Make Your Student Survey Data Work for You!

Do you have your students complete a teacher/classroom survey during the year? In my county, our students complete the survey in the middle of the year and again at the end. If used correctly, these surveys give valuable information, allowing the teacher to get an insight on student perspective. In grades 2-5, we ask our students the following questions: (Our K-1 students use a slightly different survey.)

  1. My teacher makes me feel like he/she cares about me.
  2. I am happy when I am in my classroom.
  3. My teacher expects me to do my best.
  4. My classmates’ behavior slows down my learning.
  5. I know what I should be doing and learning.
  6. My classroom is neat, everything has a place, and things are easy to find.
  7. I am comfortable talking to my teacher about my problems.

I enter these questions into a Google Form, which will compile the data for me as they submit their responses (compiling the data is the hard part for me). Each of the prompts asks for a “yes” or “no” response and allows for the student to add a comment if they desire. Students DO NOT include their names (unless they choose to) and therefore can leave their honest response.

Before completing the survey I talk with my students about the importance of being thoughtful and honest. These questions are meant to help our classroom environment and community continue to grow.

Now, how do you actually use this data? My answer is simple. First of all, you need to know that you might get answers and feedback that surprises you. Get out of the mindset that your students just circled answers and that the information is useless. It’s easy to try to get trapped in the process of trying to talk yourself out of responsibility for the negative answers. The truth is, we ARE responsible for those answers, and it’s those answers that give us the opportunity to improve our classroom and our teaching!

How? Simple. I talk to my students about the data in general. I walk through each question and response trend and we talk about it. I tell them my own reflections, my ideas to help improve the response the next time, and I ask them for their suggestions. For the question responses that we really need to focus on, I make an anchor chart. By doing this one simple thing, I’ve noticed a progressing trend over the years in how my students feel about our classroom and myself.

This December, our only problem area just so happened to be question four, “My classmates’ behavior slows down my learning.” I wasn’t surprised by this, but I was surprised at how many students said yes. You see, classroom and behavior management is something I feel really good about. So when 30% of my students responded yes, I knew it was time to really get their thoughts and suggestions.

I decided it was time for a goal (it is January) and an action plan. I told them that it was going to be a goal we share, and so we divided our action plan into three parts: the teacher can, we can, and I can. Just like I described earlier, I talked about my own thoughts and my own ideas, but we focused more on theirs. The picture of the anchor chart below is what the students wanted on the chart.

I have to tell you, I was surprised when the students asked me to start using the “1,2,3 Magic” warning and behavior plan again. I love this plan, but I had actually gotten away from it with this group because I didn’t feel like I needed to talk to them about their behaviors that often anymore. What they said they liked about it, though, was that it’s a silent way to remind a student about what they are doing that is distracting. They like this plan because I can use my eyes and a hand signal, while still instructing. Without our conversation, I honestly wouldn’t have thought to do this with them again. This discussion also allowed the students to voice their concerns and frustrations to the whole group. Without calling names, they were able to voice the distracting behaviors that bothered them the most. And some of the students who engage in those behaviors actually made comments about they didn’t realize that behavior distracted their peers. That’s a WIN-WIN for all!

It’s only been a few days since we had this discussion, but I have to tell you that it has already made a difference in my classes. I think, honestly, just taking the opportunity to be real with them, admit my flaws and failures, and give them a voice, showing that we are truly a team, is what makes the biggest difference. If we’re doing this together, we can make mistakes together, and we can improve together.

If you’ve read this post and you do conduct student surveys with your class, I encourage you to discuss your data with your students. I promise, you won’t regret it! If you haven’t used student surveys with your class, but now you’re wondering what your students might say, I encourage you to start with the few questions above. And as always, if you’d like more information, or have your own stories and suggestions for how you use student survey data, please share it with me via email or comment.

Help Your Students Set Meaningful Goals Instead of the Same Old New Year Resolutions

New Year’s Resolutions are great, and we all set them. In fact, most of us work with our students to set New Year’s Resolutions in the classroom when we come back from our winter break. But, do your students really understand the importance of the goal they are setting, or, do they really set meaningful goals? My guess, based on my experience, is that your answer to those questions for many of your students, is NO.

I saw the same problem, and I found a solution.

Now, I still have my students set goals at this time of year. I just do one very important thing FIRST. What’s that? I hold one-on-one student conferences. It looks very much like your admin/teacher mid-year evaluation meeting, and it’s just as professional.

I know this sounds like it will take A LOT of your instructional time, and I know we are all fighting to use every single second we’ve got, but I promise you, this interruption in your daily instruction is TOTALLY WORTH IT! Each of my own meetings takes about 10 minutes, maybe less or more, depending on the student. We discuss their overall grade and strengths, their areas for improvement, division assessment scores and progress compared to the expectations for those assessments, attendance concerns if necessary, and discipline concerns if necessary. Next, I talk to them about their daily work habits and I give the student time to talk about their own thoughts and reflections. Then, I have the student begin to think about and discuss their progress goals and action plans.

Now it’s time for the student to do some independent reflection. I use a few simple questions, asking the student to reflect on what he/she is proud of and what he/she would like to make better, where they would like to be by the end of the year or in the future (the goals), and how they, myself, and their parents can help reach those goals.

Finally, I save these conversation notes and their reflection form, and these are what I use for mid-year parent-teacher conferences. I’ll also pull these back out for future conversations and mini-conferences with my students later in the year. For those students who need it, those mini-conferences happen about once a month from this point on, and for others, not as often. It’s a relevant, important, and meaningful conversation and goal that you will NOT regret taking time to do.

If you’d like a copy of the forms I use, they’re free and can be snagged with this link. If you’d like to see what I have my students work on to extend these conversations and get the students thinking even more about their future goals, follow me and look out for a post about my career research project and essay with bulletin board.

Enjoy! And as always, I’d love to hear how you run and hold student conferences and set goals with your own students! Comment below!

Theme Theater – A Classroom Transformation

What better way to practice determining theme in the classroom, than by transforming your room into a movie theater?!

This transformation is a simple, cheap, and highly engaging learning experience!

In this learning experience, students “visit the theater” to practice their skills at determining implied theme based on story elements while viewing Pixar Short Films.

While in the theater lobby, students brainstorm a movie story line, based on a chosen theme, and then create a movie poster to advertise and illustrate their story and theme. While in the lobby, students also had a chance to visit the concession stand.

You could also use this theater plan to have students plot and analyze story elements. Get the lesson plan and Google Slides I used to run this transformation lesson in my store.


Most of the theater was set up with red and black table cloths purchased from the Dollar Tree, hung from the ceiling and draped across the tables. I also purchased a few movie theater party decorations from Amazon. These could probably also be found at a party store, but are not mandatory for this transformation to work. Here’s an image of the decorations I used. They are linked above.

I also purchased clapboards on Amazon as theater movie labels for each station. Again, these are not mandatory.

The Game of Awesomeness

A Unit Review Classroom Mini-Transformation

We accomplished our first classroom transformation game day of the year! Okay, it was a mini-transformation, but only on week 5 … that’s a great start in my opinion! It’s called The Game of Awesomeness … and it was named by my students. I have to admit, I love the name!

It was a simple transformation. We used four game review stations: 1) plot elements in test question format, 2) summarizing with a plot diagram, 3) inferences, predictions, and drawing conclusions, and 4) characterization and setting . I began the day before by having the students read the book, “Fanny and Annabelle” by Holly Hobbie. It’s a relatable story about a girl who decides to write a picture book but gets stuck, then uses her own life experiences to continue the story. It’s a story that was simple for my 5th graders to read, but allows for higher-level thinking and close reading. The students must discern between two story lines throughout the book between the main character, Fanny, and the story she is writing about her doll, Annabelle. Their story lines are similar, and therefore, the text requires dependency from the students in order to analyze the plot elements and correctly summarize the text. I used a text copy of this story since it is written on a lower reading level than most of my fifth graders and I didn’t want the pictures in the book to give away the inferences they needed to make without. All of our stations on game day were based on this one text. You can get the first three game stations in my shop!

For our game day review , each station had about 5-6 questions or 10-15 minutes worth of review tasks. The stations were each 25 minutes long (I have a two hour block with both of my classes). Students were expected to have their own answer first and then communicate with their team to compare their thoughts, prove their thinking, and decide on a team answer. I called penalty if they weren’t using the text to prove that thinking as I walked around the room and checked in on each group. Those groups had to go back and find the proof before having their answers checked. Students off task were benched from the game and had to earn their way back into the game by completing work “on the bench” (they just kept working at another table while the rest of their team moved on). Only two students from all 40 of my students got “benched”. Once complete and checked, each table had a game the students got to play. I used the games Jenga, Connect Four, Basketball, and a Ping Pong Three-in-a-Row game I found in the sports section at Walmart. The link for that game can be found here. It was definitely a favorite of the day and will be brought back out for other review days!

This set up could definitely be used in any classroom and with any subject. Other ways to use these rotations would be to only do two stations per day and run the games over two days, or to speed up the work by leading it as the teacher (we tend to push faster than our students do independently) and then having the teams rotate to each of the four games (teacher-led work, game, teacher-led work, game, and so on).

For the room decorations, that was simple. I used black and white table cloths across the ceiling (my ref colors, pictures not shown), and green paper to cover the “fields.” I hung a few streamers in black, green, and white on my door, and posted a sign by the door.

The refferee top and hat that I wore are from Amazon. Here is the link to the shirt and hat. My students chose their team colors the day before. They were excited, all but two actually wore their team colors! One class chose blue and white. The other, black/white and yellow/green (you had to wear both black and white, or yellow and green).

It was a great day! Have you done something similar? I’d love to hear about it! Send me your comments and share your experiences!

Summarizing Fiction with Henry’s Freedom Box

This week in class it’s all about summarizing plot and conflict and resolution. As always, I present the essential questions, learning objectives, and success criteria (found on my reading comprehension anchor charts) to begin this lesson. My first step in teaching this skill is introducing the vocabulary (exposition/introduction, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution). I like to do this with Flocabulary’s video and vocab game. For my fifth graders, this isn’t a totally new concept, so the song and vocab game is great for a reintroduction or review to jog their memories.

On day two, comes conflict and resolution. This is also not a new concept for them, so what I did this week was start by reading our mentor text book aloud the whole way through. While listening, my students were responsible for sketchnoting and preparing for a discussion of all of the challenges the character faces throughout the story. We discuss all of the challenges so that we can get back to the main confict – this is the thing that stops the character from getting what they want. Then they completed an SSWBST. That is, a Setting, Somebody, Wanted, But, So, Then. That’s day two.

Next up, we will summarize the important events in the story using a plot diagram. Part of the success criteria for this skill is that students can distinguish between important versus interesting events/details in the story. For this lesson, I will give the students a blank plot diagram (labeled with the vocabulary) and a set of events/details cards. The students will cut apart the events/details cards and sort them by important versus interesting. This will be a collaborative effort to encourage discussion and student-led learning. Of course, we will share our thinking as a class to help other groups that may need the extra discussion from others in order to weed out some of the interesting details. With only the important events left, the collaborative groups will arrange these on their blank plot diagrams. To end this lesson, the students will then help me do the same with my own events and plot diagram, so that any misunderstandings can be discussed as a group. You can get a copy of that free activity by clicking on this link or on the image below.

To finish off my summarizing lessons for the week, we will use the plot diagrams to write a 3-5 sentence summary of the book. The objective is to paraphrase to summarize the important events of the story. This will be a modeled lesson for me this week so that my students can hear the thought process behind taking the author’s words and making them my own to convey the same meaning.

To continue this lesson, I will repeat these same lesson plans with a different story. This will either be done in differentiated small groups, or again as a whole group without collaborative groups, and taken as a formative assessment to drive future small group instruction and intervention.

I hope this lesson resource and idea is helpful for your own reading instruction! And as always, contact me with any questions about this lesson plan! Happy Teaching, friends!

Analyzing Setting, Characterization, and Making Inferences with The Other Side

This week, I want to tell you about my whole group reading lesson. Our focus was on story elements, specifically, the impact of setting on plot, characterization and development, and making inferences. The book, “The Other Side” by Jacqueline Woodson, was a perfect mentor text to model and discuss all of these learning targets, and engage my students in active reading. This is a story of segregation and two young girls, one African-American and one white, who both live on opposite sides of the fence that segregates their town.

Before I began this lesson, my students and I discussed the essential questions and skills that served as the focus for this lesson. I pulled those questions and objectives straight from my reading anchor charts.

Beginning on page 1, Jacqueline Woodson gives just enough information for young readers to infer the time and place (the setting) and dive into a deep discussion about the impact of setting on the plot, including the metaphorical meaning of the fence.

Readers can also track the changes in characters’ feelings, motives and traits throughout this story and dig into the text to discuss author’s language and style to help develop those characters. Clover’s mom says it isn’t safe to cross the fence that segregates their African-American side of town from the white side where Anna lives. But the two girls strike up a friendship, and get around the grown-ups’ rules by sitting on top of the fence together.

Last, using a modeling my thinking style lesson, this book lent excellent text clues to teach students how to stop and monitor comprehension through inferring while reading.

If you’re interested in the questions and discussion prompts I used to drive and prompt my students throughout this lesson, I pulled them directly from my setting, characterization, and inferences anchor charts. You can get those by clicking this link or in my Teachers Pay Teachers store, or by clicking the “shop” tab on my site.

My fifth graders loved this story and were excited to share their own thinking throughout the read aloud. If you haven’t read this or need a book for your fictional story unit, this should definitely be on your list!

A Year in Writing: A Digital Writing Journal

I’m really excited about this one and so are the students!

For this new year, I’m starting a new way to track my students’ writing throughout the year and keep all of our conference notes in one place.

One thing I struggle with in writing is keeping track of all of my writing conference notes and goals with my students, and knowing what I’ve read and haven’t conferenced about in my students’ journals. It’s too much to carry all of the journals back and forth, and I just can’t get all of my students’ writings read in the hours of each day at school. Do you have this problem?

So, this year, my students are doing the majority of their writing in a new, Digital Writing Journal. I call it “A Year in Writing”. I’m excited about this tool in Google Slides for a few key reasons:

  1. I can carry all of their writings, for the entire year, home in one place – my computer! This means, I can read their writing, make notes, and take data any time I need!
  2. All of their writing is in one place – We can track their progress for the entire year, nothing gets lost, and I can keep all of my notes right there in their digital journal.
  3. Conferencing and Goal-Setting are visible to myself and the student! With the use of the ‘Comments” feature and the speaker notes at the bottom, all of our conversations and goal-setting statements are there in the document.
  4. Everything can be done in one place – with evidence of all! There’s always a student that loses a piece of their writing or says they revised/edited and there’s no evidence of it. Now, with the use of “Comment”, my students can highlight their errors and make a revision or edit in the comment box to show their thinking. I can do the same. Or, if they share it with a buddy for peer editing, their revising/editing buddy can use the same tool. I can see it all!
  5. Creativity – with technology at hand, so many opportunities for creativity are available! The sky is the limit!
  6. Finally – All of the writing anchor charts I need to keep for them, all of their writing lesson notes, can all be added to the digital journal for reference. No more needing extra wall space or changing out anchor charts. No more losing notes pages in binders. It’s all in one place!

I’m sure this is going to be a lifesaver for myself and my students. If you’d like to get your hands on a copy, here’s the link.