Tired of Lifeless End-of-year Student Surveys? Try This Instead.
We couldn’t believe what we were reading. Or rather, what we weren’t reading.
Our students – the ones we had just spent the whole year helping and supporting – had just phoned in our end-of-year survey.
What was the deal? We had an amazing year. Student motivation and participation had soared and students had overcome some big learning and personal challenges, but at the very end of the year when we surveyed our students about all this, this is the type of stuff we got:
I loved the social norms project because we worked in groups.
I loved E.L.A. class because we actually got to talk.
I thought the role-playing activity was fun.
This is a really great class.
After countless hours planning, providing feedback, and helping, this was it? Where was the detail, the accolades, or the ‘sound bites’ we could use to reflect on the year?
What’s worse, it looked like these surveys didn’t do anything for the students either. Their sparse retellings of our classroom activities did not strike us as something they enjoyed writing, and because they weren’t specific, they didn’t provide us with anything usable either.
So, we began a search for a better end-of-year activity. Read on to see what we found. (If you want to skip ahead and see our solution, click here.)
Disclaimer: we still do surveys
Don’t get us wrong, we love hearing from our students and always have our ears open to students telling us what they think. We use student data and opinions to guide our daily, weekly, and quarterly decisions and course corrections throughout the year.
It’s just that the end of the year can be a challenging time to get into that reflective mode where serious feedback discussions can happen. With summer break looming, our students might just want to get to the finish line.
And you know what? That’s okay. Our school years tire us out and leave us yearning for a summer of rejuvenation, just as they should. That’s the normal cycle. So, instead of fighting it or filling time with a lengthy survey, we’d like to recommend one of our favorite ‘get ahead of the game for next year’ hacks: student testimonials.
Student-to-student testimonials: an instant shot of credibility
Testimonials work for a simple reason – adolescents listen to other adolescents. That is, they do so long as they trust them. If a testimonial begins “THIS WAS THE MOST AMAZING COURSE EVERRRRR!!!” a kid’s B.S. detector will go off. Testimonials do not work when they are saccharine sweet because they’re not relatable and seem staged.
To avoid this, we “flip” traditional testimonial structure and begin with the problem or challenge, and we tell our students that we will share these with next year’s students. By making these moves, we automatically give a real purpose and a wider audience and invite relatability into the equation.
As writers, the students feel honored to give their opinion. As readers, our future students can see a little of themselves.
I, too, have not always succeeded in my classes. Let’s see what this former student has to say…
Here are the questions in order. (Get a PDF worksheet and Google Form of these questions.)
- What obstacles or challenges have you traditionally experienced in the classroom? Describe in detail!
- What was the greatest benefit you have experienced as a result of our class?
- What was the most helpful aspect of class for you and why?
- What would be three other benefits of being in this class?
- Would you recommend this class/teacher? Why?
- Is there anything else you would like to add?
Every year, we ask all students but especially those who experienced the biggest growth – academically, socially, emotionally, whatever – to answer these six questions, and they consistently produce irresistibly persuasive student testimonials.
We also pay special attention to those students who – for any reason – were role models to the students in the grades below them – the athletes, the class presidents, the heavy-hitters, any kid with influence. Not only did students immediately engage with this activity, but also we finally received feedback that went beyond the one-liners.
While we do use the testimonials to reflect on our classroom teaching, we get the biggest payoff using it to excite incoming students about the year ahead. There’s just something about reading the words of real-life former students that speaks louder than we ever could about our class.
We’ve found this to be true across our careers. Students will learn things from each other, that they sometimes resist learning from a teacher, and they will be motivated by peers in ways they aren’t by the teacher.
- Give out this worksheet or have students complete the Google Form. Soon, you will have a stack of highly readable, highly persuasive student testimonials that you can use for years to come.
- When the school year starts, weave these testimonials into teaching your class’s big goals and routines.
- Pay attention to any students who are skeptical.
- Challenge yourself to collect incredible testimonials from those students by year’s end.