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The end of the year writing survey: looking back to plan ahead

Next week, as we wrap up our writing workshop year and prepare for our final writing celebration, I will have one last task for my kids: the end of the year survey.  This is my last chance to ask my students for some reflective feedback about our writing year, to gain some insight into their thinking about what worked and what fell short.  Unlike the beginning of the year writing survey, when the year seems full of hope and promise, we arrive at this survey in a somewhat more subdued frame of mind: some things went well, and some did not.  A year is a long time, when a lot of life happens both within and without the classroom, and who knows what we will learn when we pause to reflect?  But…how can we move forward as teachers, if we don’t reflect on our teaching practices and gauge which of these practices really helped our students make gains as writers?

So, the end of year writing survey.

In my classroom, I begin the process with a quick summary of what our year has been like: the genres we’ve covered, our workshop routines, our everyday efforts to improve as writers, and some of the challenges and successes we’ve faced and enjoyed through the year.  Then I hand out the surveys , and ask for their honest responses.  Tell me what you think, I say, so I can improve as a writing teacher.

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While my students complete these, I fill out a survey of my own.  I want to do this as memories are still fresh, and my thoughts are still informed by daily interactions with my students – when their individual writing DNA is still imprinted in my teaching brain.  This takes the form of a simple grid, in which I fill out my own thoughts about: what worked for this particular student? what did not? what are my thoughts about why things fell short?

Or classroom is quiet at this time, save for the scratch of pens and pencils; we work together.  As I fill out my chart, I glance at each student as surreptitiously as I can, trying to remember their stories.  For teaching writing is all about getting to know our kids’ stories.  This year:

I will think about T. who spent so much workshop time looking off into space, in her own world – trying to come to terms with divorce and what that will mean for her young life.  Writing workshop gave her the space to sort out her thinking and write about her feelings.

I think about B., who has finally learned the discipline of writing workshop, and is beginning to write with confidence. Tuchis in the chair and get to work, our mantra after mini lessons and turn and talk, was a hard path for B. to follow until the last workshop weeks.  But now, he owns it.

I think about A., so gifted and so careless with her talents.  We have had to work to bring those diverging paths together.  I think she finally learned the truth of the quote that hangs on our classroom wall:  “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader. Robert Frost”.

I think about K., just beginning to realize only now, in these last writing workshop days that, yes, she has a talent for crafting beautiful writing.  She has gained confidence, at last, in her gifts.

Once the surveys have been collected, I put them away in a folder.  This is summer work, when I have had the chance to put some space between myself and the writing year that was.  It is productive, at that point, to go through each survey and highlight the insights my kids have so generously shared.  I compare their notes with my own to make some assessments about the teaching year ahead: what can I tweak? what do I need to address? what area of my teaching needs further research and growth? who should I turn to for advice and help?

After all, the sign posts for the year ahead are quite often to be found in the year just past.
Do you conduct end of the year surveys? Please share your thoughts and procedures in the comments.

Tara Smith View All

I teach Writing Workshop, Language Arts and Social Studies to sixth graders at a middle school in suburban New Jersey. This blog is my attempt to capture all the "stuff" that goes into my teaching life - the planning, the dreaming, the reading, the preparing, the hoping and (above all) the kids.
Please note that the content of this blog is my own. It does not reflect the opinions of my employer.

17 thoughts on “The end of the year writing survey: looking back to plan ahead Leave a comment

  1. I think this feedback is so important to our work. Your questions for your students are thoughtful and will give you much insight for your work next year. As a first year coach, I asked my colleagues to complete a survey to help me do a better job next year. Like you, I put it away for summer work. I need a few weeks away from school before I dive into their responses. It’s a little scary to ask your peers for their honest reflections. Thanks for sharing the link to your survey. 🙂

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  2. I remember the first time I was brave enough to ask my students (it was my second year of teaching) what I could do better the following year. I was so scared to see their responses. Most were kind. Some were brutally honest and those were the ones that really helped me grow as an educator. It’s hard to take risks and put ourselves out there when we ask our students to give us feedback (yet we do it to them all of the time). I think it makes us much stronger educators when we do, right?

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    • Absolutely. At the end of every project and genre study I always ask my kids for feedback, and then tweak the next iteration. The moment we get comfortable with our teaching, I think, we are doomed to mediocrity.

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  3. This was such a thoughtful post, full of many gems. The survey questions alone reveal so much of your teaching. Not only did you use mentor texts, but students can name and list many titles and speak to if that text helped him or her as a writer and how it helped. That is just incredible. The teaching and learning that went on for such a survey to exist is truly impressive. Part of me panics reading this, thinking how my students would not be able to answer these questions. I remind myself that a community such as this one helps us reach higher and farther than we could dream all on our own and helps us see what is possible for our students. I loved your reflections about your students as writers. I also love that you take that time to reflect too and think about why some writers might not have made the progress you wished for, while celebrating the successes too. Yet another thought-provoking post… Thank you!

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  4. This line, “the sign posts for the year ahead are quite often to be found in the year just past” is just perfect. I surveyed my students throughout the year on this statement: Writing is hard. That generated lots of questions and answers as to when, how and why writing was hard. That was kind of a dialogue as we went through units. It allowed me to see what they saw as the trouble in the moment. What I love about your survey is that it asks students to think about what you’ve taught and reflect on its impact.

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  5. Yes, at the end of the semester, I distributed a survey/questionaire regarding assignments and asking for ways to improve the class and to give honest, specific answers as to the worth of certain activities. I also included a paper to rate me as an instructor. I could then evaluate and adjust assignments if necessary.These were senior high school students in an all-male preparatory school, so their answers were important as I was preparing them to be writers able to survive in college as thinking young men able to express themselves well. I believe all teachers should give students a follow-up survey, but, sadly, I was the only English teacher that did.

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  6. Every year I do some kind of reflection…survey or letter. This year I borrowed lots of questions from Lee Ann Spillane and created some of my own. I am always encouraged and surprised by their impressions and thoughts! Love your questions too…I’m going to save and incorporate some next year.

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