Course(s): American History
Department: Social Studies
Institution: Cleveland Metropolitan School District
Instructor(s): Lauren Schneider
Syllabus (submitted as PDF): First Quarter Unit Plan
Number & Level of Students Enrolled: 65 students in tenth grade
Digital Tools/Technologies Used: G Suite, especially Google Forms
Author Bio (50-100 words): Lauren Schneider is currently pursuing a Master’s in Urban Secondary Teaching and a teaching license in 7-12 Integrated Social Studies. She completed her student teaching practicum experience in April 2021 at Cleveland Metropolitan School District. Lauren is transitioning into teaching after several years of working in community programming and nonprofit administration. She has a bachelor’s degree in Philosophy from Northwestern University, with minors in Political Science and Music.
When the pandemic hit in March 2020, PK-12 schools across the country frantically shut their doors and moved instruction online. Students and teachers had much to learn about the most effective ways to teach and learn in a remote environment, but they did their best to finish out the school year. After a summer of professional development and preparation, schools were more prepared to open in the fall with a remote learning plan based in research and educational theory. Yet, even with this preparation, several more months of practice were needed to truly allow educators to finesse their online teaching to be as effective as possible.
I began the Master’s in Urban Secondary Teaching (MUST) program at Cleveland State University in May 2020. MUST is an intensive 14-month program in which graduates earn a high school teaching license as well as a Master’s degree, meaning I underwent the bulk of my teacher training during the Covid-19 pandemic. I began my student teaching experience in September 2020, placed at a high school within Cleveland Metropolitan School District (CMSD). Instruction was completely remote at CMSD until March 2021, at which point the district moved to a hybrid model. As I adjusted to remote schooling as a student myself through my graduate program, simultaneously I learned to teach in a similar virtual learning environment. My mentor teacher and I were assigned to teach three sections of 10th grade American History, each of which would meet synchronously twice a week. During this period of remote learning, classes met virtually via Google Meet, lessons were presented using Google Slides, and students were assessed through quizzes and tests developed through Google Forms. I was grateful that, even before the pandemic shifted learning completely online, my school was a Google school with a 1:1 student to electronic device ratio. The G Suite made remote schooling at my placement school much more manageable, and I was grateful to have the tools needed to succeed in a virtual learning environment.
Collecting Student Feedback
In November 2020, after the first quarter of remote learning, I sought feedback from students about their experiences with remote learning in our virtual American History classes. Using Google Forms, I created a twenty-question survey prompting students to be reflective about their learning in this new world of remote instruction. I blocked out twenty minutes in class to ask students to complete the survey, knowing I would get a much better response rate if the survey was given a class activity rather than a homework assignment. I asked for honest feedback about students’ experiences and preferences.
Examples of survey questions included:
- Which online learning platform do you prefer? Google Meet, Zoom, or no preference?
- How do you find the workload in this class? Very manageable, manageable, or not manageable?
- What went well for you in this class during the first quarter of remote learning?
- Do you have any areas of concern as we move into the next quarter of remote learning?
I found that the formatting and phrasing of these questions were important to consider in order to get the most accurate and helpful feedback. For this reason, most of my questions did not allow for open-ended responses. Rather, I designed most questions in a way that forced students to either select one answer in a multiple-choice format, check all answers that applied, or rank preferences on a Likert scale of one to five.
In addition to asking questions about students’ academic experiences, I felt it was important to get feedback from students about their social, emotional, and personal experiences which may be affecting their ability to learn remotely. The pandemic was a scary time for many people, causing stress and anxiety for both students and teachers. According to a United Nations policy brief, urban neighborhoods made up 90% of all reported Covid-19 cases in the summer of 2020. Thus, the neighborhoods that my students lived in were experiencing higher levels of viral transmission and hospitalization than the neighborhood I lived in. The virus negatively affected my students in ways that I did not experience. Some of my students had to take on additional responsibilities during the pandemic, whether it be getting a job to help pay the bills or taking care of younger siblings while parents worked. In designing my survey, I wanted to get feedback from students about how their learning may be impacted by these additional stressors.
Examples of these questions included:
- On a scale of 1 to 5, how would you rate your stress level the past few weeks? 1 being calm and relaxed, 5 being very stressed out and anxious.
- How do you cope with stress and anxiety?
- Which personal skills would you like to work on in the coming months? Select all that apply.
Using Student Feedback to Guide Instruction
After all students had completed the survey, I organized and analyzed the feedback data. Google Forms allows you to view individual responses as well as aggregate data, which I found very helpful. Google Forms will utilize pie charts, bar graphs, and other visualizations to help analyze the response data. However, there is also an option to export the raw data into a Google Sheets spreadsheet, making it easier to perform functions such as finding the sum or average of a data set.
After analyzing the data, I created a Google Slides presentation to share the most notable findings with the students in each of the classes. I felt it was important to share with the class what the survey bore out so that students knew their voices were heard. I took about twenty minutes in class to present these findings, allowing students to share their comments or ask questions about the results. Having a conversation with students about the findings was a helpful way to think about ways we can make adjustments as a class and foster a classroom culture of trust and transparency.
I received incredibly telling feedback from these first quarter reflection surveys. Most notably, I learned that a large majority of our students (68.4%) rated their stress levels as high or very high. This, combined with student concerns about managing the workload and keeping up with deadlines, caused me to pause and reflect on how I had planned instruction in the course. I began implementing daily one-minute meditations to start each class. I eliminated some of the smaller assignments and provided students with more work time in class to keep up with their assignments. I also began asking students to complete daily agency surveys which would prompt them to share their stress level and emotions, check their grade book for past and upcoming assignments, and request assistance from the teacher in a private meeting outside of class.
I shared this student feedback as well as the survey template with our Sophomore Team and was glad to see that other teachers began adjusting their own instruction based on the data I collected through these surveys. Our English teacher began using daily breathing exercises to start her lessons. Our Intervention Specialist designed a skill-building activity for students to assist them in achieving their goals to improve their time management and stress management. Additionally, I used this data later in the year to teach a one-off lesson before the week of state testing on the importance of getting good sleep at night.
My mentor teacher and I found these surveys so helpful that they became a quarterly occurrence in our American History class. At the end of each quarter, we provided students with a reflection survey in which they could share the academic and personal experiences that impacted their learning. I made an effort to keep many of the questions the same so that I could compare data from the first quarter to the second quarter and evaluate if my instructional adjustments were effective. I was happy to see that many resources and procedures we created after the first quarter were helpful.
Keeping students engaged is a challenge in a remote learning environment. However, we as educators should not think we can solve these issues alone. Struggling to drum up student participation in a class discussion? Ask what format students are comfortable participating in. Confused about why only half the class is turning in assignments? Ask students what they are struggling with and how you can help. Student feedback is critical in designing lessons that effectively engage and inspire your scholars, whether learning is remote, hybrid, or, as many of us are looking forward to, in-person.