Category: Feedback

First Comes Achievement. Then Comes Confidence.

A few weeks back, I wrote a bit here on the Radical titled Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid.  In it, I shared the story of my daughter — who came home broken one day because her progress report wasn’t what she expected it to be.  Her peers were earning threes and fours, but her report was covered in twos — and while she knows little about what those numbers really mean, she felt like a failure.  That broke my heart.

A reader named David Cain — who happens to have an equally vibrant six year old daughter — stopped by and left a brilliant comment that you should read in full.  Here’s the part that caught my eye, though:

Your daughter does not “master expected outcomes,” she does much, much more as she already demonstrates mastery of unexpected outcomes. Her own genius shines through the narrow parameters of a grading and assessment system that was poorly able to meet the needs of twentieth-century learning, let alone 21.5-century learning.

David’s right, isn’t he.  EVERY kid learns much, much more than the “expected outcomes” during the course of any given school year.

(click here to enlarge/view/download original image on Flickr)

Slide_MaththatREALLYMattered

Whether it happens inside or outside of our classrooms, our kids are always learning.

Some master new interpersonal skills, giving them the ability to work in groups or to serve as a leader in formal or informal settings.  Some become more confident in themselves, proving once and for all that they really are competent and capable learners.  Some discover their lifelong passions, falling in love with a topic or a subject that leaves them energized every time that they think about it.  Some begin to recognize the connection between their own actions and success, developing the independence characteristic of successful individuals.

Some fail for the first time — and then realize that moving beyond failure is simply a part of a life well-lived.  Some wrestle with difficult friendships and the impact that those relationships can have on one’s well-being and sense of satisfaction.  Some start to see criticism as a form of coaching, designed to improve rather than to destroy.  Some realize that an entire world’s worth of learning is an Internet connection away and begin clicking their way to new discoveries on their own.

What does this all mean for us classroom teacher types?

First, we need to stop defining our students as failures simply because they haven’t yet mastered the small handful of outcomes that schools are required to report on.  

Doing so cheapens “the whole child” that we used to be so passionate about protecting.  In our quest to identify and then remediate “struggling students”(read: the kids likely to score poorly on standardized reading and math exams at the end of the school year), we’ve forgotten that there are plenty of reasons that those exact same students deserve to be celebrated. And whether we will admit it or not, overlooking the successes of struggling students influences our interactions with the kids in our classrooms.  If you are genuinely convinced that a kid is a failure, how likely are you to work hard to help them succeed?

#stewinthatchat

But more importantly, we also have to make sure that our students don’t define THEMSELVES as failures simply because they haven’t yet mastered the small handful of outcomes that we are required to report on.

What I worry about the most with my daughter — who is a mirror reflection of many of the kids in my classroom — is that she has already begun to doubt herself.  She knows that doing well in school is important.  She knows that the “report card” — which is filled out by someone who is always judging her, is sent home in a special envelope a few times a year, and must be signed by her mom and dad — matters more than anything else that happens in school.  She also knows that (1). Kids are being ranked and sorted by the numbers that appear on those report cards and that (2). She’s at the bottom of the pile.

What she doesn’t know is that in a lot of ways, she’s MORE than the intellectual equal of her peers.  She may not have mastered all of her word families yet, but she probably knows more about life in Colonial America than anyone in her class.  It’s true that she’s a level or two behind in her reading, but ask her about how the structures and functions of individual plants aid in the survival of species, and she’ll talk your ear off.  “Tell me more, Daddy!” — proof of her curiosity and her appetite for learning — comes out of her mouth a thousand times a day.

One of the quotes that is currently driving my own thinking about classroom feedback and assessment comes from this Jan Chappius and Rick Stiggins article.  They write:

First comes achievement and then comes confidence.  With increased confidence, comes the belief that learning is possible.  Success must be framed in terms of academic attainments that represent a significant personal stretch.  Focused effort with an expectation of success is essential.  Students must come to honestly believe that what counts here — indeed the only thing that counts here — is that learning results from the effort expended.

If Chappius and Stiggins are right that achievement precedes confidence, that confidence determines effort and that effort leads to success, then our top assessment priority must be to point out to every student the places where they ARE achieving and where they HAVE succeeded through focused effort.  But that can’t happen when our definitions of “achievement” and “success” are limited to “mastering expected outcomes.”  That can only happen when we start to celebrate the unexpected outcomes that our kids are mastering.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

My Favorite Radical Heads to Kindergarten!

New Feedback Activity: Not Yet/You Bet Lists

 

Are Grades Destroying My Six Year Old Kid?

Most of Radical Nation knows that I am the proud father of a beautiful, funny, curious girl named Reece.  I love darn near everything about her — the sweet notes that she’s taken to leaving on my nightstand, her excitement about riding bikes or learning to hit a baseball, the fact that Who Was history biographies are her favorite things to read, the constant questions that she’s asking in an attempt to understand the world around her.  “Tell me something about science Dad,” or “Tell me something about our Presidents” are the most common conversation starters in our home.

Need proof that she’s something special?  A recent homework assignment asked her to generate a survey question to ask others that had three potential responses.  The example on the classroom handout was, “What color eyes do you have – Blue, Brown or Green?” Reece’s question:  “Who was your favorite person in history — Clara Barton, Einstein or Picasso?”

#loveher

But she came home from school broken the other day.

She’d gotten her progress report for the fourth quarter and it was full of low scores for things like her ability to sound out letters and to fluently read text.  She was also in a panic over her weekly spelling test — which she always struggles on because letter sounds really aren’t her strength.  “Dad, I’m dumb.  Everyone else is smarter than me — they don’t have any ones on their progress reports — and my friends say they are better than I am because I have ones on my report card and they have lots of fours and I don’t have any fours,” she said while crying her way through her bedtime routine.

Her tears tore me up.  I felt like I had failed her somehow by not finding a way to help her master her reading and spelling just as fast as her classmates even though I know that reading is a developmental skill that takes some kids longer to master than others; I was angry that progress reports had turned into an “I’m better than you are” competition in her social group; and I was panicked about the realization that my daughter was falling behind academically simply because I know what “falling behind” can mean for her long term future.

Mostly, though, I felt an overwhelming sense of sadness that anxiety over grades — which continue to define everything about the work that we do in traditional schools — has creeped into the back of my daughter’s  joyful, unpredictable mind.  Instead of seeing the scores on her progress report as nothing more than evidence that we can use to spot areas where she needs more practice and polishing, she sees them — like most students and parents who have spent their lives being ranked and sorted by the public school system — as a judgment of her self-worth as person.  In her mind, her progress report is proof positive that she’s “not as good” as her peers.

And she’s only six years old.

#sheesh

Now don’t get me wrong:  I don’t hold my daughter’s school, teacher, or classmates accountable for any of this.  Progress reports are required by our system and grades are “just how we’ve always done things” in education.  What’s more, there’s nothing inaccurate about the marks that Reece has earned.  She really does struggle with letter sounds, she really hasn’t gotten as far down the road to being a reader as her peers, and she really is still spelling phonetically.  If I were filling out her progress report, she would have earned the exact same marks.

But it leaves me even more committed to the notion that the kind of feedback that we provide to students in our classrooms needs to change.

Students — especially those who struggle to master expected outcomes — should be gathering and recording evidence of the progress that they are making on a daily and weekly basis.  More importantly, they should be actively comparing their own progress against examples of mastery and setting individual goals for continued improvement.  Finally, they should have as strong an understanding of what they’ve mastered as they do of the skills that they are struggling with.  Evidence of learning has to mean something more than “here’s what you haven’t learned yet.”

If that kind of ongoing student-involved assessment were the norm in our classrooms, progress reports would be a source of celebration and continued reflection — instead of embarrassment and shame — for kids like Reece.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

Welcoming the Newest Radical

My Favorite Radical Heads to Kindergarten!

New Feedback Activity: Not Yet/You Bet Lists

The REAL Feedback Experts in Your Building

One of my best buds is a brilliant Canadian elementary school teacher named Diana Williams.  She’s this super motivated, talented woman who finds great ideas and then runs with them — challenging both her own practice and the practice of others along the way.

Recently, Diana has been tinkering a bit with the feedback practices that I’ve been pushing here on the Radical — and while chaperoning a school band trip to an out-of-town performance, she had a Eureka moment:

(click here to view image credits and download on Flickr)
Slide - Rehersals as Feedback

Diana’s right, isn’t she?  There ARE places in our schools where high-quality feedback is the norm rather than the exception to the rule.  

In fact, every art teacher, chorus teacher, band director and coach in your building knows just how to turn feedback into detective work for their students.  After all, they’ve spent their lives polishing and perfecting knowledge and skills in performance-based fields.  As Diana — who was a musician before ever becoming a teacher — explains:

In my own training I had this immediate feedback/application cycle and the thinking skills that are inherit in that process/feedback modeled for and with me and practiced until it became unconscious muscle memory.

That’s true for your softball coach too, guys.  And for your carpentry teacher and your auto mechanics instructor, your drama director, your family and consumer science teacher, and your dance instructor.  They are all highly trained experts with first-hand experience with the kind of feedback/application cycle that Diana describes.

That also means every experience that your students have had in classes beyond the core curriculum has probably been FULL of examples of high quality feedback.

They’ve already learned to set goals and measure their progress against examples of excellence.  They’ve already started identifying areas of personal strength and weakness — and they’ve already felt the satisfaction that comes from discovering that forward progress IS possible.

THAT’s why kids dig electives more than any other part of their day.  It’s the ONE place where they can see evidence of their own improvement on a moment by moment basis.  And THAT’s why we need to push against cheap attempts to cut “the specials” from our school days in order to save cash and/or prioritize “academics.”

The simple truth is that learning to receive and react to feedback — a skill that has natural connections to classes outside of the “core” curriculum — may be the most important academic skill that students ever learn.

#truDATchat

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Related Radical Reads:

The Best Feedback is Gathered, Not Given

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity: The Best Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

The Best Feedback is GATHERED, not GIVEN

All y’all know that I’ve been completely consumed by reimagining the role that feedback should play in the modern classroom, right?  I’ve been reading darn near everything written by experts like Dylan Wiliam, Grant Wiggins, John Hattie, Rick Stiggins, Jan Chappuis, Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey.  More importantly, I’ve been tinkering with the feedback practices in my classroom for the better part of the past four years.

If there’s any single thought that holds together the key findings of all of these folks, it’s that the best feedback is GATHERED, not GIVEN:

(click here to view and download original image on Flickr)

Slide - Gathered By Filled

Here’s why:  When we reverse the traditional roles that teachers and learners play in the classroom feedback cycle, we are helping our students to recognize that the people who are the MOST successful in our world AREN’T those who can take critique from a boss and adjust their actions/behaviors/work products accordingly.

The MOST successful people in our world are constantly critiquing THEMSELVES.  They are identifying meaningful goals worth pursuing, looking for exemplars to measure their own performances against, setting criteria for determining success, measuring their own progress, and constantly adjusting their goals, their decisions, their actions and their direction on the fly.

To borrow a related thought from Mortimer Adler, author of The Paideia Proposal:

All genuine learning is active, not passive.  It involves the use of the mind, not just the memory.  It is a process of discovery, in which the student is the main agent, not the teacher.

So ask yourself this:  How often is the feedback process that you are using with students active and not passive?  How often does it turn your students into the main agents in a process of discovery, using their minds to create meaning and find sense in their own patterns of performance?

#toughquestion

___________________

Related Radical Reads:

New Feedback Activity:  Unit Analysis Forms

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity: The Best Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

New Feedback Activity: Unit Analysis Forms

If you’ve been reading the Radical for any length of time, you know that I’ve been wrestling with the role that feedback plays in my classroom.

What you may not know, however, is that most of that work was inspired by a single quote from this article written by assessment experts Rick Stiggins and Jan Chappuis.  They write:

Thus, the essential school improvement question from an assessment point of view is this: Are we skilled enough to use classroom assessment to either (1) keep all learners from losing hope to begin with, or (2) rebuild that hope once it has been destroyed?

Stiggins and Chappuis are right, aren’t they?  In traditional classrooms, our feedback strategies — think providing a single grade for every handout, project and test that comes across our desks — leaves struggling students feeling hopeless simply because they rarely see evidence of their own successes.  That breaks my heart.

The solution is a simple one:  Any grade that you give in your classroom should be paired with structured opportunities for students to spot the progress that they are making regardless of the final marks that they earn on an assignment.

What can that look like in action?

In my classroom, it looks like this Unit Analysis Form, which students fill out after a unit test has been passed back:

Handout – Scientific Method Unit Analysis Form

Unit Analysis Forms include three essential components: (1). A list of all of the outcomes that students are expected to master during the course of a cycle of instruction, (2). A list of the specific tasks completed during the course of a cycle of instruction– quiz questions, test questions, classroom assignments – that students can use as evidence of mastery, and (3). An opportunity for students to reflect on the progress that they have made over the course of a cycle of instruction.

Unit Analysis Forms also ask learners to decide whether their struggles are a result of conceptual errors or simple mistakes.  “Typically, we make mistakes through lack of attention,” write Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, “But once they are pointed out to us, we immediately recognize them and usually know the corrective action to take…Errors, on the other hand, occur because of lack of knowledge.  Even when alerted, the learner isn’t quite sure what to do to fix the problem.”

Unit Analysis Forms are powerful tools for helping students seek and effectively deal with feedback primarily because they make it possible to spot differing levels of mastery across all of the outcomes covered within a unit.  That means students can see exactly which outcomes they have mastered and which outcomes they continue to wrestle with.

For students who struggle, this kind of targeted feedback can be a source of encouragement. 

Instead of feeling like failures after earning a low score, they are likely to spot concepts and skills that they were successful at mastering.  More importantly, Unit Analysis Forms can help struggling learners and their classroom teachers to be more efficient, spending time revisiting genuine errors instead of wasting time correcting simple mistakes (Fisher & Frey, 2012).

So let me ask you an uncomfortable question:  How often do your students get to examine outcome specific feedback after completing major assignments?  It really is the first step for rebuilding hope in struggling learners.

#trudatchat

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Related Radical Reads:

New Feedback Activity:  Not Yet/You Bet Lists

New Feedback Activity:  Feedback is a Work For/Work On Process

New Slide:  Turning Feedback Into Detective Work