Value, Evidence, and Insight: Utilizing Student Surveys as Reflection Tools

One thing I love about Marwen is that, at the end of each session, all of the students take a survey, assessing their current course. Not only does this practice at Marwen honor each student’s voice, but it also gives us, as Teaching Artists, an opportunity that we don’t often have: to reflect on our own teaching with an immediacy that is lacking in other programs.

Because the surveys are given at the end of the session, and because Marge is so great at emailing our results as soon as she compiles them, we are allowed a peek into what the students thought about our course before the next session begins. We can tweak things that need to be tweaked, add things that we see need to be added, and gather necessary intel on what is important to middle and high school students (Candy, and more snacks! More breaks! Better music!!).

At our summer post term meeting, the surveys had just been emailed to us; we had the opportunity to discuss how they could help us improve our teaching. The overwhelming consensus in the discussion was that the surveys gave great insight into what students remembered the most from the course, what stood out to them, but that the final projects themselves were better evidence of what the students learned in the course.

At Harvard Graduate School of Education, this is called “evidence of understanding” (see: Teach for Understanding, Project Zero). The projects that the students completed in the course are evidence that the students understood what was being taught, and if you had a pre- and post-assessment exercise, that assessment also gives you insight in what they learned.

The surveys, however, are an incredible, valuable piece in assessing your course: for example, if the students overwhelmingly state that the quick collages that you had them doing each day were their favorite part of the course, you know to keep that exercise for the next session, especially if you can see the evidence in their final projects that the collage exercises helped them make their final sculptures better.

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Of course, as we plan curriculum, everything we put in is important to us (otherwise, why would we build that in there?), but if we don’t see the evidence of a thing’s import and have the evidence from the student surveys that they think it was important, it’s great to rethink, re-evaluate, and reflect.

Another thing that was brought up in our discussion in August was that it’s crucial to remember not to take the surveys personally; when a student, in a survey, says that they couldn’t stand you, and you can figure out that it was the kid you had to keep pulling teeth to get them to sit down and do their work, that was always late, that was always talking, you know to take the comment with a grain of salt, especially when 19 other surveys say the opposite.

Ultimately, the surveys the students take at Marwen provide us great opportunity to improve our own teaching, as well as improve students’ overall experience at Marwen. Do they feel like they belong here? Do they feel that their art is improving, with each course that they take? Are they deepening their learning in and through the arts?

With their voices being heard every single course, they begin to realize how valuable their individual voices are to the work we all do, whether in the studios, or in the offices at Marwen. That is an incredible thing, and we are very lucky that that is a part of our own Marwen experience.

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Jamie Thome About Jamie Thome
Jamie Thome received her MFA in Interdisciplinary Book & Paper Arts at Columbia College Chicago. She spent a year in the mentorship program for emerging women artists at Artemisia Gallery in Chicago. Her work has been shown internationally in juried shows. She is a Teaching Artist with Columbia College Chicago’s Project AIM (Arts Integration Mentorship) and was a founding member of the now defunct Vespine Gallery in Pilsen. As a teaching artist, Jamie Thome visits the public schools to integrate the arts into the classroom curriculum. Currently, she teaches in the Ed Studies department at Columbia College Chicago. In her ‘spare’ time, she coaches beginning and experienced runners to complete marathons, reads as many books as possible, and loves to hang out with her husband and her son.

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