Continuous improvement is a fundamental aspect of my teaching and learning philosophy – a notion referred to frequently in the business world as ‘kaizen’, loaned from Japanese. While it might not necessarily directly translate into teaching, it is a notion to consider since we as teachers are always looking for new ways to improve with the goal of benefiting education as a whole. In addition, some studies such as that by Suárez-Barraza et al (2015) have looked directly into what classrooms can learn from this operations management methodology.
In order to make improvements, it is important for data, typically in the form of feedback, to be collected from your students, as well as fellow staff members who observe you, in order to identify areas that are potentially problematic and to create action plans to address them accordingly. In addition, such data can bring to light what you as a teacher are doing well, and how you can not only make any additional improvements to that but share that those methods and recommendations back with your school and fellow classmates, as recommended by professional standards 19 and 20 indicated for teachers/lecturers in Further Education. (Education & Training Foundation, 2014)
Gathering data from students
Naturally, the most obvious way to get feedback from students is to talk to them informally, or even just to listen to remarks that they say to you or those you overhear as you perambulate your classroom. Much of what is said can give you indicators of what is going well, and many students are more than happy to vocalise how they feel regarding your teaching or the lessons you have set up for them. In my own experience, some of my students have been more than happy to outright tell me that they like or dislike something, or in other cases how they have found something challenging or tedious – I keep a note of these trends so that I can make further improvements and small modifications where necessary.
In one such case with a Year 13 group, I addressed feedback briefly as part of the next class and incorporated it into both the lesson plan and resources (i.e. the PowerPoint presentation) and gave time for further constructive discussion.
At other times, more written or formal methods can be called upon, a favourite of mine is to use exit tickets. While it is a formative assessment tool and its primary purpose is to gauge what students have learned in a class, often by answering brief questions or listing things that they have learned, additional spaces for feedback can also be useful. (George Lucas Educational Foundation, 2015)
A further method that I was recommended to use by my former advisor was to use sticky notes in a similar fashion; requesting that students fill them in at some point during the class when inspiration hit them, or at the very least before leaving in a similar vein to an exit note. Feedback gathered in this way for some of my Level 3 IT classes proved demonstrated that how I was teaching was both interesting and engaging, but for some students, they remarked it was too easy. It’s noted by Quigley that it’s a great system for actually providing feedback to your students in a silent, passer-by manner also in addition to an opportunity for pupils to provide anonymised feedback. (Quigley, 2012)
Gathering data from colleagues
I am fortunate at my host institution to have colleagues who will informally observe all sessions that I deliver, and provide written feedback in the form of a shared document afterwards; allowing me the opportunity to produce action plans and make revisions or immediate improvements for the next session, sometimes of which is the very next day.
Additional forms of feedback data include those recorded in formal observations in document templates provided by the university, termly meetings with my school mentor, and informal department discussions. These are commonly reflected upon in my post-class reflection documents.
Final thoughts and reflections
Whilst the data I collect from my students and fellow members of staff are immensely useful in improving my own teaching in a ‘kaizenesque’ manner, both in my methodology and in my resources or plans, I acknowledge that they are mostly empirical and qualitative in nature, and do not provide a great deal of statistical information on how I might infer better choices and improvements.
I believe that as a professional and reflective practitioner I am obliged to continuously reflect upon my own practice, particularly in conjunction with feedback received in order to further better myself and to maximise the impact I have on my own students. Further research into data/feedback methodologies is the next step I should look to undertake in order to expand these toolsets further, which will become increasingly important as I become a fully qualified teacher, and must fulfil various targets and requirements, of which themselves will almost definitely be numerical in nature.
- Education & Training Foundation (ETF). (2014). Professional Standards for FE Teachers. Retrieved April 27, 2020, from https://www.et-foundation.co.uk/supporting/support-practitioners/professional-standards/
- George Lucas Educational Foundation. (2015, June 23). Gaining Understanding on What Your Students Know. Retrieved April 30, 2020, from https://www.edutopia.org/practice/exit-tickets-checking-understanding
- Quigley, A. (2012, December 8). Post It Note Pedagogy. Retrieved April 30, 2020, from https://www.theconfidentteacher.com/2012/12/post-it-note-pedagogy-top-ten-tips-for-teaching-learning/
- Suárez-Barraza, M. F., & Rodríguez-González, F. G. (2015). Bringing Kaizen to the classroom: lessons learned in an Operations Management course. Total Quality Management & Business Excellence, 26(9-10), 1002-1016.