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A Research-Based Guide to Gathering Student Feedback


Gathering feedback from students is crucial to enable educators to make transformative improvements in the education students receive. Such feedback allows us to better understand students' current educational experiences, identify strengths and areas for improvement in their learning environment, and how to enhance their overall quality of instruction. 

If you are interested in collecting actionable feedback from your students but are unsure how to start, here are key factors to consider in developing an effective feedback-collection process for your school or district.

Establish clear objectives.

Define your specific goals and objectives for collecting student feedback. Is there a specific question you are seeking to answer, a hypothesis or assumption you are aiming to test, or a problem you are trying to address? You may be seeking insights into the effectiveness of course content or teaching methods. Perhaps you are seeking student perspectives regarding the impact of a school program. Or maybe you want to gather students’ views on their school climate. Having clear objectives in mind will help focus your feedback collection process.

Select an appropriate feedback method. 

Select feedback methods that align with your objectives and the context of your educational setting. These methods may focus on collecting qualitative data (e.g., asking students open-ended questions in one-on-one interviews or in small focus groups), quantitative data (e.g., distributing a survey for students to answer questions using rating scales), or both. Qualitative methods such as interviews, while time- and resource-intensive, provide the flexibility to gather in-depth feedback and rich, nuanced insights into students’ perspectives and experiences. Quantitative methods such as surveys provide structured and standardized questions that make data collection more systematic and efficient. Feedback collected in this way is easy to quantify and measure and enables the use of statistical tests to provide a level of validity and reliability to your insights. Research suggests that a combination of quantitative and qualitative methods provide a well-rounded view of student experiences and a more holistic view of strengths and areas for improvement (Clark, 2015). Both types of research require sufficient lead time to develop an unbiased and comprehensive line of questioning. Planning ahead will be vital to the effectiveness of your process no matter which approach you take. 

Design effective questions.

Designing effective questions for surveys or interviews requires the careful consideration of question wording, structure, and overall user experience. Here are a few tips for developing a set of student feedback questions:

  1. Begin by clearly explaining the purpose of your survey or interview to students, its length of time to complete, and sharing why their feedback is important and how it will be used to improve their learning experience. Use clear, concise, and jargon-free language in your questions. Ensure that students can easily understand the questions without ambiguity.
  2. Organize your questions in a logical sequence. For example, start with broad, general questions and progressively move towards more specific topics. This helps students ease into the survey or interview, remain engaged, an  sets the context for more detailed inquiries.
  3. Avoid leading questions that may sway students towards a particular answer.
  4. When asking survey questions that require an answer on a rating scale, provide students with balanced response options (e.g., Strongly Agree, Agree, Neutral, Disagree, Strongly Disagree). This ensures a wider range of responses and more accurate insights.
  5. When asking survey questions with multiple-choice response options, limit the number of options to 3-5 to avoid overwhelming students.
  6. Think about how you will analyze, report, and act on the data collected from your questions. If you are unsure how you will use any given question and it does not help to address your objective, remove it. This thought exercise will help you develop a set of questions that are relevant, targeted, and actionable.
  7. Pilot-test your questions with a small group of students before conducting your survey or interviews more widely. This will help identify any confusing or unclear questions and allow for time to make adjustments. All the more reason to plan some months in advance for the rollout of your feedback process. 
  8. Balance opportunities for students to give positive and negative/constructive feedback. Encourage both positive feedback and constructive criticism to foster a comprehensive understanding of students’ experiences.
  9. For surveys, consider including some open-ended questions. Open-ended questions allow students to express themselves in more detail. and offering an open-ended comments section at the end of a survey can be useful for collecting additional insights or suggestions.

Plan the timing and length of your feedback-gathering process.

Timing is crucial for gathering meaningful student feedback. Carefully plan when you will gather feedback—avoid gathering feedback too early or too late in a school year. Research indicates that midpoint and end-of-year feedback tend to yield the most relevant insights (Perie, Marion & Gong, 2007). If surveying a larger group of students, consider gathering feedback during a time when other major school activities are not in progress (e.g., school-wide assessments, holidays), and when students can be surveyed in the same classroom setting with minimal distractions. October is a commonly selected month of the school year for this reason. 

It is also important to be mindful of the length of feedback-gathering sessions and keep surveys or interviews to a reasonable length of time to avoid overwhelming and tiring out your students. A survey or interview that takes too long may lead to rushed or incomplete responses or increased disengagement.

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Foster a feedback-friendly environment and maintain anonymity and confidentiality.

Research suggests that creating an open and non-judgmental environment encourages students to provide constructive feedback (Glazzard, Kettley & Walker 2015). Emphasizing their feedback is valued and will be used to improve and enhance their learning experience. 

Let students know that your feedback process is anonymous and confidential to foster students feeling comfortable in providing honest feedback. Research shows that this encourages more candid and valuable feedback and a sense of security in sharing their thoughts and feelings.

Develop a plan for the analysis and interpretation of feedback data.

When designing student feedback questions, it is important to consider how you will analyze and report the data to align with your objectives. Before you dig into your data, develop an analysis plan using appropriate statistical techniques for quantitative data and thematic analysis for qualitative responses. Research-backed analysis methods enhance the reliability and validity of your findings.

Encourage reflective practices, implement iterative changes, and communicate feedback outcomes.

For student feedback to have a positive impact, research-backed approaches emphasize the importance of instructors engaging in reflective practices such as critically analyzing feedback, identifying patterns, and adapting teaching strategies accordingly.

Research also demonstrates that acting on feedback data and making positive shifts fosters a positive cycle of continuous improvement (Zmuda & Kuklis, 2004). Once your feedback gathering and analyses are complete, implement changes based on the feedback and communicate these changes to relevant stakeholders (e.g., students, teachers, staff, parents). Consider following up with your stakeholders by sharing a summary of insights and outcomes as this type of transparency and follow-up will enhance trust and engagement in the overall feedback process.

Monitor long-term trends; recognize that improvement is continuous.

Consider regularly gathering feedback over multiple school years to identify long-term trends and improvements. This longitudinal approach helps maintain and enhance the quality of education over time through a continuous feedback loop—allowing you to track the impact of the changes you have implemented and make further adjustments.

Enhancing the quality of student education and collecting student feedback should both be viewed as ongoing, interactive processes. Just as we strive to continuously improve the conditions of learning, we should also strive to continuously refine feedback collection methods based on emerging research and best practices.


By keeping these research-based considerations in mind when gathering student feedback, teachers as well as school and district leaders can ensure that their feedback processes are a valuable tool for enhancing students’ educational experiences and facilitating continuous improvement.

Are you interested in gathering student feedback to identify and implement improvements in your school or district? While feedback plans in your district may not be intended to roll out immediately, giving yourself sufficient lead time to prepare will be vital to your success. Our experts have the knowledge and experience to help you get started! Contact us today.



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