Friday, February 1, 2013

Reflection gone wrong (?)

I had an interesting moment of "introspection" the other day: I asked my departing seniors to complete a course evaluation on the last day of the semester (last Friday). I asked them questions in two categories: course content (curriculum) and technology usage. I made the evaluation anonymous and asked them to be forthright, but not mean.

 I do this after each of my classes, as I believe that there will be some useful feedback buried among the "you're the worst teacher ever" and the "I hate reading" comments (I teach high school English). There is always an honest nugget of takeaway buried in there. And so I found my nugget, after sifting through the useless (for me) vents. It said two things:

  • "This course has great potential but was not deployed the right way"  and
  • "You used technology for technology's sake, not to help me learn"
Both are valid comments, and my immediate reaction was "Who said this?" Then I stepped back and realized that anonymity makes identification impossible, and that, since I asked for the anonymous truth, I needed to accept it for what it was.

This, of course, is totally unsatisfying from an emotional standpoint.

The "I hate yous" always sting, but I have learned to take them for what they are - the vents of adolescents who use the cloak of anonymity to "talk back" to the teacher. As soon as I read those comments, I thought back to the students that had struggled in the class. I tried to put faces and names to the "I hate yous," and then gave the exercise up - we can't reach them all, and I knew the handful that did not have a "positive" experience (i.e. the subject of a future post: the girl who plagiarized and could not see that she made a mistake). 

However, the dilemma became more urgent when I could not identify the speaker of the above two bullets - I felt a sudden urge and need to know WHO said those things. I craved context. I started searching for order amongst the unknown.

On one level, it doesn't matter who wrote it, as the comments were valid and gave me pause and a chance to reflect. On the other hand, I wanted to seek out that commenter and ask him/her those bigger questions of Why/How I could improve. Needless to say, I gave the exercise, but not the ideas, up. 

It was an odd moment to have, though, in my 10th year of this gig. I am always amazed at how honest students can be, and am equally dismayed that they feel the need to couch that honesty in anonymity. How do we create a more open culture of reflection - if students could share more freely (and appropriately), would teachers listen?