First we put together a list of questions. We did this rather quickly, so there is nothing special about them. We just wanted to give students some prompts to get them talking.
Next we selected a group of students. We chose all older students, thinking that they would have had most of the teachers in our little department at one time or another. It turns out they mostly commented on their current classes, so next time we will choose students from every class. We also chose a variety of students in terms of ability level and performance. Finally, we looked for kids who wouldn't shy away from speaking up and giving us some constructive criticism. We ended up with six students, and that was just the right amount.
Finally, we gave each student a personal invitation to come to our meeting and share their thoughts about math class. All of them gladly accepted.
Here are the questions we asked and a summary of the responses. We have about 25 minutes for our PLC meetings, and we finished these six questions with just the right amount of time.
1. Name one thing from one of your math classes that you would NOT change. Why?
- Having answer banks on homework
- Activities where we can move like scavenger hunt or quiz/quiz/trade
- Being forced to organize (a binder or composition notebook)
- Spiral review helps us remember stuff from earlier in the year
- Projects/creating things
- Having assignments on paper (versus out of a textbook)
2. Name one thing that you would change. Why?
- The answer banks on homework make us too reliant
- The paper is too small in the composition notebooks
- Units should not be longer than two weeks
3. When you miss class, how do you usually get help to make up the work?
- Talk to the teacher
- Get help from friends/other students in class
4. Do you like us using Edmodo? Is there another way you would like us to post work?
- Those who use it do like it
- Only about half of them use it because they don't remember how to log in (!)
- Edmodo needs to be easier for us to access
5. How do you perceive the advanced classes versus the regular classes?
- At first when I found out I was not going to be in the advanced class I felt stupid, but now I like that the class is at a good pace for me and I understand what we are doing.
- I (student in regular) used to cheat a lot last year (love the honesty!). I haven't cheated at all this year because I understand what I'm doing.
- extra credit
- hands-on activities
The hardest part of the whole discussion was NOT responding when students said something negative. When they mentioned a practice they didn't like, my gut instinct was to explain why we do it that way. But that's not what this is about. Listening is key.
This discussion triggered a few adjustments and more discussions for us. At our next PLC meeting, everyone shared their favorite hands-on type activity or game. Teachers shared specific activities that were mentioned by the students. We also resolved to use Edmodo during class occasionally, just so that everyone knows how to log in and is aware of what resources are available there.
Next time we will get a different set of students and probably write some new questions, but we will definitely do this again.