How Can Student Surveys be Utilized to Improve Teaching and Learning?

November 03, 2014 at 12:00 PM

Utilizing Student Surveys to Inform and Improve Instruction


From your experience as a preservice teacher to your time teaching in the classroom, you have probably received enough feedback from supervisors and administrators to compile a technical educational manual. At most schools, an administrator visits each classroom for either formal or informal observations at least four times a year, and some visit as frequently as two or three times a week. Consultants, coaches, and colleagues routinely sit in, observe your teaching, and provide feedback about various aspects, such as how effectively you use questioning techniques. After the administrative observations, you sometimes receive narrative summaries of observations that total three or four pages and detail aspects of instructional design, delivery of content, and management practices.


Have you considered soliciting the feedback of those who witness you in action more than 9,000 instructional minutes per academic year—your students? Indeed, they know more about facets of your teaching than anyone else.


Kindergarten through twelfth-grade classrooms are one of the few places where a service is delivered and the opinions of the direct recipients of the service are, by and large, ignored. Perhaps this is because the law in most states mandates that students have to show up, whether instruction is characterized by powerful practices or is pedagogically porous. Their thoughts about quality of service may be ignored because of the discomfort that comes with the candor that attaches itself to student talk. That is, opening yourself up to student critique is the public exposure of your professional practice.


If students’ opinions were valued, student feedback would be an essential element in the process of continuous improvement. In ask­ing many teachers why they don’t elicit feedback from their students, many publicly lament they don’t have time while privately intimat­ing that they fear being scorned by scathing critiques and the brutal honesty of students’ words. They avoid being run over by the reality of open honesty and unadulterated candor. Teachers expect students to show up on time, stay seated, and summarize or share information when summoned. Irrespective of their reasons for ignoring students’ evaluation of instructional quality, they have to ask themselves who is better positioned to provide critical feedback than the primary recipients of service?


Why consistently survey your students? Surveys can yield a wealth of information, which can be utilized to better craft instruction around them.

  • Exemplary professional practices, which improve over time, have embedded structures that continuously evaluate effective­ness and yield insight for improvement.

  • When information from surveys is used to make improvements, it helps students become vested and sells them on buying in.

  • When the process of improving educational practices is driven by student survey data, it more effectively centers the learning experience around the students, leading to higher levels of engagement.

  • Utilizing surveys empowers students, giving them a sense that they have voice.

  • Surveys can assist in continuously customizing the learning in more engaging ways and developing deeper emotional bonds with students.

Your survey doesn’t have to be long but it, ahem, has to be.  A couple of questions administered on a fairly regular basis may provide you with the desired information and powerfully position you to adjust as needed.

Student surveys allow you to examine your own teaching and overall learning environment from their vantage point. It’s the ticket to courtside seats at the exhibition of your instructional prowess.

Excerpted from Jabari (2013). Expecting Excellence in Urban Schools: 7 Steps to an Engaging Classroom Practice. Thousand Oaks: Corwin Press.

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