2016 - 2017 Year In Review: Surveys

Overview

Last year I took Julie Reubach's survey and used it for the students in my final set of classes at my previous school. This year I gave essentially the same survey. Probably the most important thing for me was to compare some of the results to make sure the essential elements of my teaching identity made the transition intact.

The positives:

  • Students responded that the reassessments and the quizzing system were important elements to keep for next year. I'll share more about my reflection on the reassessment system in a later post.
  • Students liked having plenty of time during class to work and get help if they needed it. I tried to strike a balance between this, exploration, and direct instruction. More on that last point below.
  • Students appreciated the structures of class and the materials. They liked having warm-up activities for each class, the organization of documents on Google Drive, and the use of PearDeck for assssment of their ideas during class.
  • The stories, personal anecdotes, and jokes at the start of class apparently go over well with students. I don't think I could stop this completely anyway, so I'm glad students don't necessarily see this as being unfocused or as a waste of class time.
  • Students like structured opportunities to work together and solve problems that are not just sets from the handouts. Explorations got strong reviews, which is good because I think they are good uses of class time too.

What needs work:

  • Students want more example problems. I consistently did some

in each class, but I always struggled with the balance between doing more problems and addressing issues as they came up individually. Some students want a bit more guidance that doesn't necessarily require whole group instruction, but say that the individual group explanations or suggestions aren't meeting their needs completely. This might mean I record some videos or present worked problems as part of the class resources in case students want them.

  • Related to the previous point is the use of homework, Some students want more help on homework, but again don't necessarily want to spend whole class instruction doing it. I admit that I still struggle with the usefulness of going over homework, particularly as a whole class and collecting information on what students struggled with is not smooth. The classroom notebook doesn't solve that problem to my satisfaction either. Short, focused presentations of how to get started on certain problems (and not full solutions) might be all that is needed to meet this shortcoming that many students mentioned in their surveys.
  • Despite my efforts to make learning the unit circle easier, students continue to report their dislike for learning it. I present students a series of approaches to understanding how to evaluate functions around the unit circle. This is also one of the few topics where I encourage both understanding (through creative assessment questions) and accuracy in evaluating functions correctly using whatever means students find necessary. Memorization, if that is what students choose to do, is one way that students could approach this. I think part of the issue is that proficiency in this topic requires more genuine effort than others. There are no shortcuts here, and facility with evaluating trigonometric functions goes a long way in making other topics easier. I'm not sure what the solution is here. This is one area where I think procedural fluency had no valid replacement, particularly in the context of IB, or preparation in Precalculus.
  • The other topic that students reported they found the most difficult was binomial theorem, again surprising given that it is one of the more procedurally straight forward topics of the courses. Do I need to consider teaching these in a more formulaic way so that students are more successful? I wonder if I have swung too far in the wrong direction with respect to avoiding activities that demand fluency or practice.
  • Students want more summary of what we've done each class and where we are going. I think this is a completely valid request, and is perhaps made easier to do with each course defined in terms of learning standards.
  • Conclusion

    I appreciate how consistently students are willing to give feedback about my classes. There were some really useful individual comments that will help me think about how the decisions I make might affect the spectrum of students in each course. I promised students that I wouldn't look at the results until after grades were in, just in case that might encourage more honesty. This was an anonymous survey, and with the larger class sizes this year, I think there was a closer amount of anonymity with respect to individual responses. There is a lot to sift through here, which is why I'm glad I still have the better part of the summer to do so.

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