Sunday, 8 February 2009

Paper Presented in the National Convention of Excellent Teachers, 2006

I WANT TO BE A BETTER TEACHER!
IMPROVING THE QUALITY OF TEACHING VIA STUDENT EVALUATION

Rahmah Hj Sayuti


1.0 INTRODUCTION

The main purpose of this study is to demonstrate how student evaluation of teachers can provide useful feedback to improve the quality of teaching in the classroom. Evaluation in general provides information about the needs of the individual or institution. This information is essential for the purpose of improving the evaluated aspects. In the classroom context, evaluation is a continuous process to determine the high standards a teacher can and should strive for. However teacher evaluation in schools is usually carried out by their superiors or school inspectorates. While this is useful, it is not necessarily helpful to the teacher, more often because teachers have a fear of such an evaluation. More meaningful and student-engaged feedback can be obtained via student evaluation.

Since teachers are at the centre of the teaching and learning process, they must constantly evaluate what they do in the classroom and engage themselves in conscious reflection of their classroom practices. A commonly held belief about teaching is “Good teachers are born, not made.” On the contrary, teachers are neither born with knowledge of a particular discipline nor competency in the use of instructional strategies or classroom management. Effective teachers work hard to attain these knowledge and skills by reflecting their practices. Schon (1984) is of the view that teachers should become reflective practitioners by learning in action. This type of reflection demands an evaluation of what is going on and what measures can be taken to improve the teaching and learning situation thereafter. It can be used to assess the present teaching situation and what steps should follow to improve it. The most effective teachers do a lot of reflection and they employ systematic ways of obtaining feedback on their effectiveness because they want to become better teachers. As Kenneth Wolf (1991) puts it,


“Reflection is what allows us to learn from our
experiences:it is an assessment of where we have been and
where we want to go next.”


To help teachers develop their skills, students can play an important role. Since they are the immediate clients and partners in the teaching and learning continuum they are able to provide invaluable feedback to develop teachers’ competence.


2.0 BACKGROUND TO RESEARCH

Students evaluate me? No way!
This could have been any teacher’s reaction to the idea of being evaluated by their own students. This was also the researcher’s initial reaction. The thought of being evaluated is not a comforting one. However, how do we know what we have been doing in the classroom is right? How do we know our teaching style or classroom practices are the ones suited to the kind of learners we have? Student evaluation is important to assist teachers in recognizing their strengths and correcting weaknesses. Many a good teacher does the same things over and over in their teaching and expects different results. This could be due to the fact that they have not been properly informed about their teaching and the sort of information they require can be provided by their own students. It is with these questions in mind that the researcher undertook the task of getting students to evaluate her teaching. In July 2006, 27 students from form 5 set 2 were asked to evaluate the researcher after seven months of teaching by way of two simple instruments.


3.0 WHY STUDENTS SHOULD EVALUATE TEACHERS

Research has shown that the issue with teacher evaluation is not whether it is necessary or should or should not be done. The concerns are mainly who should do it and for what purpose. In this context students are given the responsibility to evaluate their own teachers via certain instruments. There is a strong case for using student evaluation. According to Aleamoni (1981):

i) Students are the main source of information about the learning environment, including teachers' ability to motivate students for continued learning, rapport or degree of communication between instructors and students.

ii) Students are the most logical evaluators of the quality, the effectiveness of, and satisfaction with course content, method of instruction, textbooks, homework, and student interest.

iii) Students’ ratings encourage communication between students and their instructor. This communication may lead to the kind of student and instructor involvement in the teaching-learning process that can raise the level of instruction.

Additionally, there are other advantages of having student evaluation such as early opportunity to correct problems that are identified. Such problems may be overlooked if students are not given the chance to provide feedback. A good teacher will value the input given by students and use it to improve his teaching. Furthermore, this type of evaluation is less threatening to the teacher and more useful for self-improvement. Students’ feedback will help the teacher in the following specific areas:

i) Evaluation of his teaching skills and improve it
ii) Evaluation of the appropriateness of the methodology adopted and materials used
iii) Analysis of the theories that underpin his teaching methods
iv) Improvement in teaching practices in a continuous manner
v) Increasing confidence and motivation about his teaching practices
vi) Producing change in students’ physical and intellectual behavior
(Shahabudin Hashim, Dr Rohizaani Yaakub. Mohd Zohir Ahmad, 2003)
vii) Increasing student-teacher rapport in the long run

In short student’s evaluation can help raise teacher awareness and professional competence.

3.0 EVALUATION INSTRUMENTS

To become better teachers, specific feedback is needed from students as it is essential to continuing improvement. Teachers can no longer infer students’ reactions to their teaching by the smiles or the frowns on the students’ faces. This practice is highly inferential. There has to be a more systematic way of gathering information. The type of evaluation recommended is formative evaluation. Unlike summative evaluation which is used for administrative decisions such as promotion, salary increase and awards for example, formative evaluation is used to improve classroom instruction, student learning, and to foster professional growth of the teacher.

There are two types of instruments used in the process. The first is a teaching-learning questionnaire and the second is by way of a class journal. Both instruments are user-friendly and easy to administer. The teaching and learning questionnaire is divided into three sections:

Section A: (7 items) – items are designed to get feedback on teacher’s personality. The purpose is to collect evidence about students’ views of the teacher’s personality.

Section B (10 items) – items are designed to get feedback on the teacher’s lesson such as teacher explanation and variety in teaching.

Section C (2 items) – items are designed to get written feedback on what three words students would use to describe their teachers and suggestions on which areas the teacher could improve upon. This section allows students to write their suggestions instead of only checking boxes as in the previous sections.

The second instrument is by way of a class journal. The selection of this instrument is mainly because it allows students to express their thoughts and reflections freely. As Scheider (1994) aptly puts it,

‘Journal writing is closest to natural speech and writing can flow
without self-consciousness or inhibitions’

It is inevitably a useful learning tool that gives students a voice to express what they feel about the day’s lesson. It is different from personal journals where students write about personal reflections and feelings about certain issues. A class journal also allows documentation of learning over time. Both teachers and students can benefit from the input found in class journals. All the teacher needs to do is to explain the purpose of using a class journal clearly so students will understand their role. Students can be very observant and critical because they are in a position to compare different teaching methods or styles as they do see more of the teacher than any visitor possibly could. Hence, they possess more evidence, data, because they see many others teachers throughout the day. Hence they are in an ideal position to make informed comparisons about the effectiveness of different strategies. They can help teachers by giving informed judgement on which instructional strategies are better and give feedback on their own learning progress.

There are other advantages of using a class journal which include:

i) giving the space and training students to voice out their opinions of the lesson
ii) improving dialogue and rapport between teachers and students when teachers respond
to the journal entries and when certain unclear evaluations are discussed with the
students in the classroom
iii) getting continuous feedback all year round
iv) encouraging reflection for both teachers and students


3.1 ADMINISTRATION OF INSTRUMENTS

The following flow-charts delineates the procedures for administering instruments 1 and 2:

INSTRUMENT 1:Teaching-learning questionnaire
Time Frame:
Mid-semester or End of year
(twice a year to gauge improvements)

1. T explains the purpose of evaluation and encourages honest and constructive criticisms.
2. SS given questionnaire 20 minutes at the end of a lesson.
3. Class monitor helps collect questionnaire and tabulates the percentages for each item.
4. Teacher documents findings for future reference.
5. Teacher analyses the responses. Teacher selects items that can be openly discussed with
students.


INSTRUMENT 2: CLASS JOURNAL

Time Frame:
Throughout the year

1. Teacher rationalizes the purpose of using a class journal and explains students’ role.
2. Teacher brings class journal to class.
3. Student take turns to write a journal entry. They comment on the day’s lesson.
4. Teacher collects journal in the next available lesson.
5. Teacher responds to the journal entries. Open discussions in the classrooms are encouraged.


4.0 FINDINGS

I personally found the whole exercise rewarding as I could easily get feedback on my teaching in the classroom. I understood clearly what my students wanted in the English lessons. Some students’ comments I collated were ‘exciting’ and ‘something new’. They were also given the opportunity to write constructive criticisms and to reflect on their own learning process and this is a very important learning point for them. They were not afraid to give their ideas although some were not able to write in perfect English. Although there were slightly apprehensive to evaluate their teacher at first they understood my purpose.

5.0 RECOMMENDATIONS

As stated earlier, student evaluation of teachers is one useful way to improve the quality of teaching. The following are some recommendations when administering student evaluation:

i) Student evaluation of teachers should be made a professional practice in schools. Since students are teachers’ closest clients, they are a source of invaluable information.
ii) Adaptation of the instruments is needed to suit local teaching conditions. Aspects to be considered may include feedback on methodology used, classroom control and others.
iii) Students need to be taught to give constructive feedback especially when using instrument 2 (class journal).
iv) Staff development programmes should include input on how teacher evaluation can be carried out in the classrooms. Teacher awareness of the purpose and types of instruments can then be increased. Such input can also lead to change in teacher attitude.
v) Teacher readiness - Are teachers willing to be evaluated? Some form of acceptance and willingness on the part of the teacher is required for student evaluation to be meaningful. If the evaluation results are not used the purposes of salary increase, promotion etc (summative evaluation), then teachers would accept it more readily.

However student evaluation it is not without its problems. One of the issues usually raised is student maturity level and honesty. While this may be true, teachers should not discard the idea totally. If teachers are sincere in improving their instructional strategies and classroom practices, students will see this and will respond appropriately. What is important is making students understand the teachers’ intention to improve his teaching effectiveness. Based on the researcher’s experience, it is recommended that the instruments suggested be used for forms 3 students upwards.


6.0 CONCLUSION

It is imperative that teachers constantly strive to improve their teaching skills as this will have a direct impact on students’ learning. Effective teachers do this all the time. Student evaluation should be accepted as the norm in Malaysian schools as this will not only help teachers sharpen their skills but also allows for democratic decision-making. Teachers’ view of students as passive recipients of knowledge has to change. Students must be made learning partners if they want to make a difference in their teaching.


7.0 REFERENCES

Aleamoni. L M. 1981. "Student Ratings of Instruction." In HANDBOOK OF TEACHER EVALUATION, edited by Jason Millman. Beverly Hills, CA: SAGE Publications. Retrieved October 5, 2006, from http://socrates.usfca.edu/eportfolio/reflection.htm

Ellis, R. S. (1985). Ratings of teachers by their students should be used wisely or not at all. Chronicle of Higher Education , Nov. 20, p. 88. Retrieved October 5, 2006, from http://www.upd.pdu.edu.ph/~odi/set.html

Eraut, M. 1994. Developing Professional Knowledge and Competence. London: Falmer.
Scheider, D. 1994. Journal-writing. Kogan Page. Retrieved October 6, 2006, from http://www.annenberginsstitute.org/tools/tools/results

Schon, Donald. 1984. The Reflective Practitioner : How Professionals Think in Action. New York: Basic Books.

Shahabudin Hashim, Dr Rohizaani Yaakub. Mohd Zohir Ahmad. 2003. Pedagogi. PTS Publications & distributors Sdn. Bhd.

Wolf, K. 1991. The schoolteacher's portfolio: Issues in design, implementation, and evaluation. Phi Delta Kappan, 73, 129-136. Retrieved October 6, 2006, from http://www.socrates.usfca.edu/eportfolio/reflection.html
SAMPLES (click on link below)

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