A little feedback more often is better than a lot all at once.

We have been thinking about descriptive feedback and how it can be so powerful in moving students’ achievement.  We have been experimenting with more feedback and fewer grades.  We have been finding ways to be explicit about how to show students what the end product needs to look like through exemplars and anchor charts.  And, we have been exploring ways to teach more recursively by coming back to key ideas many times throughout the year instead of blitzing through them in a 6 week unit.  Does the amount of feedback we give matter?

When I think about learning something new, I think about being overwhelmed.  It is much easier to manage when the support I receive is given in small doses and many times.  How does this play out in the classroom?

  • Mini-lessons (7 minutes or less) provide students with a small amount of feedback or instruction and a chance to try it out. If I were teaching writing and wanted to help students write better leads, I might have 5 days of mini-lessons over the course of a week or two about leads instead of one 45 minute lesson on everything I knew about leads.  And then I would come back to a few more lessons on leads a few weeks later to consolidate our understanding.
  • Leaning in and giving students one suggestion on how to improve their work while they are working is often more useful than collecting the work at the end and giving students 5 to 10 suggestions.
  • Bringing students together for small group instruction to provide them with one or two new ideas as they are learning can help you to be more student-specific with your feedback.
  • Asking students to highlight something in their work that they would like feedback with to hand in as an exit ticket means that you are only looking at part of their work that evening, not the whole thing. It saves you time and your students are more likely to be receptive to feedback they requested.
  • As an exit ticket you can ask students to identify one thing they are unsure about. If you see patterns then you can shape your small group instruction or mini-lesson for the next day to address the issue.
  • Resist the urge to use your red pen. While it is tempting to correct all of a student’s work, this does not promote learning.  Instead, of marking all of the punctuation errors, write a short note stating that you would like the student to find 5 places to add punctuation in the piece and resubmit it.  Instead of marking all the places where paragraphs go, suggest that the student create 3 paragraphs and resubmit it.  Ignore all the other issues for the time being.  We don’t have to fix everything at once.

As teachers we feel passionate about our subject.  We love to share that passion with our students.  And it is hard to really imagine what it is like to be the student who is at the beginning of the journey. When you are already the expert, all the components flow together seamlessly.  But when you are the student trying to figure it out, it takes time and patience to see the whole.  We need to provide feedback in manageable chunks during the learning process.  We need to provide less feedback more often and probably repeat ourselves many times!

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