When I was in the classroom teaching high school math and science, I made a practice of surveying my students at the end of each year to get feedback regarding how they perceived my effectiveness at a teacher. I realize now that the process was very summative in nature, but at least it was an attempt on my part to garner constructive criticism to improve my teaching.
Recent efforts are underway to help teachers improve by videotaping their lessons and critiquing themselves, many times with a principal or lead teacher. The Gates Foundation has funded an initiative to videotape teacher lessons and have them evaluated, using checklists, by people who have never visited the school or developed any kind of relationship with the teacher—an idea that I strongly criticize.
Where are the students in the process? Don’t they have some ideas regarding how we teachers can improve? If we allow them the opportunity to become a part of our self-evaluation they might also learn some things about their own learning. Larry Ferlazzo posted a recent blog his experiences with videotaping his and other teachers’ lessons and having students involved in evaluating them. He articulates how transformative the process was for him and his students.
Erika Burton, Ph.D., founder of Stepping Stones Together, notes that, “Self-reflection and discussion are two very important actions necessary to make better sense of anything. Children need the opportunity to actively participate in their learning reflecting and evaluating their understanding. We need to develop independent learners through practice.”
Some are critical of the method. One teacher stated that “things get worse when we begin listening to the students.” In response, another says, “are we looking for quiet classrooms where everyone is doing the same thing, with a controller-controlled dynamic? If that’s the case, then of course ‘listening to the students’ is a bad idea. If we really want to teach students to manage their own learning (and eventually professional goals), to be the leaders of their own lives, this is exactly the kind of lesson that’s needed. It’s messy and loud, not to mention slow – but it’s important, and reflection is crucial.”