How to Survey a Class

Tuesday, May 7, 2013 -- Scott Sterling

Although you should have been taking the pulse of your classes in various ways throughout the school year, the end of the year is obviously a popular time for surveys.

Not only do they allow you to analyze your practices over the summer for self-improvement, but also reflection and student input are key parts of most evaluation systems.

Here are some things to keep in mind for survey time:

Paper or electronic?

I knew of many teachers who still did their surveying with paper. Frankly, I don’t see why when there are plenty of free options out there. SurveyMonkey is the most prevalent, but there are plenty others, including some that may already be included in Moodle or other classroom web suites. You save the paper and eliminate waste, you have access to instantaneous results, and you can make them do the survey outside of class, saving class time. It’s win-win for all involved.

Anonymous?

As you know, most surveys are conducted anonymously. Education, though, is a different animal for one reason: if their name is on it, the kids might take it more seriously. They might also edit their answers, making the survey less reliable. The choice is yours. If you trust your students to be open and honest regardless, go ahead and leave the names off. If you think your classes (or just some bad seeds) might take this opportunity to have a little fun, keep the names on. At least then you have a record.

What do you ask?

Some people have real trouble coming up with quality questions for surveys. To be honest, if you’re feeling blocked about what to ask, just Google “class surveys” and you’ll be able to find plenty of examples. Teachers are never above stealing good ideas!

You want a mix of scale questions (“On a scale of 1-5…”) and short answer opportunities where the kids can be more descriptive. Some kids will just do the scale questions or just one-word answers, and that’s fine. Some won’t take it seriously no matter what the question is, and that’s to be expected as well. But some will give thoughtful answers and might even need more space. They are worth the trouble themselves.

What to do with your results?

Discard any that seem as if the student did not take the survey seriously. It’s not worth the effort to read between the lines. Chances are that student hasn’t taken anything seriously all year, so why would they start now?

For the other thoughtful answers, do your best to take their advice to heart. Some things will be impossible to implement, like ice cream parties every Friday. But read between the lines there and see that the kids want more rewards and to be able to work toward something. That can be done.