As regular Radical readers know, I’m pretty passionate about the role that feedback should play in helping students to improve as learners.
That’s a topic that I tackled in Creating a Culture of Feedback — my newest book, written with my buddy Paul Cancellieri. But more importantly, it’s a topic that touches my heart as the father of a beautiful nine-year old kid who doesn’t do particularly well in school.
She’s started to think of herself as nothing more than a “two” because those are the grades that she earns on darn near every assignment — and in a grade-driven schoolhouse, there’s not a whole lot of other evidence that she’s a capable learner.
But here’s the hitch: Giving feedback to students can be an incredibly time consuming process for classroom teachers.
The simple fact is that when you are trying to grind through a stack of 120 essays or lab reports or journal entries, writing the kind of targeted and specific comments that are essential for driving meaningful change goes out the window somewhere around paper number seventeen.
What’s left for the other hundred-plus kids in our classes?
Generic comments like “well done” or “add more detail here please” that do little to improve learning and — as a result — are rarely even acknowledged by students.
That’s why I’ve got a bit of a professional crush on the new “Comment Bank” feature that Google has added in the newest release of Google Classroom.
Here’s how it works: Teachers can create their own predetermined bank of comments that are permanently stored in Google Classroom. Those comments can include specific text that refers back to key points emphasized in classroom instruction. The comments that you develop can be as detailed as you want them to be — which allows teachers to easily draw specific attention to individual changes that students need to make to improve their work.
So instead of saying something simple like “Add more detail here” on a lab report, a science teacher like me can say something like “This would be a great place for you to use data that you collected in your lab to support your conclusions. Can you go back and find something convincing in your data table?”
Comments can also be created that encourage kids to “act like detectives” — a key to effective feedback that assessment expert Dylan Wiliam believes in.
In my science classroom, those comments might sound something like this: “When we were talking about graphs as a tool for communicating data in class, we said that a good graph had to meet four criteria. Yours is missing at least one of those criteria. Can you figure out what’s missing?”
Those are the types of feedback comments that make a real difference for students because they offer explicit advice on a specific element of a work product that can be improved — but they are also the types of feedback comments that are rarely added to graded papers simply because they take so darn long to write.
The best part is that adding comments to your Comment Bank — and then to a student’s assignment — really is a breeze.
To add a comment to your Comment Bank, simply open an assignment that has already been turned in through Google Classroom. Then, choose “Comment Bank” from the menu that borders the right-hand side of the assignment that you have opened. Adding comments can be done in bulk or one-at-a-time as you are grading papers.
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To add a comment from the Comment Bank to an assignment that you are grading, simply highlight the spot in the task where you would like your comment to appear. Then, click on the “insert comment” icon that appears in the right-hand margin.
Finally, start your comment with the pound sign — # — and begin typing a few letters or words from the comment that you want to add. Google will pull comments from your Comment Bank that include those letters or words. Select the comment that you were looking for and Google does the rest.
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I’ve graded probably four or five different assignments using the Comment Bank and I’m sold*.
I’m able to add extensive feedback to student assignment efficiently — and that’s a win. Better yet, the comments that I am adding are either targeted and direct OR they encourage students to act like detectives — which increases the overall quality of the feedback that I am giving.
If you believe that the best recipe for improving learning is to provide students with “heaping dollops of feedback” — one of my favorite John Hattie quotes of all time — then you’ve definitely got to take Google’s Comment Bank for a spin.
(*Note to Google: If you want to REALLY impress me, develop a feature that allows teachers to create Comment Banks that THEIR KIDS can use to give each other more meaningful peer feedback. #prettyplease)
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