School-Wide Student Feedback

Last Friday our secondary school had a non-instructional day where the staff worked on some professional development.  The afternoon was spent working on the School Goal Plan, as all schools are mandated to do by the Ministry of Education I believe.  A couple of really interesting things came up.  First, we were given some results from a student forum on what the students think helps their critical thinking.  Secondly, we had about a dozen of students join us for a session where we broke into smaller groups and had a chance to talk with a student.

Some of the issues that stood out from me from the students was that they really want more interactive lessons and that they found group work to be difficult.  In some ways I find this to be a bit contradictory but I can totally appreciate the sentiment.  I think students want to get out of their chairs and do some activities and keep their learning social.  While these social interactions are desired I can also imagine the stresses when working with unfamiliar faces and lack of confidence in leadership roles.  I focused on this issue with the student that our group met with, and he had some smart answers to the questions.  He is a Grade 8 student who likes to work with his friends because he thinks it is efficient.  At the same time he welcomes the challenge of working with new people because he hopes to make new friends.  It was awesome to hear that from him.

As a group, the students also spoke to the teachers and made comments on what they think really helps with their learning and thinking.  The biggest issue that they brought up had to do with note-taking.  All the students felt that note taking is a negative experience.  Primarily they felt that they were not able to write notes and pay attention to the teacher at the same time.  Basically speaking, they find that if they’re taking notes they have absolutely no idea what the teacher is saying.  When asked about guided notes (partial notes), the same sentiment was expressed.  It wasn’t clear to me if they felt equally confused about what the teacher was saying but they did seem to think that guided notes feel like they drag on forever.

My first thought after the session was that I should try and implement some strategies based around the student feedback.  However, I realize that the students we heard from were a small sample from the school, and I suspect that they were are relatively high-achieving students.  I wonder what they’re responses would have been if they were a different group of kids?

Luckily for me, the issue of note-taking (and science literacy in general) is something that I’m interested in and I have researched this topic in the past.  Research seems to show that guided notes are likely the best method for giving notes because they allow for accuracy and efficiency while still triggering encoding functions for cognitive benefit.  This could be crucial for success with notes given that about 1/2 of the students said they never read their notes again (which greatly reduces the benefit of supplying complete notes).  Of course many issues compound this topic.  The use of textbooks, reading strategies, graphic organizers and other tools can greatly reduce or even eliminate the need for notes.

Overall I found the feedback from the students to be a great experience.  Just the ability to have a frank discussion with students helps everyone see the school from a wider collaborative context and I hope that there is some feedback to the general student population.  I hope David Thompson continues to use sessions like this in the future.  I think it would be amazing if some parents were also brought into the dialogue as they obviously play an important role in this process.

Note Taking