In my previous post about the extensive student survey we conducted, I noted a few oddities that I want to address in this post with actual samples of student comments. The first oddity was that math was both the most favorite and least favorite subject on the list. I also noted that English fared poorly overall: not near the top of favorite subjects and 2nd to last in least favorite; secondly, the gender gap in English is worse than the gap in math. (I will return to the gender gap in English at a later time, too.)

We start with the positive: what do students say to explain their most favorite subject and why it is so? Have a look:

      • I’ve always been good at math and my teacher makes class very enjoyable.
      • World Languages is my favorite subject because I get to learn another language.
      • I like to learn about facts about the United States and other countries.  I also really enjoy learning about foreign policy.
      • I want to pursue a career in engineering and math is a subject that is very closely related.
      • I love learning about history, and am very passionate about politics.
      • I am good at it.
      • I believe science is my favorite subject because it allows you to explore different ideas
      • I am good at science and I like to see the way things work and how they are what thay are
      • Because it comes easily to me
      • Music is my favorite subject because it directly applies to my future career as an Audio Producer.
      • I like learning about the functions of the body
      • It works for me and there are jobs in that area so it works.
      • It is fun
      • It comes easy to me and I feel like it is the only challenging thing
      • because i am very good at math and i make alot of good grades.
      • its just really easy for me
      • Because i learn about the past
      • Well I have always had an intrest in music. Like the way its played and the way its put together
      • i get everything the teacher talks about.
      • its hands on
      • I like math because I understand the material very well and I find the material interesting.
      • I am good at it and i get good grades in it.
      • It seems like it challenges me the most, and i enjoy doing the labs
      • I enjoy learning all the mechanics of science, and I REALLY like doing all the labs that go with them. Finally science comes natural to me so i just enjoy it because i get it.
      • im a hands on learner and its fun to just work on a project and actually make things
      • Family sciences is my favorite subject because i like to learn about kids and all that kind of stuff. I absolutely love kids, i love spending time with them and the more i learn about them themore fun we will have.
      • i enjoy art, its easy and its a way to be creative
      • it is interesting to me. i like to learn about different cultures in different times. and becasue history repeats itself its smart to know about the past.
      • It is my favorite subject because you get to do lots of intresting things and from my experiance.
      • I enjoy learning about the past and the people that lived then.
      • I really like the hands on type of class.  I also just like chemistry and biology and learning about the daily things around me and how they work and what they are made up of.
      • I like to cook and thats is the job I would like to pursue in life.
      • I like learning about babies and children and early child development class is amazing.
      • I just like being creative and it’s my talent.
      • I am really good with numbers and unlike english it has a definite answer. I like that because then you know your right.
      • I’ve always had a passion for music ever since I was younger. I love to sing and have down time just to listen to music.
      • I’ve always been good at math because i am good at mental math and using different equations to solve for answers.
      • because i am able to understand it very well and feel smart because i get it
      • History is my favorite subject because the customs and actions of ancient people is really interesting to me. I especially like World History, specifically ancient Egypt and Greece, and im most facinated by the religious beliefs of ancient civilizations. I think history just clicks more for me because of the interest i have for different times in the past.
      • Because I am very athletic and I love to get my daily excercise
      • It’s fun to be able to learn to speak and discuss in another language. Especially when you can have conversations in that language.
      • I like sports.
      • I like expressing myself though art
      • Because it is something i understand better than any of my other classes, and i am interested in most of the material taught
      • Health is my favorite subject becuase it is intresting and i want to learn more about it.
      • I’m involved with theater and all students are like family so its like a have a class where i get to be in my home away from home.
      • I enjoy the class and my teacher. I am a creative writer and I would like to have some sort of creative writing assignments but the essays that we are given also help me to develope my style of writing.
      • I just enjoy learning about another language.
      • It’s my favorite subject because it’s really easy and I like problem solving

Some obvious patterns here: if you like the topic and are good at it, you like the subject. Note how rarely the teacher is the key in this random sample of the answers. I would say only about 1 in 100 answers said the teacher was the cause of it being their most favorite.

The word that appears over and over in these Why Most Favorite answers is a simple but powerful kid word: “fun”.  That word is high praise; it is not a frivolous or anti-intellectual assessment. In the next post, in fact, when we learn what students say is a common but offputting teacher practice, the opposite of “fun” becomes very clear: pointless and unvarying use of class time – the opposite of “fun” for anyone of any age – i. e. boredom.

Let’s take a closer look at the findings about why a subject is least favorite by first noting an important fact about both Math and English being viewed negatively. In most cases, by an overwhelming percent, the issue was not the teacher. The issue of dislike had primarily to do with a lack of interest in the subject and/or the level of confidence/competence. Yet, the math and English profiles were different: far more students said that they didn’t like math because they were not good at it than in English where the issue overall was the lack of interest in the subject:


what students actually say about their least favorite subjects

Let’s first look at what students say about math and English that makes either their least favorite subject:

      • I have a hard time understanding it and the information never sticks
      • Im never going to need to know how to find the dirivitive of the cos of 2.43, its unnecessary and really boring
      • I feel that much of the material I learn is useless to my future life.
      • I am not good at it and it tends to make my attention span decrease.
      • I was good at math until the teachers started introducing a bunch of letters and formulas and symbols into the mix. Math just isn’t “my thing.”
      • I don’t see myself using high math in the future and it’s not applicable to every day life.
      • Math is really difficult for me and I have to work really hard to maintain my grades in math. Sometimes my teachers are unable to explain things in a way that it makes sense.
      • I don’t do well with algebra and It is difficult for me
      • I don’t really get the problems, or know now to solve them
      • I think basic math is important to learn such as adding, subtracting, dividing, multiplying, etc. I think learning about complicated math is hard and difficult to understand…there is no point in learning some of things in math class.
      • It’s unnecessary, boring, useless, and difficult.
      • I do not like math because alot of the things we learn in the class we will not use in the real world
      • im HORRIBLE at math, and the teachers are always really mean and have no patience with me. i need things explained to me over and over again and the teachers at this school dont do that!
      • i don’t like math because it’s hard and im not good with things that involve dividing or fraction to me its hard and i never can understand it
      • for the past two years I have had terrible teachers who do not teach me anything besides preparing for a test. I feel like I havent learned anything. He teaches us only how to prepare for the test.  He does not expect anything from his students.
      • because i am not good at it and it does not interest me
      • Im not good at math and i dont understand it. I also dont like how its taught. You get a lesson on a subject and then your given endless amounts of work and your expected to know it with little practice and teaching.
      • its hard.
      • Because it just gets to a point where I dont understand why im learning certain things and its never really been told to me why.
      • I’m not fantastic in math for one and im not intrested in it. It never really caught my mind or interested me in any way plus my teachers havnt been the greatest explainers either.
      • Personally, while I still manage to get good grades in math and am enrolled in an AP Calculus class, I find that I have to work the hardest in that class to get a good grade and considering I plan on majoring in an English based field, I don’t have much use for it.
      • Besides basic math, it is not applicable in my every day life so I feel it is pointless.
      • I never understand WHY we do the work we do nor how it can at all relate to me. I don’t like how it’s not open ended. There’s only one way or one answer you get.
      • I have always been bad at math
      • I have always struggled in this class ever since i started school.
      • I do not understand broad concepts of math and it is not useful in real life.
      • im not a numbers person. i cant remember the formulas and know when to use them
      • Because its pointless
      • i find it pointless unless you want to go into a career that involves math
      • I dont enjoy myself because i have always been bad at it.
      • The career I have chosen for myself has nothing to do with math
      • Math is my least favorite because I usually cant direct it back to my life and it just is not very entertaining.  It never grabs my attention.
      • I am not really good at math and have trouble grasping it.
      • its hard to learn and knowing all the formulas is also hard
      • The teachers don’t really care about you unless you’re in an AP class, and if you aren’t they tell you they can’t help you or act as if you’re dumb.
      • I thought that the subject material was dry. It didn’t pull me in to the courses like history did. All Math is, is memorizing facts and plugging them into equations.

The pattern of answers in English is somewhat different – more about the lack of interest in and choice about the work (though lots of complaints about how hard writing is). There is also some unhappiness with the apparent arbitrariness of teacher analysis of texts and grading of student work:

      • It is a struggle for me to discuss things because I don’t like being graded on discussions.
      • The things that High School students learn in english throughout their four years is unrelatable to the real world and unless they are going to become a lit major completely useless.
      • Because I do not find reading and comprehending phrases that appealing.
      • The books chosen have no true connection to my life.
      • Way too many essays
      • Essays take me too long to do. There are way too many worksheets that go along the book that we read, which takes out the fun of reading the book.
      • Writing and reading are a necessity to learning, but what is expected out of simple novels is quite too much. The curriculum is too “jam” packed having essay over essay over essay, and we read wayyyyyy too much into the novels we read when I wish we could just simply READ the book.
      • We don’t get to pick the books we read.
      • It is because of the topics I have to write. I have no problem writing but it is topics I am writing about. It have to be topics I have interest in.
      • It is boring because all we read is boring books
      • I do not enjoy writing or reading. The books we read at school aren’t very interesting, and I don’t enjoy talking about all the symbolism in my essays.
      • Reading analytically is the most tedious and difficult part of English class, as well as annotating because it all seems so perfectly useless.  Not only will I almost certainly never use these skills again, but the books are so over-analyzed by the teachers so that literally every person, object, or place has symbolic meaning in the teachers’ opinion.
      • its not something that i am intrested and i feel like half of the teachers just make stuff up.
      • I don’t like english because i think its a bad joke, they make you write about stuff no one cares about and read books that are completely pointless.
      • It is difficult to analyze things  you don’t see.
      • I always feel like teachers grade my papers based on their own opinion. I sometimes put a lot of work into a paper just to get a bad grade. I have also noticed that different teachers grade differently.
      • I don’t like English because I don’t believe I am going to use it too much in the future, i.e writing poems or short stories, writing an analysis on a book/novel.
      • I find it unnecessary for us to continue to take english classes all the way through high school because at this point we have learned everything that is required of a non-english major.
      • I was just never really interested into it. The subject does appeal to me which makes it boring to me. I love the teachers just not the subject.
      • English in general seems ambiguous to me.
      • I do not like to read the books given
      • Because the books do not interest me and I feel like we never learn anything applicable to the real world
      • There are rarely finite answers, leaving answers up for debate.
      • I know I can speak English pretty well and I don’t feel the need to be a brainiac in the subject. All of the in depth information about it bores me
      • I don’t like to read thing that aren’t interesting.
      • We don’t do much in the classes. I’m not sure why it’s called English when we don’t really study the English language.  It should be called reading.  I don’t feel like I am being prepared for college.
      • I do like reading. I don’t like reading books that I am not interested in and we have to read books and stories that I don’t like.

The heads-up for math teachers is clear: way too much of math is apparently of little meaning to many students. (This is of course a longstanding pet peeve of mine: math is needlessly boring and meaningless, as it is currently taught in almost every secondary school – a disembodied set of skills with no larger purpose.) Regardless of long-term aim, math teachers need to do a far better job of making students feel competent.How will we meet standards if kids are made, wittingly or unwittingly, to feel that they are dumb at it and cannot improve? There is a kind of fatalism that many HS math teachers give off that if you don’t get it you’ll never get it.

English teachers need to face some cold, hard facts as well: the work they assign is not of interest to most students, even good students – and, especially boys. (I plan a lengthy blog later this month on the boy problem in education. We’re losing boys at an alarming rate, in HS and college.) I hope you agree that the comments provide much food for faculty discussion.

Despite the statistical differences and implications for teachers of each subject, these facts all together point to the centrality of curriculum – and the rationale behind UbD. Not only is a “guaranteed and viable” curriculum central to school effectiveness, so, clearly, is the intellectual quality and variety of that curriculum, as reflected in many student comments. You will see this even more clearly in my next and last post on the survey results – when you see what students describe as the most interesting work of the past year.

All the comments also suggest how important it is to get feedback like this on a regular basis. (My daughter has written eloquently on this.) In that vein, in my next post I will also provide some highly interesting and useful quotes on what students report are very unhelpful but common teacher practices. I’ll spill the beans on one right now: in vast numbers – maybe a few thousand of the 7300+ answers – students hate having to take copious notes on teacher lectures, especially when much of what the teacher says is in the book.

Again, if you are interested in giving the survey to your students, just let me know. It is available for free.

To go to The Student Voice Part 3, click here.