From Feedback to Action: Using Student Experience Data to Transform Learning Environments

April 10, 2023
Ednah Nwafor
Research Fellow
From Feedback to Action: Using Student Experience Data to Transform Learning Environments

A special thank you to our collaborators at the National Equity Project and co-authors, Olivia Kelly (CASEL), Faye Kroshinsky (UChicago Consortium), and Alexandra Skoog-Hoffman (CASEL).

A middle school teacher who believed he was “doing everything right” was “floored” to find that many of his students felt his assigned work was not meaningful and didn’t affirm their cultural identities—so he collaborated with his students to create a more meaningful and affirming social studies curriculum. 

Educators in a Maryland school district responded to students’ needs for improved classroom community and increased student voice amid the pandemic, leading to improvements in students’ sense of belonging and mastery rates. 

In a New York district, teachers adopted a new strategy for sharing helpful feedback with students and saw increased confidence and ownership of learning as a result.

The initiatives undertaken by these educators offer a window into what’s possible for educators nationwide. When student data is collected with intent, analyzed with care, and acted upon in collaboration with students, teachers can create measurable impact that greatly improves student experiences and outcomes. 

These initiatives resulted from educators collecting student data and responding to students’ needs, interests, and opinions, based on the BELE Essential Action, “Measure What Matters.” 

To share learnings from BELE district partnerships around this essential action, CASEL, in collaboration with the National Equity Project (NEP) and the University of Chicago Consortium on School Research (UChicago Consortium), published the brief Using Student Experience Data to Co-Design Learning Environments

The brief dives into key actions for the implementation of student-centered feedback systems and how they led to the three initiatives outlined above. By seeing how these educators translated efficient data collection into effective actions, our hope is that you’re able to take these key actions and adapt them to your own context.

Key Actions

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CASEL and NEP, both BELE learning partners, generated five Key Actions from our experiences using the analytics tool Elevate, developed by the Project for Educational Research That Scales (PERTS) team. With Elevate, educators can collect direct feedback from students about their classroom experiences, share (and discuss) that feedback data with students, and then collaborate to co-design approaches to improve learning conditions. 

Elevate assesses six primary learning conditions: 

  • Affirming Identities
  • Classroom Community
  • Feedback for Growth
  • Meaningful Work
  • Student Voice
  • Teacher Caring

Although we used one specific student feedback tool in this case, these learnings can apply to other student-centered data systems used by districts and schools to measure what matters.

We identified five key actions for effectively utilizing student-centered data to improve learning conditions:

  1. Center and share power with students through student experience data.
  2. Clearly and frequently communicate the purpose for the student data system.
  3. Use data to cultivate and model a culture of learning and growth for adults and students.
  4. Build on and nurture foundational trust and safety through practices that demonstrate respect and professional regard.
  5. Demonstrate and facilitate effective implementation through district- and school-level support.

Taking these key actions from theory to practice results in measurable success that improves outcomes for both students and educators.

The Impact of Measuring What Matters

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We know teachers can accelerate learning by creating motivating classroom conditions. Because of this, our work as BELE learning partners aims to support teachers in their formative measurement of their classroom learning conditions to inform their practice.  

Here are a few snapshots from BELE district partners highlighting the impact of measuring what matters.

Co-creating A New Social Studies Curriculum

A social studies teacher hoped to increase student engagement in one of NEP’s BELE middle schools. He was deeply committed to examining and utilizing student experience data, which allowed him to be vulnerable and respond meaningfully to student input.

When he saw the data, the teacher was shocked to find that many of his students felt his assigned work was not meaningful and didn’t affirm their cultural identities. Despite his surprise, the teacher reflected on what the data meant and how he could learn and grow from the feedback.

After winter break, he returned to the classroom with a two-pronged plan to learn more about his students’ perspectives. He chose to trust his students and collaborate with them to redesign the curriculum.

First, he held individual conferences with his students to determine what meaningful work looked like for them and what they hoped to get out of their work. Second, he designed a reflection and discussion protocol for his African American Studies class, shared the Elevate data with them, and asked them to analyze it and provide recommendations for potential changes.

With the new insights from individual conferences, student analysis, and discussions, the educator made significant changes. These changes spanned his curriculum, the work he assigned, and—perhaps his most meaningful learning—the way he interacted with his students.

Improving Classroom Community During the Pandemic

During the pandemic, a large school district in Maryland created a Teacher Fellowship on Virtual Engagement, consisting of district personnel and nine middle and high school teachers from six schools.

They collected student experience data to determine which learning conditions they needed to address to increase student engagement. From the data, the teachers recognized the need to work on Classroom Community, Meaningful Work, and Student Voice.

Two teachers at different schools decided to focus on Classroom Community by implementing “Student Celebrations,” where students learn about their peers through highlights they choose to share about themselves. 

A second group of teachers opted to work on Student Voice. They gave students “choice in output” by asking students their preferred mode of output and then allowing them to choose from three formats to demonstrate their learning on two weekly assignments.

After teachers implemented these changes, later administrations of Elevate showed that the modifications greatly impacted students’ sense of belonging, Student Voice, and Meaningful Work. Assignment completion and mastery rates also increased. 

Sharing Meaningful Feedback With Students

A school district in New York has a professional development model that allows teachers to choose between several professional development strands. Teachers who chose to participate in the PERTS Engagement Project that facilitated the Elevate survey could pick the Elevate learning condition they wanted to focus on in their classrooms and the intervention they would try.

The teachers chose to work on Feedback for Growth. They implemented a strategy called Stars and Steps, in which teachers give students information about what they did well (stars) and what they need to do to meet learning goals (steps).

But first, teachers told students they were testing a new feedback process. They recorded themselves teaching each other simple tasks (e.g., tying a tie, braiding hair) and giving feedback. After students watched the videos, they were asked to identify the helpful feedback and what type of feedback would have been more useful.

After the intervention, teachers reported improvements in student confidence, students’ ownership in their learning, and increased levels of Teacher Caring on the Elevate survey.

Read the full brief Using Student Experience Data to Co-Design Learning Environments for more information and insight on measuring what matters.

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