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ProTips for Meaningful Feedback

Students receive a lot of useful quantitative feedback in our modern classrooms: from benchmark assessments to reading levels, progression on schoolwide rubrics to formal standardized testing. Although many of these methods point to real qualitative areas for growth, we also know they simply can’t replace the voice and direct guidance of the educator in the classroom. As much as we would like a student to fully comprehend the meaning of their "proficiency", the particulars need to be facilitated. But finding that time can be difficult. Today, Education World explores different protips for integrating significant, qualitative feedback to students, even in the busiest of classrooms.

Focus Correction Areas

With all the data we collect on our students, it can feel overwhelming to be so aware of the diversity of learning needs in even a single classroom. In tandem with your tool box of differentiation strategies, focus correction areas can be the key to giving more individual feedback to students. Start small. Choose an upcoming assignment (perhaps a performance task) that leans upon a broad scope of skills. As you prepare your lessons, choose one skill that each student should be focusing upon in their practice, and add it to the rubric. Perhaps everyone is writing an argumentative essay. Everyone might be working on claims, selection of text evidence, and integration of text evidence. However, one student might be working on run-on sentences, as well. Another, integrating counterclaim. Focus correction areas can adjust from project to project, and allow students to target their own areas for improvement. Just be sure that your students are each well aware of their focus correction area for the project, as well as the resources you provide to meet mastery, be it after school support, intervention time, or online skill-building. To visualize this practice, check out this resource as a model for focus correction areas in writing.

Invest in Conferences

Easier said than done, hm? Here's the thing: the time you invest in conferencing with students—especially during or immediately following large projects—will save you time in the long-run with intervention and remediation. There are few more powerful tools in the teacher toolbox than sitting, one-on-one with a student, discussing their work. It builds rapport. It shows investment. And it truly clarifies team expectations. Incorporate individual conferences into work time, if at all possible: periods of time where student attention is already designated to a clear task. Use conferences to explain expectations, review mastery of skills and concepts, and—perhaps most importantly­— set goals together. What specific skills do we want to work on this week? What's manageable? And what do each of us have to do to make that happen? Keep a list of these plans, and check in with students periodically to assess progress. Read Brad Hughes's and John Spencer's articles about the power of student conferencing.

Don’t Forget the Positive

There is a sense of urgency in our classrooms. The need to progress. To meet goals and deadlines. When an assignment is submitted, sometimes we feel the need to "cut to the chase": improve this, change this, don't do that—go revise. However, don't forget that we learn as much from our successes as we do from our errors. To grow, students need to see which skills they have mastered, not simply a lack of mistakes. Be sure to celebrate the small successes. Let them know how and where they have progressed from assignment to assignment, unit to unit, semester to semester. And not just your high achievers!  Incremental growth is still very much growth, and letting your struggling students know that you are proud of what they have achieved and recognize that progress.… It boosts morale, and forges the path for a community of learning.

The Culture of Revision

This one is not always so easy, depending on school and district expectations. However, the short end of it is that for students to truly value feedback, the community of the classroom needs to foster a culture of second chances and revision. In other words, students must understand that feedback is a good thing and allows for growth and improvement. If every assignment has a zero-tolerance deadline, framed as a summative assessment without room for resubmission, students will begin to believe that error or struggle has no place in the classroom. We send this message all the time without realizing it. Begin building revision into your lessons. Give students the time to try, receive feedback, and revise more often in the course of your units. See if you can find space for makeups in your classroom: it's an excellent use of intervention time, and is sure to yield more success for all students. Read more about the importance of building this sort of culture in excerpts from Stenhouse Publishers' Fair Isn't Always Equal: Assessing and Grading in the Differentiated Classroom, by Rick Wormeli (2006).

Self-Assessment

In the spirit of creating a culture of revision, ease some of your worries around time constraints by having students self-assess as much as possible. It allows space for students to recognize that they have control over their own learning and that the mastery of your course's skills and content relates directly to their grades—something that is not always as obvious as it may seem to us. The day before a big project submission, have students use the rubric to grade each other. Or perhaps turn that rubric into a "checklist" students can use for one last run-through. Don't make your rubrics ominous documents that lie hidden in the deep recesses of your unit plans. Students should have it before they begin the assignment, should be using it to monitor progress, and should have no surprises when it comes to the final grade. Our one suggestion to having students use your rubrics: make sure they're written in words they can easily access and understand.

Timeliness, Timeliness, Timeliness

Yes. Everything would be easier with more time. It's the one birthday present every teacher asks for, but never gets. We're masters of the multitask, gurus of getting it done. Still, it can't be stressed enough that getting feedback to students in a timely manner is absolutely essential to their progress. Numerous studies have shown that students that receive immediate feedback show significant increases in performance over those that receive delayed feedback. But we get it: it starts to pile up fast! But maybe we can begin to mitigate the impact. One strategy is to not give more homework than you can grade. If you can't be prompt, you're better off leaving it out. Find other ways for students to practice. Another might be to shorten up the assignment: do you really need students doing ten examples to show mastery of this skill? For some reason we get caught in the habit of keeping kids busy and practicing for practice's sake. If you can figure it out with less, do it. Here are some tips from Vanderbilt Center for Teaching on making the grading process more manageable. Finally, as a general productivity tip, we present the Pomodoro technique. If you're not familiar with it, you'll want to be. It'll save your weekends.

Send It Home

Our final tip to effectively communicating that meaningful feedback in the classroom is to send it all home. It absolutely does take a village to raise a child, and education is a community practice.  Reinforcement of values around learning and making progress academically is all the more powerful when parents and guardians are involved. Parents should not only see your feedback in the midterm progress report, final report card, or while browsing an online gradebook. And certainly every graded sheet of paper isn't making its way home from the hurricane in their book bags. Having said that, we're talking about time again. Let communication apps like Remind and ClassDojo make it easier for you. Start with one announcement a unit, and see how it feels. It might not be perfect, but it'll open new lines of communication that'll surprise you. And just like your work with students: don't forget the positive! Celebrations of success and overcoming adversity are sometimes all it takes to encourage a student to take that extra step in the classroom.

 

Written by Keith Lambert, Education World Associate Contributing Editor

Lambert is an English / Language Arts teacher in Connecticut.