During my first year of teaching I used to gleefully ’empower’ students with teaching review forms. I would peel through them disappointedly that they felt the lessons were too difficult, and they hadn’t learnt anything in several lessons. Ironically, these were frequently ones my mentor graded ‘Good, with features of Outstanding’ (but that’s a story for another time.)

I saw my students as the consumer and backed them to tell me, anonymously of course, what they thought and when they thought they’d learnt the best. I’d sit with the forms and look through them comparing my PPT, their books and their feelings. I’d slowly sink into a miasma of melancholic doom. They just weren’t learning! And they hated me, especially when I made them remember difficult words.

I was told that the students didn’t need to about ‘semantic fields’ in Y7 and arguably they didn’t, but they’d asked curiously and I’d taught them it. Or rather they hadn’t learn it, yet….but we’d covered it. Then in the reviews back came the word on the street- ‘this is too hard.’ But what if they were simply embedding it, what if we just needed to revisit it, what if they didn’t know what they knew and needed to see it once more in context.

With the benefit of hind legs I can see that my mistakes may not have been in my teaching, rather in conducting the student feedback in the first instance. I went into them blind with no concept of their quality as a piece of feedback. Yet as Daniel M. Oppenheimer suggests , ‘learners are prone to beliefs about their learning that can impair their effectiveness as learners.’ Their lack of confidence in the material therefore could explain their lack of comprehension; the learning may have been impaired not by any pedagogical process but by their approach. Straightaway the information is skewed.

In addition to this already bewildering area of working out if you’ve done teaching good OR if they’ve learnt owt reet good! Bjork,Dunlosky and Kornell reckon this:

“Assessing whether learning has been achieved is difficult because conditions that enhance performance during learning can fail to support long-term retention and transfer, whereas other conditions that appear to create difficulties and slow the acquisition process can enhance long-term retention and transfer.”

So they may well be down in the dumps, but that might be great in the long run. Their reflection on their own learning might tell us that they’re limiting themselves with their attitude, but it certainly can’t tell us whether the teaching was effective. Especially give that Bjork et al. say that, “Learners’ judgments of their own degree of learning are also influenced by … the sense of fluency in perceiving or recalling to-be-learned information” and that “such fluency can be a product of low-level priming and other factors that are unrelated to whether learning has been achieved.” So, in effect an amazing set of feedback from the students might tell you that the lessons were, in fact, not actually that ‘good.’

Where does this leave me, well first and foremost it makes me question every change I made as a result of these reviews. I never stopped having really high expectations, but I did stop the vocabulary quizzes. I did stop asking them at the door to give me one piece of ‘A Level’ terminology….and do you know what, I wish I hadn’t. If I hadn’t stopped they may well have embedded that knowledge. They may well have felt confident and successful.

The great irony is that I knew the student feedback forms were a nonsense on some level before I ran them. I sensed that I would get rubbish back. One class told me I never marked their books, shocked I peeled through their assessment folders. These were kept in the cupboard, and the students only looked at them before they started the assessments. A mistake, but they were marked. This had resulted from the loose departmental ‘no book marking policy’ and students memory lapses, I could learn very little from this feedback. Our memories are not computers, they’re not even tape players that diminish with time, they’re more like half-cut vinyls operated by half-cut jazz musicians. Recalling a crime scene we are likely to bee-bop, a scew-bop our way to imagining the perpetrator was a Hasidic looking chap- with a Fubu jumpsuit and a teddy bear. The idea that we could trust them to reflect on quality of teaching, assumes no other influence in our skatman domes; something which we just cannot trust it to do with any accuracy.

Quality of feedback is too important to be left to chance, and so it must come from experts. People further along the road than yourself. Self-reflection is vital but inputting poor quality data into this process helps nobody. Least have all students who could be learning something else in this time.