not working for students. It is also important to remember, I often focus on what I could do better, that some of the things I did were working for students and that flexibility that showed up in different ways was actually helpful. And so I should continue to do that.
So just to summarize some key takeaways, I’m going to set deadlines and I'm going to be flexible with them, but I'm not going to publicize that. I'm going to clarify directions for projects and I'm going to try linking rubrics and examples for each project directly into the syllabus, so they don't have to double click through. I'm going to give some more choice in writing versus video, really make space for students to reflect on how engaging different types are in their peer responses and let students play to their strengths. I'm going to give qualitative feedback on journals, perhaps with agreed, perhaps not, but feedback around the criteria of the assignment, maybe quarterly. I'm going to dedicate time to email each weekday. I'm not going to put notifications on my phone, but each weekday should suffice. I'm going to rethink breakout rooms. So play with those various discussion protocols, I talked about and figure out what's best for the group. And I'm also going to continue with a lot of things, Monday, Wednesdays that flex time to just be able to drop in and chat, text choice for reading and listening each week. I’m also going to keep the projects, especially the media critique. That's usually everyone's favorite but I'm going to clarify the directions for them so they're more streamlined and open up that choice in terms of how they're presenting that information, papers being an option next semester. I also want to continue to bring in fresh lessons that talk about current events which will change each semester, of course, and really center the concepts that keep my energy high and my ability to engage with that high effect and positive effect that students need and can sometimes be contagious for student learning. Now that I've shared all the things that my students have said, I'd love to hear what your students say. And to help you collect some of that information from your students, I can go ahead and share, as the freebie for this week, a template of the semester reflection Google Form that I use for my class. I'll try to make it pretty generic so you can add in specific standards for your class for the pre then post section at the start, and you can keep, add, or edit to any of the reflection questions in the second half of the form. I also encourage you to share forums like this with students more than just at the end of the semester. Another thing I want to do next semester is ask these questions halfway through or even on a biweekly basis to generate some of this information before I lose the students to another class. With that, I will leave you thinking about what you want to ask your students, what you want to do differently next semester, if you're remote teaching, if you’re hybrid teaching, or if you're in person. And again, please share any information or learnings or aha’s or student quotes that you would like with us and the Time for Teachership Facebook group.
Thanks for listening, amazing educators. If you loved this episode, you can share it on social media and tag me at Lindsay Beth Lyons, or leave a review of the show so leaders like you will be more likely to find it. To continue the conversation, you can head over to our Time for Teachership Facebook group and join our community of educational visionaries. Until next time leaders, continue to think big, act brave, and be your best self.
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Lindsay Lyons (she/her) is an educational justice coach who works with teachers and school leaders to inspire educational innovation for racial and gender justice, design curricula grounded in student voice, and build capacity for shared leadership. Lindsay taught in NYC public schools, holds a PhD in Leadership and Change, and is the founder of the educational blog and podcast, Time for Teachership.