Sunday, September 14, 2014

What Does Your Feedback Say to Students?

This post is part of the 30-Day Blog Challenge from TeachThought. To learn more about the challenge go to

DAY 14: What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

It's a little ironic that I sit down to write this post after just spending a couple hours on a Sunday evening writing feedback on student lab reports. As I was writing comments, questions, and suggestions for my students to improve their work, I was thinking about how I used to provide "feedback" for students. When I first started teaching, I'd correct a lab report by referring to the rubric to count up all the errors they made, and then give them a score. Done. Done for me and done for them.

Consider what this type of "feedback" says to students. It says,

"This was your one shot to prove to me what you can do, and you blew it." 
"This one-time score will forever impact your overall success in this class." 
"Your teacher holds all the knowledge, and s/he found you lacking." 
"Your learning is done."

Slowly, as I became less satisfied with this type of "feedback," I began to experiment with different ways of using feedback to help my students learn, instead of using it as a signal for the end of learning in the form of a grade. Even the idea that the teacher, "corrects assignments" is limiting to student learning. Instead, I started asking students to make the corrections on their assignments, and used key words to indicate what types of corrections they should consider. "EM" meant "Explain More" and "SP" meant "Be more Specific." I stopped recording scores in the grade book until the students' work met the standard that had been established. And for the first time this year, I'm using Standards Based Grading in my classes.

Here is an example of comments from the assignment I was assessing tonight. The students created their own experiments, and wrote a procedure, data table, and analysis for their experiment based on rubrics. They submitted their work over Schoology, I then evaluated their work based on which level of the rubric they reached, and left comments in Schoology. Only assignments that reached a "3" on a given rubric were recorded as a score. Everything else is considered a "Work in Progress," a handy option in our district's grade book.

Students are then given time to consider my feedback and make corrections, after which I look over their work a second time and follow the same process. This cycle continues until the student reaches all "3's" or higher, or the end of the quarter - whichever comes first.

I've become more intentional about including peer evaluation in the feedback process as well. Before students submitted the above assignment to me, the procedure had been read and evaluated by four other students, and the data and analysis had been read and evaluated by two other students. In this evaluation, students had to determine if the work was at the 1, 2, 3, or 4 level based on the rubric. If it wasn't yet at a 3, they wrote comments for the owner of the assignment to help him/her improve the work. In my first experiment with peer feedback in class this year, it didn't seem to significantly improve the students' learning. But I'm not sure yet if that's because the evaluating student wasn't serious about his/her role, or if the student receiving the feedback didn't act upon the suggestions. Nonetheless, I'm committed to making peer feedback a permanent and regular part of science class. The students will be evaluating another lab report for their classmates this week.

I'm sure the practice and implementation of feedback in my classroom will continue to evolve, but I'm confident in saying that its purpose has been cemented in place. I will never again use feedback to squelch learning, as my grading practices did in the past. Feedback will continue to be a way to say to students,

"Take this chance to learn more deeply."
 "Try to see your work from a different perspective."
"Your learning is more complex and important than one score can show."
"While you're trying to improve, I'm willing to give you the time and input you need to do so."

*Image from flickr, licensed under Creative Commons:

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