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Teachers As Learners...

by Hal Portner

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This article was printed from Teachers.Net Gazette,
located at http://teachers.net.

SGID: Teachers Learn From Student Feedback --
Small Group Instructional Diagnosis Leads to Increased Learning

Material for this article is adapted, with permission from the publisher. Portner, H. (1998, 2003) Mentoring New Teachers. Thousand Oaks, CA.: Corwin Press, Inc.

In last month's Gazette (April), I discussed the "ifs, ands, and buts" involved in taking risks, and reminded you that often one has to take risks in order to learn. The month before that (February), I pointed out the power of knowing how, when and where to ask for what you need. Now, I invite you to apply the kinds of informed risk and asking strategies I wrote about, and dare to ask your students to provide you with a "user-oriented" picture of classroom dynamics. Why? So that you can learn from the students themselves what they perceive is happening in the classroom that helps them learn, and what they consider it is that gets in the way of their learning. To what end? So that you can consider whether to modify any of your classroom procedures in order to improve student learning.

If you are willing to take me up on my challenge -- to solicit and respect honest student feedback in order to improve classroom instruction -- you can do so through a process called Small Group Instructional Diagnosis, or SGID.

What is SGID?

SGID affords the opportunity to gain some insights about classroom dynamics not otherwise obtainable. SGID was pioneered in the 1970s at the University of Washington by Dr. Joseph Clark. It was conceived as a mid-course adjustment strategy and has become a regular feature of hundreds of institutions of higher education throughout the country. I have modified the SGID process to make it applicable to elementary and secondary classrooms.

How to SGID

On a prearranged day, with about 30 minutes or so remaining in a class period, a trusted colleague comes into your classroom and you leave. Your colleague forms students into groups of 4-6. If cooperative learning groups already exist in the class, they can function as the selected groups. The reason for using small groups is that it places the extremes of student opinion within the context of group consensus and increases validity.

Your colleague has each small student group select a recorder then discuss these three questions:

  1. What helps you learn in this class?
  2. What gets in the way of your learning?
  3. What can be done to help you learn better?

Following ten minutes of discussion, each group comes to consensus on its answers.

Before beginning, your colleague makes it clear to the students that a) the discussion will focus on what goes on in the classroom, not on the teacher; and b) it will be up to the teacher to decide what, if anything, he or she will do about the students' responses.

When all groups have completed their discussions (or when the designated time has expired), the recorders report their groups' answers to the entire class. Your colleague writes the comments on the board as they are presented. When all the groups have presented their comments, your colleague summarizes and clarifies until all agree on the class response to each question.

While your colleague is working with the students in the classroom, you work alone, pondering the following:

  1. What do you think the students will say helps them learn in the class?
  2. What do you think the students will say gets in the way of their learning?
  3. What will the students suggest will improve their ability to learn?

The class's small-group discussion is preceded by a pre-SGID conversation and followed by a post-SGID discussion, both of which take place privately between you and your colleague. The pre-SGID meeting provides an opportunity to talk about the purpose of the process, and to discuss goals, class activities and any sensitive aspects or conditions that might apply. The meeting also offers an opportunity to change the generic questions to ones that relate to specific aspects of the class, and to agree on how the information obtained will be treated.

The post-SGID meeting consists of a discussion of the information gathered. The intent is to understand the students' perspectives, to reflect on any differences between the students' and your perceptions, and to decide whether to make any changes based on the activity. The conversation might include a discussion about strategies for any anticipated change and consider what you might say when talking to your students about the SGID's results during the first 5-10 minutes of the next class.

It is important to understand that SGID is not a student evaluation of the teacher. It is a voluntary, confidential assessment process for your use only. The information generated by a SGID can be ignored or considered together with other data. At the very least, SGID can generate thoughts about possible changes in teaching strategies and/or potential adjustments in a classroom's learning environment. It also offers students a good example of group decision making and consensus building.

If you feel uncomfortable about your students' ability to go through SGID, consider this comment from a group of 5th grade students to their teacher when she asked whether she could rely on them to take the process seriously: Unless you believe in us, you will never believe in yourself.

This printable version is provided for the convenience of individuals.
Reproduction of multiple copies requires permission from editor@teachers.net.