Closing the Loop: Incorporating Student Feedback into Teaching

September 2, 2014

Much of the current discussion around school improvement and teacher evaluation centers on setting and implementing student performance objectives. Another way of approaching these issues, however, is gaining more attention among educators. It emphasizes the role of the student’s voice in the teaching and learning process, even at the elementary school level.

The idea of listening to what students have to say, as an essential part of the educational process, goes back to John Dewey. Dewey wrote in great depth about the necessity of taking students’ experiences and perspectives into account. He asserted that achieving an effective democracy depended upon a fully informed citizenry expressing fully formed opinions. This concept also applies to effective education, which depends upon students taking the role of decision-makers.

But how do you gauge and incorporate feedback from students with Autism who may have limited verbal abilities, if any at all?

These students often provide feedback in unconventional ways. Ask yourself: do I see a shift in student engagement at a certain time of the day or during a particular activity? Does behavior data reveal patterns that may suggest lack of interest or understanding? Do the same hands go in the air requesting a bathroom break during transitions to certain activities?  Or do students often vocalize the unequivocal, “I am bored!”

We shouldn’t simply dismiss such behaviors. A deeper, more critical analysis needs to occur.

Behavior is communication.  All behavior occurs for a reason.  It can tell you how students may perceive what is happening around them, even when their words can’t. Teachers can use behavioral communication to reflect upon their teaching methodologies or to modify classroom routines so that students have more varied opportunities to choose from.

By providing choices, not only do you allow them to play an active role in their own education, but you also give them more autonomy, helping them feel confident about themselves and affording them an opportunity to provide feedback.

Of course, all of this means giving up some control as a teacher, and that can be easier said than done.  But it’s important to let students know they have a “voice” and their opinions matter, because that will ultimately strengthen your teaching and allow them some ownership of their learning processes.

Student feedback is an invaluable tool you can use to improve both your teaching and their learning—whether by listening to their verbal responses or analyzing their telltale behaviors—and can connect students and teachers in a collaborative feedback loop.  All we need to do is ask, listen, observe, and act.