Enjoy my short video outlining my two biggest tips for successful student focus group outcomes and my rationale for starting this new classroom tradition. They are pretty simple but really important: have an explicit focus and then get out of the way!
For further support, check out these additional resources:
Fontana, Andrea and James Frey. 1994. "The Art of Science." pp. 361-76 in The Handbook of Qualitative Research, edited by Y.L. Denzin. Thousand Oaks: Sage Publications.
Kattner, Therese. 2012. "Using Focus Groups to Assess Students' Perceptions and Growth." published on the National Center for Student Leadership website from SA Matters.
1. Choose students from your class that you think would be a good fit for your project focus.
2. Invite your group to meet outside the classroom during a quiet moment in order to briefly outline your idea for the focus group. Follow up with a group email the next day asking for students to reply if they are interested in participating. This allows students to think about the idea, talk to each other, and invite other students they know would be interested in participating but perhaps you had missed in the initial invitation list. You could also canvas your counseling department partners for additional member suggestions.
Major highlights to share with the students during this invitation meeting:
philosophy/vision: my goals and hopes for the group experience
takeaway: what they would get out of the experience
logistics: location and frequency of meetings.
For each focus group session consider doing the following:
1. Before the session, reflect upon your major goals and questions for the group and create a set of optional prompts that focus in on something you are looking to get feedback on and suggestions for next steps from the group.
2. Find a comfortable semi-private area for students to meet. Present the prompts with a brief rationale for your focus for the day. Remind students that they can choose to let the conversation go in different directions than the ones you have initially chosen as the priority.
3. Let the students work on their own while you monitor your classroom setting.
1. During the last 15 minutes of the focus group session, come back in and ask if the group is ready to share out their major takeaways. Model active listening strategies and allow the conversation to naturally turn to brainstorming potential next steps.
2. At the end of each session, always remind students that you are happy and grateful for their input into the collective class experience!
I found that checking in with my focus groups kids through group emails elicited more feedback both in writing and in person. I also observed that student focus group members took their roles in group work more seriously, showed increased engagement in classroom activities and discussions, and in general acted as informal class leaders throughout the year. I also asked for summative, end of the year feedback which students completed individually by email.
What students shared with me through this assignment and through more spontaneous email and lunchtime conversations is that this was a powerful connecting activity. Students said they saw themselves as learners and directors of their own experiences at school and that they better understood and appreciated my role as a planner, thinker, and responder to student learning needs. This is the first year in my life as a teacher where individual students would come by after school on a Friday to thank me for a lesson plan! These are words students don't typically use or even think of and here they were, analyzing classroom activities in a new light. You can read a little bit more on this subject in the newspaper article one of my students wrote for our school newspaper.
As this process evolves for me and my classes, I could envision utilizing Google hangouts or setting up a Google plus community or using other media tools as a way of connecting with students outside of class time.
I really hope you feel inspired to try out this method for student feedback and evidence of learning. Within our group, we saw a shift in responsibility for learning, an increased appreciation for the art of classroom teaching and learning, and a chance to explore personal preferences and concerns within the context of a trusting group of collaborators and colleagues. Check out my video reflection for more tips and ideas. I can't wait to hear your feedback!