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'Whassup?' in the Classroom


Curriculum Center

Teacher Brenda Dyck shares her experiences using online surveying tools to gather feedback from students and parents. Students share reactions to lessons and classroom practices as well as their feelings about school and themselves. Parents offer input from their perspectives too. Included: Ideas for surveying students about classroom practices plus a sample survey!

"Whassup?" is a vernacular question familiar to those who work with adolescent students. This interesting bit of lingo translates as "What is
going on?"

I decided to claim the expression and attach it to an important continuous-improvement tool I use in my classroom. Students know that whenever I ask "Whassup?" they will take part in an online survey activity that identifies, analyzes, and removes barriers to learning.


Polling students for their ideas and opinions signifies a considerable paradigm shift for me. I was educated in an era in which people placed little value on student input. If a problem occurred in the classroom, teachers assumed it was a student issue -- definitely not a teacher problem.

In the 1970s, educators started to consider the ideas of Edward Deming, a business statistician responsible for introducing Total Quality Management to the United States. TQM consists of process-improvement activities that involve all members of an organization in an examination of the system.


When TQM approaches are translated into classroom reality, top-down, or teacher-driven, leadership yields to give-and-take leadership that ultimately creates an open and trusting learning environment for students. I frequently ask students to provide feedback about what they find right and wrong in their classroom experience. Data is collected and analyzed, and together students and I discuss strategies aimed at improving student learning.

This approach takes a little getting used to. Sometimes I have a vague fear that my students may take advantage of my willingness to satisfy. I know my students are a little surprised that I have even asked them these questions in the first place! In the end, however, I must agree with Art Linkletter, author of Kids Say the Darndest Things! He said, "I have learned to trust the children to come up with the answers."


I have created a number of anonymous surveys using a free, online survey tool, such as Zoomerang. My surveys have examined

  • student understanding of mathematical concepts
  • the happiness quotient in our classroom
  • student perception of a playground problem
  • student ideas about how well kids were prepared for a unit test
  • student evaluation of my teaching practices -- this is a scary one for me!
  • what students would like to do at our end-of-the-year party.

I have also used Zoomerang to collect information from parents when they come into school for parent-teacher conferences. Survey sites such as Zoomerang not only collect information but also often present findings as colorful graphs.


Sorting out inevitable classroom disagreements and concerns in a sixth-grade classroom can be a bit like looking for a needle in a haystack. It can be almost impossible to separate fact from fiction. After several parents suggested that all was not well among my sixth graders, I decided it was time for "Whassup?" Using questions specially chosen to measure the anxiety level in my class, I created a survey called Life in Grade 6D. Students were polled on perceptions about their ability to learn, relational issues, and their general comfort level in our classroom.

Results from the survey indicated that my students were quite content with the state of their relationships, but the level of anxiety regarding the homework load concerned me. The survey tool enabled me to go back to parents with data that put their fears at rest. Because homework load was clearly of concern to my students, I took the information to my next team meeting, where we discussed ways to address this issue.


Teachers can use online surveying instruments to improve classroom practices, but the tools have other, very practical applications. Last fall, our school buzzed with interest about Canada's upcoming national election. Because my students were in the middle of a unit on government, we decided to create a survey that would poll student opinions about who would win. On Election Day, students in grades one through 11 predicted who would become our new prime minister.

My students watched with excitement as the data rolled in throughout the day. At 3:30, our class announced which candidate had won (according to our students). Cheering erupted throughout the classrooms. It was remarkable how closely student predictions echoed the real outcome of the election. I couldn't help but be amazed as I watched this highly diverse group of students evolve into a unified body as they came together to exercise their right to vote. For these students, the survey tool became the vehicle that fleshed out the democratic process.