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Pupil surveys - asking the girls' opinions

In the previous step you reflected on possible uses of pupil voice. The article below discusses the results collected from a GDST survey of almost 12,000 girls that were asked ‘what makes for really effective teaching and lessons?’.

Would the girls in your care respond similarly? What other questions could you ask them?

After reading the findings of the GDST survey below, you could complete a pupil survey of one of your classes. Ask them for their opinion on a subject of your choice. If you are able to, in the time frame of this course, share your findings with the FutureLearn learning community in the comments section. Possible questions might include:

  • What is your favourite type of lesson?
  • Which lesson have you enjoyed the most this year and why?
  • Which topic did you find hard to understand and why? Could I have taught something differently?
  • What type of class activity to you think you learn best from? etc.

Summary and Reflections on GDST Pupil Survey Findings

Wider research suggests that there are three dimensions to great teaching: who the teacher is, what the teacher knows, and how the teacher teaches. Studies such as that by the Sutton Trust tend to concentrate on the latter two dimensions – understandably, because these are more easily quantifiable, and much more easily linked to the fairly narrow ‘outcomes’ data used as dependent variable in such surveys.

When students are asked what makes for really effective lessons, they tend to focus on how the teacher teaches – the contents of the teacher’s toolbox. In a series of interviews with groups of students in GDST schools, they described effective lessons as having a visible structure, with a high-impact start, clear pace and a coherent summary at the end.

They stressed the need for interactivity and a mixture of group and independent work. They said they appreciate variety, but not for its own sake. They want extension work that is interesting and not just more of the same. They appreciate being challenged in a supportive environment: ‘The best lessons encourage you to test yourself, to try things out and perhaps fail, to take risks’.

But when students are asked a slightly different question, what makes a great teacher, the focus tends to be different. When we asked students to make free responses in an online survey, we found that references to the methods teachers use were less frequent than references to their personal qualities.

These personal attributes included teachers being approachable and calm, patient, polite and positive. On the whole they trumped toolbox qualities like giving good feedback, preparing well, and varying lessons.

‘Pedagogical praxis’

But in the survey an important and interesting middle category emerges, which was still more frequently referenced, and which might be called “pedagogical praxis” – a transitive category, rooted in the teacher’s character and background, but realised in practice in the classroom. These are qualities that are inscribed in particular behaviours towards students.

These become real, as far as students are concerned, in behaviours towards them and their classmates. Responses such as, “doesn’t rush me”, “treats me as an individual”, “allows independence”, “explains things well”, and “gives advice” may be categorised as aspects of pedagogical praxis.

The possible implications are interesting. While basic personal qualities might not be easily changeable or trainable, they should be aspects looked for in recruitment and selection; and their translation into effective teaching, through pedagogical praxis, is something that can be developed through professional development. You don’t need a brilliant sense of humour to make a lesson fun.

A Year 2 pupil had this view of recruitment priorities: “If you want to be a nice teacher, you will need to be loving, caring, clever and sharing, helpful, understanding and kind. They need to help children to do their best and have integrity, and they also need to trust everyone.”

An older student acknowledged the moral scale of the task: “A great teacher did not apply just to mark books but to change and guide a generation.”

The infographic below shows key findings from the survey. You can find a pdf version in the downloads section.

Infographic showing results in visual form

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This article is from the free online course:

Girls' Education: Teaching Strategies That Develop Confidence, Resilience and Collaboration

Girls' Day School Trust