09-10 Student Survey Results: Rafe’s Rule

I remember clearly feeling as if any grade below an A in school was a flat out failure: a cause for shock, sometimes tears, and hours of over-the-top extra credit work.

I’m still that girl.

But I know that, which is good. So when I used SurveyMonkey for the first time this year to have my kids give their feedback on the class, I made up a rule for myself, based on the 20 year plus wisdom of Rafe Esquith.

In nearly all his books and talks, he is very careful to speak to people like me:  emotionally overinvested do-gooders who will consider slitting their wrists if a single child is “lost.” ( Rafe’s inner-city crowded classes number upwards of 30, usually.)

“In every class,” he says (and I paraphrase from several sources here), “There will always be two or three kids who won’t get it, who don’t respond, who don’t buy in. And that’s ok. You have to treat those kids with the same kindness and rigor as everyone else, and then just wish them well and let them go.”

So Rafe’s Rule was born: The margin of  failure not attributable to you as a teacher is about 10%. And call it arbitrary, intellectually unsound, or downright silly, but this is truly how I have managed to interpret my survey results with a modicum of maturity, without losing sight of where I want to be.

Survey Monkey does not allow downloads except for an amount of money I can’t justify, so I taught myself a Windows XP screen shot workaround. (If I can do it, you can do it.)

Questions 1 and 2: Perceptions of Reading

readingA 79% success rate on discovering the joy of reading is pretty tight. But it’s not good enough. I’ll need to ask some pointed questions in next year’s September reading survey about what exactly gets in the way here, and how I can address it.

I’m also shy 3% of the margin of failure for a sense of competence in reading, which is also satisfactory, but not Esquith-worthy.

But what blew my mind is the 8% of kids who report feeling more competent at reading, while still not liking reading more. Say what?  My Ed Deci-soaked brain would have never come up with this. Possible intepretations include:

a) Kids who already came into the class full to the brim of loving reading (and it’s possible some of those kids even answered “disagree” on Question 1).

b) Kids who truly don’t cotton onto the written word, but felt successful academically in the class. I’m down with that.

c) Kids whom I didn’t reach in joy. Targeting my 21% who still don’t like reading will catch these guys too, I hope.

Questions 3 and 4: Perceptions of Writing

writingExtensively weaker results here overall, with a staggering 22% gap in sense of competence and enjoyment.

I need to put down this down to several factors. I struggled with my “canned” assignments eating up workshop time, and the kids were gypped of personal writing space (and knew it). Also, authentic opportunities for sharing their writing and seeing its impact were far too limited. I have plans next year for a class blog and a middle school literary journal (which we don’t have at the moment), amongst other things. This should help.

I am also, I discovered this year, a demanding writing teacher. I give kids substantially less hand-holding than in their elementary years, particularly in editing. In this transitional grade, 7th graders are often unused to me saying things like, “Where do *you* think the error is?” and complain about it as a rule, versus not liking writing inherently. But this matters little in the end for me practically– yet again, I will need to work on ways to step up the mitigating enjoyment factor.

Questions 5 and 6: Perceptions of Instruction

instructionPhew. I felt released from some worry here. At a respective 85% and 90%, I am well within reach of an acceptable number of kids feeling as if they are being instructed well. Which is verrrrry interesting– given that a good portion of these kids also don’t feel competent in the subject! What’s going on here?

I strongly emphasized that the survey was anonymous but was present in the room while it was being given, which may have been a mistake– I can imagine kids not feeling safe enough to report something negative about my teaching. Another thought: could this be, simply, the specter of middle school’s “You’re great, but I hate myself”? If so, it serves me well to remember how fragile my chickadees are, underneath all their eye makeup, bling, and Silly Bandz.

Questions 7, 8, 9: Perceptions of Classroom Management

7&88&9 My low scores in organization this year were well-deserved, given that I subjected the class to three or four different systems while discovering that Nancie Atwell may kick total ass in literature teaching, but that I had to find my own methods for dealing with the paperwork. Same deal for scheduling appointments for extra help.

Kids submitted several helpful comments here– go over the homework EVERY DAY, post a whiteboard just for appointments– which I will not be taking lightly.

I had my heart in my throat over question 9, because I had a collection of what was possibly the worst singular interactions with students I have had since I began mainstream teaching, and some extremely chatty groups who got chewed out by me more than once. But 85% is all right. Not within range, but getting there.

Question 10: Perceptions of Class Activities

activitiesPoem of the Day, at a whopping 88%, was loved by students. (Let that sink in. They…loved…POETRY.) Followed closely by Six Word Memoirs (our inspiration can be found here) and independent reading, I was delighted by these results.

Here was a revealing kicker, though: the utter loathing of reading journals. Yep, those very journals I lauded back here. Once again, I think I’m being hit in the face with the message that I am a tougher teacher than I think I am.

The kids disliked nearly everything about these: how often they were due, how much I asked for in them, how many times they had to be rewritten-revisited. In the comments, they repeatedly begged for me to get rid of them. And I think there’s some merit to their complaints.  Some, that is.

I can certainly tweak things here and there so that they’re clearer, due a little less frequently, and so on. But I have never had a clearer window, frankly, into how kids are thinking (or not) about their reading– nor experienced such clear growth in their  thought. So sorry, guys, but I think reading journals are a bit like Swiss chard. Because you did them now, you’re going to love what they do for you later.

Comments also included patterns of “include more games” (yep, can do), “more group work” (ditto), “more free writing” (oh god, I KNOW, and I am so sorry), and “more time outside” (music to my ears).

But my favorite, roll-on-the-floor-laughing comment had to be this one, which I reproduce in full here:


Which, of course, is the entire English curriculum. Sorry, friend. You’ll have to talk my supervisor about this one.

8 thoughts on “09-10 Student Survey Results: Rafe’s Rule

  1. Oh my – you are killing me softly. I usually give a Survey Monkey survey, and my favorite: Too much homework! Um, kids…I don’t give homework. Very much like your student’s comment – that would be the curriculum, kid. Get over it!

    Are you sure you’re not in a parallel universe?


  2. Outsider question: why are journals revised and rewritten? Journal for me indicates personal expression, and latitude, while being assigned to encourage thinking and foster a desire to write. That there would be perhaps critical comments, but not a requirement to resubmit, where as a more traditional assignment should be more adherent to grammar, concise thought, and organized flow, that should be resubmitted. What is the goal of a journal vs other assignments?

  3. This post made my morning. I’m not even sure exactly why, but the reflection and the writing style just made me happy.

    I’m quite impressed with your acceptance of Rafe’s rule and your ability to step back without too much self-flagellation.

    In my last year in fifth grade I had my students do the same reading journals I’d been doing for years. However, every other time they would be writing, they blogged their thoughts instead. Then they responded to each other rather than just me responding to them (I did assign each person a buddy so that they would have one person responding for sure and if others did so as well it was a bonus for them). They were much more thrilled with it as a blog then they were with the spiral notebook. But they did both without too much complaint.

  4. I had never heard of Rafe’s Rule, thank you. That is something I need to look into more. I’m one of those who beats myself up over the ones I didn’t catch/help enough.

    I’ve used Survey Monkey too in years past and also got annoyed with the inability to download data. So this year I used Google Forms for my survey instead.

    Thank you for sharing your results. Sounds like you and your students had a great year.

  5. @Kelly: it’s possible. Your link to Mr. T’s video has the hallmark of my humor.

    @Jenny, thank you. I post this kind of navel-gazing primarily so I don’t forget what I’ve thought, so it’s lovely to know it’s of use to others. Love the blogging idea. Have plans for piloting Moodle journals with my very high readers next year; when I work out the kinks, maybe I can get everyone on board. (Trouble there, of course, is the complete lack of access to reliable computers. Sigh.)

    @Jackie, Rafe’s Rule is one I made up, although it’s based solidly in his own words– just fyi. Google Forms, you say?…:: starts clicking ::

    @Teale, completely fair question. They’re not journals in the sense of “diaries,” but detailed reflection pieces on their independent reading. You’re right to say that the name implies more freedom and back-and-forth than the assignment does, right now. Will be tinkering this summer. And for years to come, no doubt.

  6. Dina
    First time reader! I finished my first year of teaching this year (6th and 7th Language Arts) and am glad I stumbled onto your blog.
    I tried an eval this year using Google Forms. Very easy to use, I just wish I’d had more time to put it together. I like the depth that yours has.
    I didn’t collect enough data to meaningfully reflect on. I also got a lot of monosyllabic answers in open comment boxes (“IDK” was a favorite answer). What I will remember for next time is your Rafe’s Rule!

  7. Welcome, Lindee, and congratulations for successfully completing your first year. Stay in touch– I’ve learned more from my electronic teaching forum than in years of professional development. 🙂

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