Learning Science By Doing Science: A quick reflection on Student feedback to teachers

The results of teacher evaluations by students were sent out to teachers this week and I was generally pleased with the feedback I received. Students here have written fairly and with thought and obviously appreciate their education. As a teacher I am very fortunate to be able to read this feedback. The strengths I expected to see were reflected in student comments – I go all out to make class and active and engaging experience but also to give students plenty of class time to be successful in assignments (and give guidance and supporting resources), to differentiate as far as possible, to be organised and show that I care about each student.

I think this is one of my favourite comments:

“Mr. Taylor is always available for help. The one thing I really like is that I know he wants me to do the best I can do in this class. He slows things down when the class is falling behind and adjusts deadlines when it is necessary. He teaches in a way that allows us to be independent learners and try things for ourselves. I used to think that he wasn’t teaching/helping enough, but I then realized I wasn’t familiar with this type of learning freedom before. I like doing things independently, and when I’m struggling, he’s always there for support and help.”

However, the main thread that runs through the criticism is that we are light on lectures. I expected this from some students and have written about it before. I put a lot of effort into building online resources and curating reliable sources for students to use so that they can take charge and I can avoid being the ‘sage on the stage’.

“There’s not much lecture in the classes, therefore the balance between them is pretty skewed towards the assignments and the teamwork.”

“I think Mr. Taylor should make more lectures and actually teach us the concepts.”

And the concise:

“Do some more teaching and lecturing.”

Of course, not all students feel that way:

“He has varied teaching styles, which I like. He doesn’t lecture so his classes are never boring.”

Modeling Resources from ASU.edu
Modeling Resources from ASU.edu

This year, getting back into Physics and Chemistry, I have been keen to use modeling instruction ideas – to connect practical and concrete experiences with the theory by making students think through the problems and show their processes on whiteboards. We’ve really been using a modeling-lite method for this run through, as I’ve been trying to balance settling in to the new environment with meeting the requirements of the MYP assessment criteria and maintaining a decent level of content. My Grade 10 partner and I have already been reviewing our unit plans and thinking about how to quicken the pace, make more authentic connections and create more meaningful learning and assessment opportunities for students for next year.

What did strike me from some of those comments was that maybe some of these students are the higher-flyers who need to be pushed harder in the concepts. Here’s an example:

“Generally, I enjoyed the class including the experiments, discussions, videos, teachers, etc. However, I definitely wanted more knowledge on the subject, since I personally like to learn new ideas, concepts, knowledges and go deep on them.”

To some extent they are used to being lectured and are accustomed to keeping up with a volume of content. I feel (and get the idea from the comments) that I am working well with students who need support or struggle to understand. Maybe next year I need to have more higher-order extension prepared for the really academic students, to keep them pushing themselves. I am excited about next year’s school-wide focus on differentiation and am looking forward to picking up new tools and strategies for dealing with more of my students’ needs.

One of the resources which I have found inspiring has been Frank Noschese’s blog, Action-Reaction, where he outlines some his processes and resources for modeling in Physics. Just today his TEDxNYED talk was posted to YouTube, and is worth watching as an explanation of where I’d like to see my classes go:

Of course there are other praises and criticisms which came from students. Some thought I gave engaging assignments where others thought there were too many or too much of a focus on them in class*. Some liked the use of class time to complete work where others would rather have ‘been taught’ the content and moved ahead. Some thought I gave good feedback where others want more detailed feedback on their work. These are all important things to consider as I set my goals for next year and when school ends next week and I start to focus on my next masters unit on Curriculum Studies, they will be balancing acts which I hold in my head.

Having said all this, I am also an IBDP Biology teacher. This is a content-heavy, high-stakes, exam-skewed pre-university course. Based on that last sentence it is also super-hyphenated. I honestly can’t see modeling ideas working there so well as we have so much to cover. However, I am going to aim to make the course more case-study based for authentic connections and more data-based for preparation for the Paper 2 questions and skills. I am going to try flipping the class a bit more effectively with them, though am not keen on using the Khan videos (CrashCourse Biology has some excellent videos, but we can also ‘flip’ with news articles, class presentations and the text, checked along the way with Quia quizzes).

Whew. That was supposed to be a short pre-school post.  I think I’ll save the reflections on my 2011-12 teaching goals for later in the week!


*This is a symptom of using the ‘best fit’ approach to ensure sufficient data points for each of the six assessment criteria in the reporting period and of my insistence that students should be making sense of the concepts and doing the bulk of their work during their ‘office hours’ here at school. These are busy kids. More recently I’ve been really focusing on the GRASP model to make assessment as authentic as possible.




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