Getting Feedback From Your Toughest Critics

Remember what it’s like to be a student, constantly wondering if your teacher likes you, worrying about your next assignment and your next grade?


Me too.


I give out periodic “teacher progress reports” to my students to coincide with the progress reports I have to fill out for them.


These “progress reports” are an opportunity to hear raw student voices enter the way I think about our work together and the way I plan future lessons and future units.   Unlike your principal, students spend dozens of hours with you and aren’t trained to hand you a compliment sandwich.


Here’s some of what I learned by going through student responses:


Students really, really, really like independent reading time.   It’s clear from student feedback that independent reading is an important routine to their days.  Some wrote about how they look forward to coming in from lunch to a silent classroom for some reading.  Others wrote about how they enjoyed the time to do something they enjoyed.  Many students asked me for more independent reading time.  Aside from giving out candy (most popular suggestion #1) and going outside to play for class sometimes (most popular suggestion #2), more reading topped the list.  Some students even ask me if we’ll ever spend a whole period reading.


They love to write when they know what I am — and am not — grading for. One of the beauties of setting up strong workshop routines is that there’s always a good sub plan in the wings.  If I am going to be out of class for a period or two, I assign a “free choice” writing assignment.  Students are responsible for handing in a writing piece on a topic or genre of their choosing, and they are graded only on their attention to the grammar and mechanics concepts that we’ve reviewed in class.  By making the assessment so literal, students play with form, content, and message: I collect memoirs, mob stories, text message conversations (with graphics!), screenplays, journal entries,  epic fantasies, and more.


Students love “ghost grades” on major assessments.  I give students the option of a “ghost grade” on a draft for a major project.  That grade serves as a) a minimum final grade, and b) a benchmark for future improvement with concrete feedback on what needs fixing.  Students enjoy making changes and watching that lower “ghost grade” improve in the final draft.  This ghost grade helps make some of their writing progress visible as far as the literal gradebook is concerned.


Do you do elicit feedback from your students?  If so, what have you learned from that feedback?


Amy Estersohn is a middle school English teacher in New York.  She will probably never give out candy, but she will, on occasion, give out emoji stickers, which students pretend not to care about.  (But they do.)  Find her on twitter at @HMX_MSE


8 thoughts on “Getting Feedback From Your Toughest Critics

  1. […] recurring topic on 3TT. Here are some of ways feedback has been tackled on this site before: from Amy Estersohn, from Amy Rasmussen, from Lisa […]


  2. Pat May 18, 2017 at 7:47 am Reply

    Have students write their names on the back of papers…grade them…then look at the names…very interesting results!!


  3. […] students enjoy seeing their ghost grades for three reasons, and they wrote to me about how much they enjoyed getting ghost grades.  First, it’s validation of the work they have already completed.  Second, it gives them a […]


  4. Jeanne-Anne Tye March 21, 2017 at 11:31 am Reply

    I’d love to hear more about the ghost grades!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Jessica Paxson March 20, 2017 at 10:28 am Reply

    I agree, I would love to see the types of questions you ask your students. Also, can you explain to me what a “ghost grade” is? Thanks for sharing this story. I love that you are so vulnerable to give a voice to your students and consider your own practice and progress.


  6. msethnalovesbooks March 20, 2017 at 9:48 am Reply

    Amy – would you mind sharing a copy of the survey you give students? We are looking to survey our students and would love to see the types of questions you asked that gave you that solid feedback.


    • Amy Estersohn March 20, 2017 at 4:02 pm Reply

      I teach middle school, so I tried to make the survey short and relevant.

      I had students score 1-5 on a series of statements agree/disagree and used Google Forms/ Google Classroom to collect data.

      Those statements included (referring to me)

      – I am a fair grader
      – I enjoy having you in my class
      – I help you become a more successful reader and writer
      -I care about reading and writing.

      Then I asked students to explain one of their grades in a sentence or two.

      I also asked them what they’d like to see me do more of that I currently do (hence, more time for IR) and what they want me to do that I don’t currently do (give out candy and go play outside.)

      Google Forms gave me a terrific snapshot at-a-glance of the temperature of the questions. I scored highest across the board on ‘I care about reading and writing” and lowest across the board on “I am a fair grader.”


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