It's no secret that motivated, interested students are more likely to succeed in school than students who are apathetic or depressed. In addition to measuring students' knowledge, reasoning, performance, and products, teachers also need to be able to gauge students' attitudes, feelings, and interests.
Surveys can be an effective means for assessing student attitudes. This lesson concentrates on defining appropriate targets for assessing student dispositions, creating effective survey instruments, and developing charts and graphs to display survey results.
"Students who have positive attitudes about the things they are learning, and feel a sense of internal control of their own academic well-being are more likely to achieve at high levels than those who are negative, lack desire, and see themselves as victims of a hostile school world" (Stiggins, 2001, p. 340). Although one cannot expect a classroom survey to prevent a tragedy similar to Columbine, a survey can serve as a starting point toward helping teachers to understand and motivate students.
Appropriate targets for assessing attitudes are aspects that are directly related to the classroom and the content area. For example, your goal may be to determine if students feel they benefit by working in a group; which subject area is their favorite; or if they enjoy working on the computer.
Inappropriate targets include issues that go beyond school -- questions about their home life, religion, or personal self-concepts. These issues are best left for parents, counselors, and psychologists. If you're not sure whether or not a specific question or domain is appropriate, ask your principal before surveying the students.
Student attitudes and dispositions can be measured formally or informally. For example, teachers observe student actions and expressions throughout the school day. Likewise, informal classroom interactions occur constantly, with questions such as "Did you enjoy the movie?" "Why the sad face?" and "Do you think you'd like to be an astronaut?" For this lesson, however, we will concentrate on a more formal format for attitude assessment -- a survey (also referred to as a questionnaire).
Here are a few general guidelines for creating a survey.
Surveys can consist of open-ended questions, multiple-choice questions, or rating scales that allow students to indicate how strongly they agree or disagree with specific statements. You can also use a combination of approaches -- as long as it's clear to the student how to respond to the questions.
Open-ended surveys contain questions, followed by an area for the student to fill in a response. This survey type is generally used to obtain general, rather than specific, feedback from students. Writing open-ended surveys is quite easy; however, compiling the results can be more difficult because these surveys don't use a scale or ranking for options.
When writing questions for open-ended surveys, do not make the questions too general or ambiguous. For example, suppose I would like to know your reaction to the online delivery of this course, and asked the following question: "What do you think about the format of this class?" The problem is that word "format" can be ambiguous -- does it refer to online vs. classroom delivery; five lessons vs. ten; the structure of the lessons and the use of Try Its; the evaluation requirements; or the timeframe? If you have a specific target (purpose) for a question, you must make sure the question is clear.
Surveys can be conducted orally, on paper, or via a computer, and there are many tools available to help you create surveys. For example, SurveyBuilder is a website that allows users to create free, online surveys.
Is you have specific questions, with specific answer choices, the best approach might be to create a multiple-choice survey. For example, if I wanted to know which of the lessons in the course you felt was the most relevant or difficult or time-consuming or meaningless, I could construct a multiple choice question, with the lesson titles as the alternatives. For example:
To view a multiple-choice survey related to this course, go to the Multiple-Choice Example at SurveyBuilder.
Ranking Scale Surveys
Ranking scales (often referred to as Likert scales) are very common on surveys. Basically, a statement is presented, then the student can respond on a scale that indicates how much (or little) they agree with the statement (see Figure 2).
Figure 2. Sample Likert scale.
In his book, Classroom Assessment: What Teachers Need to Know, Popham (2002) offers eight steps for building a Likert inventory or survey (p. 225-226).
After you conduct an attitudinal assessment, you need to examine the results, and, if appropriate, make changes in your classroom management, instruction, or interactions. In other words, if you are not going to act upon the results, then don't conduct the survey.
There are many ways that survey data can be displayed and/or reported. The most common approach is to compile the responses and create charts or graphs that can quickly convey the information.
For example, the University of Texas administered Attitude Toward Science Class surveys to over 400 students in 6th, 7th, and 8th grade. Looking strictly at the averages (means), it's difficult to get a picture of whether the attitudes were improving or not.
For example, look at #23: "Science is one of my favorite classes."
By displaying the same data in bar charts as illustrated below, it is much easier to see that the attitude of the 7th grades improved over the year, while the 6th and 8th grades became more negative.
Figure 3. Bar chart for displaying survey results.
Pie charts, line graphs, scatter plots, and others are valuable methods for displaying survey data. For a review of the effective use of illustrations, go through the tutorial in Tables and Graphs or Charts and Graphs.
Experiment with creating graphs and tables using Excel, PowerPoint, or the online program, Create a Graph.
Part 1: Creating a Survey
Part 2: Displaying Survey Results
This page was last updated on: 08/10/2003.