“How Could I Make My Lessons Better?”

By Raymond Steinmetz

“When you goof around or tell stories, it is almost always funny, but sometimes it takes up time for class.”

— My new favorite student

The day before spring break, we had some extra down time, so I asked my students to do a quick course evaluation.  I had been trying some new things with video and playlists in my class, and I needed to hear from them.  Though my students’ input was mostly positive, they also gave some eye opening feedback that might completely change the way I teach math in the future.  Even though it was a little bit of a hit to the ego, my students were being honest and conveying their perception of my classroom through their eyes.  In the 10 minutes it took to make the Google Form and the 10 minutes of class time it took for the students to respond, I was handed some of the most valuable feedback I have received about my teaching practice in years.

Before I get started, I’ll say that the course evaluation was anonymous, and I’m not just saying that to cover myself.  I didn’t check the little checkbox in Google Forms to collect my students’ email addresses, so even though I would LOVE to know who wrote some of the responses, I really don’t know who wrote what at this point.  The good news is, out of 82 seventh graders who responded, not a single one put something inappropriate!  That’s a win in itself!

The Positive

Level of Effort

The first question I posed to the students was a self assessment on the level of effort they put into my class.  I teach 7th grade, so one should be reminded that hard work to a 13 year old and hard work to an adult are definitely two different things.  I was expecting light bulbs to appear above every students’ head when they suddenly realized that there is a connection between hard work and better results!  Didn’t happen.  It ends up that my students generally think that they work pretty hard. in my class.  Good for them!


Here we go, more positives! As I mentioned before, I have been teaching more with self made video in my class, so I asked my students if they liked learning from video this week.  It is a little hard to see above, but the answers were:

  • Hated it, please teach to the whole class. (blue)
  • Maybe once in a while. (red)
  • Eh. (orange)
  • It will be OK sometimes, but not all of the time. (green)
  • Loved it, please do this every lesson (purple)

Overwhelmingly, it looks like the students liked learning from video.  I think I agree with them, doing this all of the time might be a little much for students in this age range, but overall they seemed to really enjoy it!

Constructive Feedback (The Negative)

“How could I make my lessons better?”

The final question that I posed to my students was – “How could I make my lessons better?”  Now, I wasn’t purposefully leaving that question open for interpretation.  I honestly thought that all of the students would respond in regards to using video in my lessons.  Many took the question as an opportunity to give their opinion about my teaching practice as a whole.  As you can see in the table above, there were a wide range of answers, but I will attempt to reflect on (defend myself from) some of their responses:

  • Devastatingly, 34 percent of my students told me that I need to provide more help, offer better explanations, and to slow down.  This was a shot to the gut.  I work really hard explaining things at the front of the room.  I ask for questions constantly and I answer tons of questions when they are asked.  I always told myself though – “students should learn to ask questions when they need help.”  I have always thought of this as a developmental skill that I was fostering.  I also value letting students struggle and work through things themselves.  But am I reaching everyone who needs help this way?  Probably not.  Moving forward, I am definitely going to use Formative more often to get real time data on who does not understand, and spend more time helping individuals rather than trying to help people by addressing the whole class.
  • 28 percent of students saying – “Everything is fine” – might seem like a good thing, but that’s kind of a standard response from a 7th grader.  I would have liked them to express some sort of opinion.  I get a lot of these types of answers when I ask open ended math questions too.
  • Now here is something – 18 percent want to have more fun, liven things up, and make them more interesting!  I’ll tell ya, I’m with ya!  You only have to be in my math class once, let alone 5 times a day.  Just imagine how boring it gets in here doing this over and over.  I usually resort to juggling or throwing things to make it more fun, but apparently that is scaring the children*.  Lets have some more fun!
*Mr. Steinmetz may or may not throw calculators and protractors to students on occasion.
  • And more video (10%). But don’t be afraid to get up there and teach us something once in a while (5%), but maybe mix it up too (4%).
  • And more hands on projects (5%) while we are at it.
  • Now the answers that were truly the most heartbreaking were the students who wrote about being afraid to be wrong/incorrect in class (5%).  There weren’t that many, but they hit pretty hard.  Personally, I feel like I have taken huge strides in this area.  I have learned a enormous amount about the power of making mistakes from Jo Boaler and her work at youcube.org.  I constantly convey to my students that it is OK to mess up – I mess up all of the time!  Regardless, I think I really need to drive home the Growth Mindset framework and make my students watch the Boosting Math video from youcubed.org.
  • And finally, no course evaluation could be complete without the standard – “You give too much work” – response!  Most of the other things that the students requested require more work! I guess I don’t have to take all of these to heart.  You can’t please everybody.

Taking it to Heart

There’s a lot to consider in my students’ responses.  It can be hard to read things about yourself, but I am glad that I took to the time to gather my students’ point of view.  I think I will start becoming a better teacher for my students because of it.  Besides, if you don’t ask their opinion, you’ll never get great stuff like this:

“I don’t know, just keep being loud and funny.”

— My second favorite student

Mr. Steinmetz