By Mark Heintz
Elk Grove High School teachers have engaged in peer observation groups (POGs) for the past seven years. Being a part of a POG has been invaluable and one of the most influential forces behind my teaching. For most of that time, the groups have tried a variety of ways to get students involved in the process. In December, I wanted to expand that effort to directly asking students for feedback on some of the changes I implemented throughout November and December. I wanted one lesson to be a common talking point for everyone. To guide this process, Rachel Barry came into my class to observe a lesson. Later in the day, she facilitated a discussion, in the Collab Lab, with the three students from the class and me.*
The process was amazing! I sat and wrote as much of what they were saying as quickly as I could. I tried not to talk and allow them to give feedback on my teaching. Rachel asked the students guiding questions. She was instrumental in serving as a neutral, non-judgemental facilitator. One of the key takeaways was to go slower. Sometimes I will use four or five documents and the class is confused on the first one. I tend to cram more into a lesson, because more always feels better in an AP class when time is scarce. After the discussion, I modified the lesson for the next day with the focus narrowed and only used two documents.
At the end of the next day's lesson, the three students noticed the change and were grateful that their feedback was used. I have used the student feedback of less is more as a mantra as a I continue to plan out the rest of the year. Two of the students did a write up that I think was worth sharing and hopefully will inspire you to do something similar.
Anyways, in general I'd say my experience with our little get together was positive. Being able to converse with you and Ms. Barry in a smaller environment allowed me to talk more and say things I most likely wouldn't have shared in our normal classroom setting. For other more shy students this would absolutely be a great opportunity to get feedback from people you normally wouldn't. Plus on your end I would bet it is nice to see how people are understanding your lessons and if they are able to not only apply the information we were taught, but talk about it and the bigger picture. And I also liked how you asked us how you can be a better teacher and how we might learn this information better. That is something that shows us students our teachers care about our education. Though to be honest some students may feel intimidated by how it was just like 5 people in a room, but I don't think this will be much of a problem for our class at least. Anyways, hopefully you got something out this email and I'll be seeing your tomorrow
My experience in the collab lab with Mr.Heintz and Ms.Barry was good. Were were allowed to express our feelings about AP. It was one of the very few opportunities we were allowed to speak for the whole class and ourselves. We all said the good and bad things about the lesson. What I liked about the whole experience was Mr. Heintz was open minded to our suggestions about how he could make the lessons in class easier for us so we can understand the content and how to write better without getting confused. The next day Mr.Heintz took our suggestions and the lesson was a lot better, and even some of my friends said "that lesson today wasn't that bad" "I think i finally learned something." I think Mr.Heintz and Ms.Barry shouldn't only ask us, but ask the whole class about suggestions and how they can implement that into a lesson.
*The students were selected based off their availability during the day.