Category Archives: Effective Feedback

Feedback is for teachers, too

Last week I wrote about effective feedback and the different ways students might get feedback during the learning process.  This feedback for students doesn’t have to be comments on a paper, a rubric or test scores.

The feedback loop goes both ways.  You as the teacher are also always looking for feedback from your students in order to know what the next lesson is or how to tweak things for maximum understanding or to determine the members of your next small group.  You, too, don’t need to mark work in order to get feedback on how your students are doing.  You probably want to collect two types of feedback.

One kind is very informal and might be called intentional noticing.  These are the many observations that you make all day long about how your students are doing with the learning at hand.  This kind of intentional noticing is not as easy to do as you may think.  At the end of each day you will have been involved in a myriad of discussions and observations with students but may still be unclear as to what you have intentionally noticed.  However, when you are planned and purposeful  in your lesson design, you can also be planned and purposeful in your intentional observing.  For example, you may be intentionally noticing whether students are using the information from the mini-lesson in their work.  You may be intentionally noticing whether students are using the specific vocabulary of the lesson.  You may be intentionally noticing whether students are taking risks in their problem solving.  You may be intentionally noticing how they are applying previously learned strategies.  You may intentionally noticing the types of errors they are making.

The same kinds of teaching conditions that you use to help students get feedback will also allow you to get feedback:  small group instruction, little whiteboards or Kahoots, conferences, sitting with groups of students as they work.  At the end of each of those activities, you are thinking, what do I know now about my students that I didn’t know before and how am I going to address those needs?

The other kind of intentional feedback that you get, you will want to record.  You can’t possibly record everything you notice.  However, you may wish to record some specific kinds of information during this learning phase that may add to your assessment record in determining a final grade.  These are the intentional observations and conversations that you have with students that give you insight into their understanding of concepts.  If, in these instances, the information you glean demonstrates an independent understanding of the concepts, you can use this in a summative way.  These recorded observations and conversations can be used in both determining next steps and in evaluating students.  The problem with using non-recorded observations and conversations as part of your grade determination is that you cannot prove anything in case a parent is curious about how a grade was determined.

All this talk about feedback is really talking about formative assessment.  I don’t like the word “assessment” here because I think it misleads us into thinking about assignments, quizzes and rubrics.  Instead you want to think about planned and purposeful teaching and the types of activities you do that help students learn and help you to know your students better.  When your students change and grow and when you make decisions based on what you are learning then you are doing assessment for and as learning.

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8 Ways for kids to get effective feedback – it’s not all on you!

A teacher said, “I just keep thinking that feedback is always me talking to the students about their work.”  As teachers, when we hear the word “feedback” that’s what we think of automatically.  And then we despair that we don’t have enough time to give that kind of feedback to every one of our students about every one of their assignments or tasks.  It is a daunting task.  Certainly that is one form of feedback to students and research shows that when students receive regular and timely feedback as they are learning, they do much better.

Grant Wiggins gives this definition of feedback:

Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. I hit a tennis ball with the goal of keeping it in the court, and I see where it lands—in or out. I tell a joke with the goal of making people laugh, and I observe the audience’s reaction—they laugh loudly or barely snicker. I teach a lesson with the goal of engaging students, and I see that some students have their eyes riveted on me while others are nodding off. (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx)

He goes on to state that feedback is never evaluative nor is it advice.  It is simply information conveyed about the effects of an action as related to a goal. 

 Dictionary.com says that the origin of the word comes from 1915-20 where the verb phrase “feed back”  became a noun.  Again, it is this idea that information is fed back to you in response to an action.

When I go to the gym and work on the elliptical machine I get lots of feedback during my work out:

  • I can see if I am keeping my pace up and compare it to other days
  • I can compare my pace to how my body is feeling this day.
  • I can tell how far I am going and how long it is taking.
  • I can feel how my legs are feeling and my breathing and if I am doing ok.
  • If my back hurts then I know my posture is off.

All of that information affects my workout.  I make choices to work harder, back off, change something or give up for the day.

In your classroom there are many ways that students can receive feedback about their learning:

  • You can conference with students offering non-evaluative comments about what you understand and what might be unclear in their work. You can ask thought-provoking questions.
  • When students are working on little whiteboards and holding up their answers, you get feedback on whether they understand, but you also offer immediate feedback when you stop to reteach a concept because you notice a lot of misconceptions. This happens, too, when you are using Kahoots, if you stop and explain when the majority are incorrect.
  • When your students are working in groups or pairs they are getting constant feedback from their peers. For example, Jack and Sue are solving a math problem.  Jack says something and Sue looks at him quizzically.  Jack now knows that either his idea is off or he has explained it unclearly.  Both are good pieces of information.  He tries to explain his point again using a different tactic and one of two things happens.  Either, Sue now understands and Jack knows that his original explanation was unclear, or Sue still doesn’t understand and Jack begins to suspect his thinking may not be clear.  They go on in this fashion until both understand.
  • In French class when the teacher asks students to repeat words or phrases multiple times, paying attention to their pronunciation they are getting feedback. They try it out, the teacher says it again, they try it again trying to mimic the pronunciation closer.
  • In PE class when two partners are volleying the ball and the one partner is not able to return it, both students are receiving feedback. The one volleying the ball may not have good enough control to get the ball to the right spot.  The one receiving the ball may need to move or change position in order to return the ball.  When both partners have a goal of keeping the volleying going as long as possible, both are using feedback from the process to achieve their goal.
  • When students can compare their work against an anchor chart, rubric, checklist or exemplar before submitting, they are receiving feedback. They can see if their work contains all the components required and if not, are able to fix the work.
  • When the teacher says, highlight all the places in your writing where you used descriptive words (or periods, or dialogue, or complex sentences etc.) the student gets immediate feedback by seeing to what extent he or she has done so.
  • When a student is involved in an inquiry project in science and has multiple opportunities to test a hypothesis, he or she is getting feedback. If the task is to build a bridge that will hold a certain weight, and the bridge breaks, that is feedback.  When a student is encouraged to use that feedback to figure out what didn’t work and attempt a different design, the student has used that feedback to learn.

Teachers can, in a planned and purposeful way, design their instruction so that students have many meaningful opportunities to receive feedback as they are working:

  • Provide students with multiple opportunities to try something out
  • Provide students opportunities to talk with their peers about complex and challenging problems
  • Provide students with support as they are working not only after they are working
  • Ensure that students know what goals they are working towards, and are able to see that their efforts make a difference in achieving those goals

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Feedback, motivation and grades-some wonderings

Some teachers and I had an interesting discussion last week about how despite our best efforts at giving feedback, students weren’t so good at using it.  From that we evolved into a discussion about how kids cared about the mark, not the feedback, and how could we move towards kids seeing the intrinsic value of their work instead of the extrinsic reward of marks.

I really don’t know but I think it bears thinking about, so I did some and here are some of my wonderings, in no particular order.

When I think about the times when I receive feedback, it almost always feels evaluative  when it happens after the fact, even when it is not meant to be.  Although I listen and I make efforts to apply the feedback to the next time, it still makes me feel kind of lousy.  It doesn’t help me feel better about the incident upon which I am getting feedback.  So, although I know it is necessary and “good for me”, I will admit that I don’t like it.

When I get feedback as I am doing something, I don’t feel so bad.  I think about making pots on the wheel.  If my instructor tells me after the pot is glazed that the shape doesn’t quite work for the vase, I get it and try to remember for next time, but usually I end up disliking that vase.  But if he comes by my wheel as I am throwing the pot and tells me that a slight change will improve the form, and helps me do it, then not only am I more likely to appreciate the feedback but I can apply it right then and love the pot.

I hate starting over completely, even when I know I should.  Even when feedback is telling me I should.  I remember a time when I painted the entire basement the wrong shade of yellow.  The basement looked awful.  I went to the paint store, feeling disheartened, and the paint guru was able to help me figure out how to soften the paint colour with a glaze instead of starting all over with primer.  Her expertise helped me to make a big problem a littler problem.

John Hattie, an educational researcher, has looked at the effect size of common school practices.  The one thing that is found to be true the most often is that students are consistently very good at predicting how well they will do on a test or assignment—they don’t really need the grade to tell them.  So, I am thinking that somehow we need to get kids to change how they will do on an assignment before it is finsihed.  I think that we thought that the communication of learning goals and success criteria would help (and maybe it does to some extent), but if the student isn’t sure how to apply the success criteria to his or her work, it isn’t useful.  Again, we need to have the change occur immediately in the doing stage.

And I was thinking about the teachers I currently work with .   They have all made changes to their teaching practices in the two years I have been their principal.  They all appear to be making the changes willingly and with great enthusiasm.  They work together and talk about what is going on in their classrooms.  They support each other.  While my role has been that of coach, cheerleader and guide, I have never stated that such and such a change MUST happen by a certain date (I am not a principal who insists on particular practices such as posting learning goals).  They were not offered salary increases or rewards or even a gold star for changing your practice.  So why did they?  Why do we puzzle over things, try new ways of doing things, reflective on our practice and continually try to improve?

And finally, I was talking with a teacher today about collaboration.  She is in a board project that is focussed on getting kids to collaborate and was telling us the story of one boy, Billy, who is always distracted and off task but she liked her collaboration checklist because she could redirect him more specifically.  Good, I thought.  But then as the conversation moved on she began to tell us how thrilled she was with the Genius Projects she was trying.  Billy never needed redirecting due to off task behaviour then, because he was totally engaged and interested in what he was doing.  How important is engagement to the process of accepting feedback and the role of intrinsic motivation?

Perhaps as I muddle through this a bit more I will come up with some answers.  I’d love to hear what you think.

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Assessment in a collaborative inquiry model

Of course good things (like having kids collaborate in groups) often cause us to rethink a whole bunch of other things (like assessment).  In traditional teaching models assessment was pretty straight-forward.  I taught and each kid wrote their own test, did their own essay or project, and then I marked it.  Check, done.  I knew what each kid knew.

Now we are having kids collaborate to inquire, research and create.  How do we assess these final products?  What is the role of peer and self assessment?  How do we help kids to be effective listeners during group presentations?  We know that the grade we put on the report card needs to be a reflection of what an individual student can do independently.  How do we figure that out if students have worked collaboratively on the final product?  Let’s look at one possible example:

Students are working together to create an iMovie as a final assessment to demonstrate understanding of the topic covered in class.  You have co-created a rubric so that they know what determines a successful iMovie.

As the students are working on their iMovie your observations and individual conversations of how each student is participating and understanding the process of creating the iMovie can provide you with some summative assessment data.

Before submitting the iMovie or the final showing, each group could show their iMovie to another group and receive feedback on their movie, using the rubric as a starting point for the conversation.  This peer assessment is used for students to be able to make changes to their iMovie before it is finished.  The peer assessment is not part of the final grade.  This process of looking at another movie may also help students to make revisions to their own movie.

As the group of students submits their final product, each individual student could mark the rubric for their iMovie and provide specific reasons or examples from the film as evidence for how they rated the film.  You could use this as part of your summative assessment to see how well individual students understood their product in relation to the rubric.  You cannot use the self-assessment of the rubric only—it is the individual student’s ability to provide specific rationale for their rating that provides you information about their understanding.

The iMovie can be shown to the entire class or handed in to the teacher.  Only the teacher can mark the rubric for iMovie and return it to the group of students.  However, this mark CANNOT be used as part of each individual’s mark as you cannot be certain who contributed what.  However, students do need feedback on how well they collectively completed the task.  It is important to recognize that individual group members may have varying degrees of understanding about the final product.

If the iMovie is shown to the entire class, you could ask each individual student to fill in a graphic organizer as they watch that would demonstrate their understanding of the media piece.  Perhaps the GO asks students to identify effective angle shots or how music was used to enhance the iMovie.  Perhaps the GO asks students to determine what the overall message or theme was.  Perhaps the GO asks students to identify key concepts included in the iMovie.  This could be used for your summative assessment as students are providing you with their understanding of the media presentations.  It is not a peer assessment.  It is not an assessment of their iMovie.  It is however an assessment of their understanding of the process of creating the final task.

You do need to have individual students explain about the making of their iMovie to demonstrate their understanding of the process, and content.  This could be written or through a conference.  This will be the main part of your individual assessment for this final task.  Students should know ahead of time that this will be part of the assessment.  These questions allow you to know that each individual student had an understanding of the process and the final product. Perhaps you ask questions such as

  • How did your group decide which scenes to include?
  • Which scene in your iMovie is the most important to your overall theme?
  • What were the key concepts about the topic that your group decided to include? Which concepts did you decide NOT to include?
  • How did your group decide to choose the music?
  • Give examples of three different angle shots in your iMovie and explain why they are effective.

We want students to collaborate and work in groups.  We know this is engaging and deepens student understanding.  The trick is determining, at the end, the individual understanding of each student.  In all collaborative endeavours we need to understand that collaboration is a tool FOR learning or FOR doing.  At some point students must demonstrate their individual understanding of the content, concepts and skills.

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Maybe Assessment for Learning isn’t the right term?

The term “assessment for learning” (educational acronym AfL) was coined by Wiliam and Black in their 1998 article “Inside the Black Box” (http://weaeducation.typepad.co.uk/files/blackbox-1.pdf).  The research shook the educational community:  how teachers reacted to student learning as they were learning was incredibly important to student achievement.  The used the term AfL to describe those activities that teachers could undertake during the learning phase to help students achieve higher results.  Their research was impressive and educational scholars since have also determined that the stuff that teachers do during learning makes the biggest difference.

In an interview with Dylan Wiliam in 2012 (https://www.tes.co.uk/article.aspx?storycode=6261847) he states:

“The big mistake that Paul Black and I made was calling this stuff ‘assessment.  Because when you use the word assessment, people think about tests and exams. For me, AfL is all about better teaching.”

Given that the article Inside the Black Box was published in 1998 and we are still, in 2014, struggling with formative assessment, I wonder if we have misinterpreted because of the term name.  And I worry when I see teachers spending all of their time collecting “assessment data” because there are now three kinds of data to which we need to be accountable.

Let’s take a collective deep breath and think about the role of assessment in teaching.

You should have an idea of where your students are at before you decide exactly what they need to know.  But, your diagnostic assessment does not need to be a copy of your summative assessment.  In fact, you probably already know they don’t know all that; you haven’t taught it yet.  However, based on what you have already observed about them, and based on how they do on a carefully designed introductory activity, you will want to identify some specific gaps.  And, you will want to recognize that those gaps may not be the same for all students.  Your “diagnostic assessment” does not need to be a test, or a quiz, or something that is onerous to mark.  You do not need to hand it back to students.  You do need some way of knowing what your kids can and cannot do.  In most instances your diagnostic assessment comes from the work they have already been doing.

At the end of a learning cycle or unit, you do want to check in and see what your students can do independently based on the learning goals you have been working on.  Sometimes this summative task will really be summative; you are moving on.  You are not going to read the novel again, learn about rocks and minerals any more or study the area of parallelograms.  But sometimes this summative task will also be the diagnostic task for your next learning cycle:  you will read other novels, you will write more, you will learn more about testing the hypothesis, you will use those math concepts again.

But it is the teaching time in between the diagnostic bit and the summative bit that tends to cause all the confusion.  The term “assessment for learning” made us think that we had to have a lot of quizzes; we had to mark everything against a rubric;  we had to level (and communicate those levels) all work students did.  We amassed lots of data.  But Dylan Wiliam, himself, says that it is really just about better teaching.

So, we have our learning goals for the next bit of time, we have an idea of where our students are entering the learning and then we begin to teach.  And as we teach we are using multiple ways to figure out how kids are doing as they move towards reaching those learning goals.  We talk to them; we work with them in small groups; we give the occasional quiz or ticket out the door; we watch them; we ask questions; we encourage students to talk to each other; we make.  As our students are learning we are constantly trying to figure out how they are doing, what are the sticky bits, where are they confused.  And then we help them to get unstuck, to master something new, to make the connections.  That is “assessment for learning”.  That is just good teaching.

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Growth Mindset – Create an environment where anything is possible

I find the research around growth mindsets fascinating.  I catch myself praising students for intelligence now and switch it to effort.  I reflect on my own language when talking about students and try not to say things like “level 2 kids” or “IEP kids” as if they are labelled  for life.  I reflect on my own teaching practice and try to build in opportunities to look at mistakes differently.  And, I want to convey to students that grit, perseverence, effort and setting goals all make a difference.

But, I am also concerned how the educational community has jumped on the growth mindset bandwagon so quickly, as we in education are apt to do.  I never check my twitter feed without seeing new posts about growth mindset.  Teachers on pinterest are posting anchor charts and classroom libraries devoted to growth mindset.  I have been wondering how best to bring growth mindset research into the classroom.

As in many things (see my post: Is Teacher Lingo Good for Kids?) I worry that teachers may be laying the research too much at the feet of students.  I believe that all teachers should have a solid understanding of the current research about growth mindset.  It is our job to understand learning.  And, I don’t think it is a bad thing to let kids in on the information:  in small doses, as is age appropriate and not to the point that it overtakes the joy of learning.  If we really want students to believe in growth mindset, then we need to create a learning environment that supports it:

  • Teachers can ensure that they create open-ended and interesting tasks that are more likely to engage students in taking risks and persevering because they want to.
  • Teachers can ensure that they give descriptive feedback to students that helps them move forward and past the obstacles.
  • Teachers can help students to identify their own goals by providing exemplars, checklists and anchor charts.
  • Teachers can experiment with grading fewer assignments and giving effective feedback (not “good job!”) more often.
  • Teachers can encourage students during lessons to share both their successes and challenges.  There is great power in  students showing how they didn’t solve the math problem or asking their peers to help them rewrite the lead of their story.
  • Teachers can show students how they have developed their skills and grown over time.
  •  Teachers can plan recursively so that students have multiple opportunities to learn key concepts.
  • Teachers can plan activities that require a bit of struggle and let students struggle.  Students don’t really like tasks to be simple and boring–like anyone else, they enjoy challenge.

Students can learn about how feedback can help you improve a task (such as the famous butterfly example: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hqh1MRWZjms).    Students can read a book here or there where the theme is about effort and setting goals.  Students can celebrate when they have mastered something that was tricky before.

But, let us think more about how we as teachers create an environment in which students experience the benefits of a growth mindset over an environment where everything is about growth mindset.  Experience more than research is what will change a child’s mindset.   There is a plethora of children’s books about growth mindset but as a kid I wouldn’t want to read one every day.  Robert Munsch is probably still way more entertaining.  I would hate us to be so concerned with students believing in growth mindset that a parent-teacher interview started with:  “Jimmy just doesn’t seem to have a growth mindset and that is why he is not progressing as we would hope”.

Growth mindset is exciting research that may open up many pathways to students.  Our job is to embed the philosophy into our teaching, not teach the philosophy.  Let us create the conditions whereby students can’t help but believe that they can do anything.

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Assessment Conversations

Assessment is the hardest thing you do.  You need to think about myriad of things all at the same time:

  • What do I assess? Content?  Process?  Everything?
  • What is fair? Is it fair to have questions ahead of time?  Is it fair if I think some kids can’t do the assessment?
  • When do I assess? Are they ready yet for a summative?
  • How do I assign a level/mark/grade? Do I assign a level/mark/grade?
  • What do the students get out of this assessment task? What do I learn out this task?
  • How do I communicate assessment results with students? Their parents?
  • What did I learn from the assessment? What will I do next?

At this point you are probably hoping that I will give the answers to all of these questions and you can then have a great weekend.  The problem is that assessment is really hard and I am not sure that there are always hard and fast rules that you can use.  However, it is important that we are always asking these questions.  This week I had a lot of conversations about assessment. Teachers were asking some great questions.  They were reflecting on their practice.  When we take the opportunity to ask these questions we deepen our understanding, even if we don’t come up with all the answers.

A math teacher was puzzled because her students had not done as well on an assessment as she had thought they would.   Over the last few days they had been demonstrating a solid understanding of the concepts.  Why had they not done as well on the test?  We discussed whether tests need to be long.  Could the questions of a test be given out over the course of a few days?  Would that work better?  Did her students not have the stamina to do the test well?  Did they get nervous because it was a TEST?

A group of English teachers were meeting to discuss the “end-of-the-novel” questions.  There were four excellent questions.  Do we give all the questions?  Do we give students a choice of questions?  Since it is still early in the school year, do we allow the students to do some practice questions, deconstruct them, and then give them a question to do?  We talked about how assessment needed to be both fair and tell you something about the students that was true.  If they weren’t sure how to answer the questions, would it mean that they didn’t understand the novel or just that they weren’t good at writing down their answer?  Teachers left the discussion ready to try a number of different strategies with a promise to meet up later and look at student answers.  Which strategies would prove to help students be successful?

A number of reading teachers knew from a reading comprehension assessment that some students struggled in reading.  But, that didn’t really help us know enough about the students to plan appropriate interventions.  So we needed some assessments that would pinpoint the difficulties:  was it decoding, fluency, comprehension, motivation, vocabulary, stamina?  Unfortunately, the results of some assessments require us to delve more deeply before we understand where a student is struggling.

A number of teachers are experimenting with giving no levels or grades on work submitted.  Instead they are giving descriptive feedback either through written comments or individual conferences.  It is a bit trickier for the teacher because you really do need to identify just a few things for the student (strengths and next steps) or the kid will be overwhelmed.  It is tricky to identify strengths and next steps instead of just editing or identifying errors.  And some of our students are feeling a tad uncomfortable.  They are used to evaluating themselves based on a mark.  Feedback forces them to think about their work in a deeper way.  Teachers are wondering how this will motivate and engage students.  They are experimenting with the types of feedback that result in the greatest gains.

These are the conversations of professional teachers.  They recognize that when thinking about assessment a variety of factors are at play.  Although there are no easy answers, we if we don’t keep asking the questions, we won’t get close to the truth.  And in the assessment of students, the truth is what they can really do.  When we really know that then we know what to do next.

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Do you create in your classroom a culture of “done” or a culture of learning and improving?

Do you create in your classroom a culture of “done” or do you create a culture of learning and improving?  A culture of “done” implies task completion.  Very quickly students begin to see school as a list of tasks to complete.  Completion is the goal, not the process.  Within a culture of “done” we also tend to create a culture of “correct” because “done and correct” is the ultimate goal.  But, “done” frequently supersedes “correct” and students become satisfied with getting the work done.  Most often, these tasks to complete are routine, unchallenging and mundane.  If you want your students to move past task completion, you need to recreate your culture.

On one of my summer walks I was listening to a Freakanomics podcast about failing.  The gist of the podcast was that human beings don’t like to fail, and, in fact, will persevere with projects even though it is quite clear that it is not going well, just to avoid the feeling of being wrong.  Isn’t that the same as “done”?  It lead me to think about how we develop classroom cultures.  How often do we make it okay to fail?  Do our students see failure as a chance to learn or as something to be avoided at all costs?  Do we model saying “I don’t know”?  Do we help students to see that their mistakes can lead to greater learning?  Do we develop tasks that are challenging and difficult and require hard work to achieve?

Let’s think about the student who is working through a math problem in a small group.  The problem is challenging for the students but not impossible.  As they work through the problem together they are receiving feedback about their mathematical thinking each time they do not get the correct solution.  They receive feedback from each other as they discuss the problem.  Once they arrive at the solution, they get feedback that grit and resilience pay off.  What would happen if the teacher had gone in and rescued them the minute they went off on the wrong track?  Their feedback would have been that this problem is too hard for you.  Does that mean that the teacher has no role at all?  Definitely not.  It is the teacher’s job to observe and enter into the math conversation to offer the exact amount of feedback or direction that will allow the students to move forward, without telling the students what to do. I often suggest to teachers that they give their little piece of feedback and then WALK AWAY.  Walking away tells the students that you trust them to arrive at the solution.

Let’s think about a workshop environment in reading and writing as a means of moving away from “done”.  If a student is engaged and making choices about his or her writing, completion happens when the piece meets the criteria the student has set out.  The piece says what the student wants it to say.  The teacher now provides feedback that helps the student meet the writing goal (e.g. “I’m not sure that your lead hooks me as a reader.  What were you trying to do here?”).  If a student has choice in what he or she reads and has opportunities to discuss the text with others, then “done” happens only when the student has a good understanding of the text.  In both instances, students are learning that a deeper feeling of accomplishment requires engagement and perseverance.

I hate doing laundry.  It is a mindless, never-ending chore.  I am always happy to be “done”, except the next day rolls around and there it is again.  Laundry is task completion.  I love solving problems.  I love being challenged and having to think hard.  In those instances the time flies, I persevere, I check and recheck to make sure I have it right.  When the problem is solved I am proud and I know that it is done, because I have determined it to be so.  As you begin the new year, think about the tasks you set, the culture you create, and move away from laundry-like task completion.

 

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Is it feedback or assistance?

As we move into writing June report cards and are beginning to think about assigning grades, it is helpful to differentiate between when are you giving feedback and when is the student receiving so much assistance that the grade may be effected as the student is not able to independently demonstrate achievement.

Providing effective feedback is not the same as “with assistance”.  You do not need to worry that because a student was able to use your feedback to improve upon his or her work, the final mark should be lower because you provided assistance.  Let’s look at some instances:

Math:  A student is having troubles with fractions and has handed in work with a number of errors.  Providing the correct answers will be useless.  Telling the student that within the first 10 questions, 2 are incorrect and he needs to double check and find the errors by doing each problem using a different strategy is effective feedback and allows the student to learn.  If during the instruction period you sit with the student individually or in a small group and guide him through understanding fractions, you are providing feedback.  However, if the student, at the end of the instructional period, still requires your help to get the right answers, that is with assistance.

Project/Writing:  Students are working on a project.  They have a checklist/rubric/deconstruct available to them.  Midway through you ask them to use the checklist to determine how well they think they are doing and hand it in.  You look to see if you agree and indicate areas of agreement and disagreement.  You make suggestions such as:  your introduction is weak and needs a stronger lead; you haven’t supported your main argument well enough.  The student is able to go back and fix these things independently—that is effective feedback.  You may even work with the student in a small group to help the student develop the skill required.  That is feedback and good teaching.  If, however, the student requires you to sit with her to complete each stage of the project and to suggest how to write it, that is with assistance.

You get a driver’s license if you pass the driving test.  No one asks if you practiced parallel parking one time or 55.  However, if the driving instructor has to guide you through the parallel parking task, you probably won’t get your license.  If the essay you write is brilliant, no one asks how many rewrites you did, or how many opinions you sought.  The fastest skier gets the gold medal.  No one judges how many practice runs she took or how many falls she made learning how to ski that fast.

Effective feedback will lead students towards greater independence in their abilities.  The final grade should not be based on how much feedback or good teaching/support a student required during the instructional time.  A student may sit with you in small group instruction every day for 2 weeks, but if at the end, he is able to demonstrate an understanding of the skill or concept independently, it does not matter how much help he got to get there.  In fact, if your teaching can do that, you have achieved your goal of helping all students to reach their potential.

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Teacher Feedback and Student Feedback

When thinking about effective feedback you want to think about two types: the feedback that you as the teacher gets which informs how you teach the next step and the feedback that the students get which helps them to move forward. The two are, of course, intertwined. There should be a balance of both types. Both are formative because they happen for learning or as learning occurs.

Feedback you get from small group instruction—while watching what students are doing, you are able to see what needs to happen next. This is far easier to do when working with a small group of kids than with the whole class. You can probe deeper to understand what a kid is thinking.

Feedback students get from small group instruction—you are giving on the spot, as they do it help to kids. It is important for learning to get the support on-the-go. For example, if I were teaching you to drive it is far better to have correction as you do it (OMG watch out for that car!), than after the fact (remember when you hit that car, well you should have…).

Feedback you get from little white boards—doing a whole group guided lesson where students practice doing something as you teach it allows you to automatically see who is getting it and who is not. You can adjust your lesson as you go or make a note of those kids you need to work with later.

Feedback students get from little white boards—it always looks easy when the teacher does it. However, if students have a chance to practice the skill while the lesson is happening, they are able to make minute corrections along the way as opposed to trying to make bigger corrections after the fact.

Feedback you get from turn and talk—when you ask kids to turn and talk you can listen in briefly or note how many kids actually do know the answer. You can also observe how engaged the students are in discussing a topic. You don’t find this out when you ask the whole class and rely on students to put up their hands.  Many kids know the answer or know part of the answer but don’t put up their hand.  Think about the kind of information you get if you do turn and talk and then put your answer on a white board to hold up.

Feedback students get from turn and talk —when students turn and talk to a partner they get feedback from a peer because either the peer agrees or disagrees with their answer. Whenever students have to talk about their thinking or adjust their thinking they are getting feedback. Did my partner understand my reasoning? Am I clear in my thinking? Can I express my thoughts? Does the opposing view make more sense?  Have I made an error in my thinking?

Feedback you get from setting goals – When we ask students to set a goal for the term, the activity, the month, or the day, we learn about their thinking with regards to the topic. If a student is able to identify appropriate goals and move towards them, you know they  understand the concept. If students are unable to identify goals or next steps they do not clearly understand what is being asked of them and you know what to do next.

Feedback students get from setting goals– When a student is able to set a goal and receive feedback on how well they are meeting that goal then the learning is meaningful and personal. It is far better to be in charge of your own learning than have goals imposed upon us. When students are unsure of which goal to choose, we can offer a menu of goals and have them pick one. As the teacher, you will have to come back to the self-reflection piece regularly. Don’t expect them to do it on their own.
Feedback you get from conferencing – When you find time to conference with students you can probe their thinking and understanding at a very individual level. Try conferencing about only one thing, or stopping the conference as soon as you discover one next step. Then both you and the student find the next step manageable. If your conferences are too long, and you end up with too many goals, both of you will become frustrated.

Feedback students get from conferencing – The student has your undivided attention and an opportunity to explain their thinking. When the student has to explain it, s/he receives automatic feedback based on your understanding. Also, it is an opportunity to learn as you are doing so that the student can apply the feedback immediately.

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