Category Archives: Feedback

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

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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

 

New Slide: Prioritizing Grading over Feedback

I’m more than a little spent tonight. Not sure why, but I don’t have a ton to give.  Whenever I get to that point, I like to work on slides.  Something about tinkering with words and colors and layouts leaves me refreshed.

So I whipped up a slide for a thought that has been sitting in the back of my mind for a while now.  I think it reflects an uncomfortable truth about what schools have become in our quest for accountability.

Hope that it challenges your thinking.  More importantly, I hope that you use it to challenge someone else’s thinking:

Grading over Feedback

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

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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

New Feedback Activity: Not Yet/You Bet Lists

If you have been following the Radical at all this month, you know that I’m currently consumed by the notion that we need to rethink the feedback practices that we have integrated into our classrooms.  The simple Dylan Wiliam inspired truths driving all of my thinking are that we have to turn feedback into detective work and that feedback should be more work for the recipient than it is for the donor.

But there’s a flaw in my thinking, y’all:  If we are truly going to develop confident, self-directed learners who thrive in situations for which they were not specifically prepared, we have to remind the kids in our classrooms that they should be actively gathering feedback about their progress BEYOND school, too.  If feedback becomes “a school thing” in the minds of our students, they will be woefully unprepared to meet the demands of the modern workplace where thinking on the fly, leading in the moment, and moving forward in uncertain circumstances really are essential skills.

So I’m tinkering with a new idea that I’m calling Not Yet/You Bet Lists.

Check it out here:

Handout – Not Yet/You Bet List

Like the Unit Overview Sheets that I’ve written extensively about on the Radical (see here, here and here), Not Yet/You Bet Lists are designed to give students opportunities to track the essential content and skills that they are working to master.  But because they are simple tools, students – whether they are baseball players, gymnasts, pianists or martial artists – can use Not Yet/You Bet Lists to detail the progress that they are making in areas of personal interest and passion outside of school.

Think about it like this:  At the beginning of each new season, parents, coaches and/or tutors can help students to generate lists of important skills worth working on.  Those new skills can be listed in the Not Yet column of the Not Yet/You Bet List, serving as a tangible, transparent reminder of just what it is that a student is working towards.

After practices, training sessions, or recitals, students can revisit their Not Yet/You Bet Lists to reflect on the progress that they are making.  When a new skill has been mastered, students can move it from the Not Yet to the You Bet column of the handout. Each time an important outcome is moved, students are reminded that they are making progress and that they can learn – important messages for building confident, self-directed learners.

Can you see why all of this matters?

By asking students to think carefully about their own strengths and weaknesses in learning situations outside of school, Not Yet/You Bet Lists can reinforce core feedback practices that you are trying to integrate into your classroom instruction.  More importantly, by asking students to think carefully about their own strengths and weaknesses in learning situations outside of school, Not Yet/You Bet Lists can reinforce the core notion that actively monitoring individual progress isn’t just a school skill.  It’s a life skill.

So whaddya’ think?  Does this have any value?  

I haven’t tried it with my own students yet — it’s a new idea for me, too.  But I think it just might work!

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Related Radical Reads:

Turning Feedback into Detective Work

Activity: Feedback Action Planning Template

Activity: Where Am I Going Reflection Sheet

Feedback Should Be a Work For/Work On Process