Monday, February 3, 2014

Feedback...Feedback, Please!

We all want to get better. We all want someone to help us figure out what we are doing incorrectly that is causing things to go wrong. The hope is being shown what we are doing wrong will lead us to make adjustments to improve that part of our craft. How often do we seek the advise from PLN members to assist us in areas from varying our questions during our lesson to implementing genius hour?

Feedback is defined as: "Information about reactions to a product, a perons's performance of a task, etc., used as a basis for improvement. Over the last several months, I have attempted to increase the amount of written feedback I provide my students on their work. I am replacing the grade with a short list of my thoughts throughout the assignment. I have the great members of #sblchat and #colchat to thank for this change in my practice.

I have a confession: I am a recovering "chronic grader". I used to grade everything students handed-in to me. At the end of "good" marking periods, I would have close to 45 grades for each student. I was spending a lot of free time grading assignments. I used to believe that was the best way to get students motivated. Slap a grade on it! There, that should make them happy.

I have learned over the last several months how wrong I was. I am getting students stopping by at lunch or after school to ask about comments I left on their papers. I have used this as an opportunity to ask more questions to see what the student was thinking. This simple change has given me a great chance to stop bad habits from repeating. Well, for most of them, anyway!

Here are some guidelines I have found to providing feedback:

1. Keep it short and simple. Make it a bullet list of about 2 or 3 things. Anymore, the students will not read them.

2. Be specific. Don't write: "improve your conclusion." Share details that they can use to create their own.

3. Don't do the work for them. Stop short of writing the conclusion for them. Do not solve the math problem for them. This would be easier, but the student does not learn anything. Other than, eventually, you will solve the problem for them.

4. It is time-sensitive. Students should not have to wait several days to receive the feedback. By then, they have either forgotten what they wrote or have continued long enough that now it is a bad habit. This will now take longer to "unlearn".

5. There must be one positive thing in the list. No one wants to constantly read a list of things they do not do well. Find at least one positive to help "wash down" the constructive feedback you are providing.

The list above is a compilation of things I have noticed over the last several months of implementing more feedback. But, do you want to know what must be in place prior to any of the above mentioned working? You must have a connection with the individual! I have found that students are much more receptive to digesting and using the feedback if it comes from someone they have a connection with. If you do not have the connection, you might as well talk to the wall.

This brings me to another confession: I missed the "connection boat" on a couple of my students. I could not figure out why they did not implement any of the strategies I wrote on their assignments. They just kept repeating the same mistake over and over. Finally, I asked if they even read what I wrote. They responded with a resounding, "NO!"

I could not figure out why. My feedback was helpful. It was short. I praised at least one thing they did well on the assignment. What didn't I take the time to do? I failed at making a connection with them. Since realizing this, I make it a point to engage them in conversations when I see them in the hall. I ask about the music they listen to. Find out what kind of movies they enjoy...

I am proud to say they are slowly using my feedback to improve their work. It is not all the time, but it is a start. I am happy with this. I am going to continue reaching out to them with the hope that over time, they will incorporate more of my feedback. Only time will tell...

Did I leave anything off of my Feedback List? Do you use any different methods or strategies to get students to use your feedback? I would love to add your suggestions to my list.


Jasper Fox Sr. said...

Great points about quality feedback! I especially liked the number two- be specific! This is an awesome point which would serve both the novice and experienced teacher alike. I've read recently how "good job" isn't worth even writing because of how little it means to a student receiving it. This blog topic has been forcing me to invest time and effort into each piece of feedback I give. Your list gives me a cheat sheet I'll no doubt be using frequently. Well done!

Anonymous said...

Very nice Jim! You have hit the nail on the head. Your suggestions for feedback are excellent. I think I was the other extreme. I did not give enough feedback. Your students are truly lucky to have you and if they are stopping by at lunch then you know you've got them. Your ending reminded me of one of my favorite quotes:

“ If you don't like someone, the way he holds his spoon will make you furious; if you do like him, he can turn his plate over in your lap and you won't mind. ”
— Irving Becker

Thanks again for sharing. My own children would be lucky to have a teacher like you.

Kirsten said...

I am reading about feedback in one of my books right now. You reiterated everything that I am reading.

I also get frustrated when students do not read comments, especially when they ask about a grade that has feedback. I was thinking about giving no feedback on a few assignments to see if they even notice.

Ben Gilpin said...


One point worth discussing is parent thoughts. It seems as though a week can't go by when a parent has an issue with standard based grading. It's important to remember our students parents were once students themselves and they may be expecting grades, grades and more grades.

I agree with you, feedback is key...I just struggle that so many parents believe grades motivate students. Feedback should be a motivating factor or simply a way to connect, understand and grow. Thanks for sharing. All people need feedback to help them reach their true potential.

Judy said...

Figuring out ways that are meaningful for each student is critical. Rather than leave a grade, which students might look at before commenting, invite students to share their work with others and get comments that way. A blog is one way to do that. The longer I teach, the less I use the word "grading" in referring to student creations.