How do students learn best?  In education reform we often find teachers, administrators and consultants attempting to answer this question. However, we don’t often find students at the table. Students are the biggest stakeholders in education, yet they are underutilized when finding solutions about how to improve education.

Asking students directly about their learning sounds like common sense, but it is not something teachers are trained to do in a way that is meaningful for students or easy for them to implement. That is why Project VOYCE (PV) created the “Fast, Frequent Feedback” (FFF) initiative. In September of 2013, PV received funding from the Denver Foundation to support a Fast, Frequent Feedback pilot in three metro-Denver schools.

What is Fast, Frequent Feedback? Simply put, it is a set of tools for teachers to utilize in their classroom that will help them improve their practice and better engage their students.

“We value our students but how do we in a formal way start to get them to be part of what we are doing to make our school better.“ – Ms. Betz, Bruce Randolph School, Denver, 2013

FFF was created around the idea of schools working with students, not for them.

First, teachers choose student leaders from their classes and identify something they want to improve about their class–this may be respect, caring, engagement, content understanding, etc. Together, students and teachers design questions they want answered and examine ways to collect feedback, analyze data, and put into place recommendations. The idea is for it to be easy to implement (fast) done regularly and efficiently (frequent) and used as a tool for teachers and students to improve their classroom experience (feedback.) The data is solution-oriented so students can feel comfortable answering honestly and teachers can feel comfortable asking students what their needs are and how they can be best met. Finally, one of the most important pieces is that teachers explicitly tell students when they are using their feedback so the students feel engaged and empowered.

With local support from the Denver Foundation and national attention from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, FFF is gaining momentum as a tool for teachers to receive and implement student feedback. FFF can also be a key resource in helping teachers interpret student perception surveys (SPS) and use the data in a way that is meaningful. SPS have become a hot topic in education reform across the nation. Bill and Melinda Gates have invested millions of dollars helping design and promote SPS as part of the teacher evaluation process.  The most recent report from the MET Study (Measuring Effective Teaching) states that SPS should be equally weighted with other effective measures such as student growth and peer observations. Many districts have adopted SPS as a part of their teacher evaluation rubrics. However, there has been some hesitation when it comes to utilizing SPS in teacher evaluations. This stems mostly from the belief that students are not mature enough to give constructive feedback, and students will only give good feedback to the teachers they like. To address these challenges the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation held a national convening on SPS in December of 2013. Three PV staff (including myself) were invited to present our work on FFF and offer the student perspective on SPS.  During the convening, we saw presentations and participated in several brainstorming sessions with education leaders from around the nation.  Next steps will be announced later in 2014.

FFF can help make SPS data more useful by building a culture of feedback in the classroom and the school.  When FFF is implemented properly, students will know that their teachers care about their opinions and the process can create mutual respect and shared power, allowing students to be true stakeholders in their learning.  Says PV Board member, Danielle Ongart, Leading Effective Academic Practice Training and Professional Development Alignment Manager at Denver Public Schools: “Once student perceptions are diagnosed with the Student Perception Survey, FFF is a way to mark progress and growth toward facilitating student learning, communicating / maintaining high expectations, and supporting students.”

If you are interested in learning more about Project VOYCE and their work around the FFF pilot please e-mail the Executive Director, Dayna Scott, or call 303-292-2488.

About our First Person series:

First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.