Vignette #10 – In a quest to make sure she is providing descriptive feedback to students and families that engages them in constructive conversations around progress, a high school teacher partners with a colleague to examine what constitutes effective feedback and if she is hitting the mark on a typical day.
Conscientious and intentional about connecting multiple forms of feedback to the learning goals in her classroom, high school English teacher Marsha Greene shares that she still finds herself wondering if the feedback is enough, and effective in helping her students to improve, become more motivated, and take more responsibility for their learning. She is relieved to hear a more seasoned colleague admit to the “ongoing process” of determining effective feedback, and is thrilled when the colleague offers up Susan Brookart’s book, How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students as a resource. The conversation stretches beyond the lunchroom as the teachers decide to focus on a chapter together (“Types of Feedback and Their Purposes”) and help support one another in “assessing” their own feedback strategies. They decide that it could be helpful to examine what feedback students experience over the course of one day in their classrooms. Based on Brookhart’s chapter, they plan to observe each other’s classes and focus on the following: the timing of the feedback, the amount, and the various modes. They also agree to discuss the “feedback loops” they have with families to examine how they can insert more “coaching time” into their days.
Although the classroom observations are informal, Marsha and Bill create a template so that they can focus their feedback, just as they are hoping to do for their students. With space to comment on timing, amount, and modes of feedback – the template they design provides opportunity to hone in on the details of a day that may be hard to track, especially while in the “teaching moment.” As the first “silent observer,” Marsha is amazed by the extent to which feedback interweaves through everything that goes on in a classroom. There is something powerful and informative about having the opportunity to sit quietly and pay close attention to the details of how a class unfolds. Bill’s “modes of feedback” are wide and varied, from written to oral to demonstration. Throughout the day he shifts his feedback “audience” amongst large groups, small groups, and individuals. Some of his feedback is written and some is oral. Marsha notices that Bill’s ninth grade history students seem to get many opportunities to practice things (in this case a map exercise on Africa) without being graded. They are aware of an upcoming quiz on Friday, but the current atmosphere is one of exploration and connection. Bill asks Marsha to pay particular attention to the timing of his feedback, as he often worries about “missed moments” of responding to his students. He wants to make sure that he is providing feedback when students are “still on learning target and when they have time to do something about it.” Further, he wants to be certain that misconceptions are not ignored. Marsha notes that it seems to work well when Bill provides his class of twenty-eight students a chance to write down a response before moving to a class discussion. Zipping around the room, Bill is able to take a quick look at the responses and provide immediate feedback to the majority of his students. Marsha does notice a few moments throughout the day where some students seem confused and Bill moves on with the lesson. In their follow up discussion, she shares a few group “check in” strategies that have worked well in her classroom, like a “thumbs up/thumbs down” check.
When Bill visits Marsha’s class, she requests that he pay close attention to the amount of feedback that she provides. She appreciates the “Goldilocks Principle” shared in Brookhart’s book: “Not too much, not too little, but just right.” Marsha admits to not always being aware of “just right” when it comes to both the oral and written feedback that she provides, and she is hopeful that Bill can provide some helpful perspective. Rather than under or overwhelm students with feedback, Marsha wants to make certain that she provides enough feedback about process to “show students the connections between what they did and the results they got.” She wants to develop greater agency in their abilities to self-assess and contribute to their own learning. Bill’s written and oral feedback at the end of the day is both assuring and enlightening for Marsha. While intentional about connecting learning goals and assessment in all that she teaches, it is helpful to hear from an attentive observer who outlines the “course of the feedback” as it plays out through the day. Marsha is not surprised by Bill’s observation that there are times in her teaching where the amount of her feedback is more than what her students can take in and act on at that moment. Bill recommends that she strive for fewer things to assess in each lesson. She need not comment on so much, but rather, choose one or two focus areas each day for students. In many ways, Marsha is relieved by the feedback. Ultra-conscientious in all that she does. Marsha admits that she often finds it difficult to “let go” of student errors or skills that need improvement. She acknowledges that it is important for her to evaluate her own “perfectionist” approach and how this may be unhelpful to the learning process of many of her students. Her conversation with Bill helps her understand how to provide effective feedback for student improvement without compromising or confusing her high standards and expectations for student learning.
Grateful for this informal opportunity for connection and feedback, Bill and Marsha agree to meet again to discuss how they can create more opportunities for discussions with students and families about progress and performance. They decide to read a blog article from Teaching Tolerance called “Improving the Feedback Loop” which offers suggestions and points for discussion around connecting with families to better understand from them what could help or hinder student progress.
- Chapter 2 from Susan Brookhart’s book How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students outlines types of feedback and their purposes. It is a comprehensive look at feedback strategies that vary in “timing, amount, mode, and audience.” Brookhart includes good and bad examples for all of the strategies she presents. It is helpful to see these outlined.
- The first chapter of Susan M Brookhart’s book How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students provides a helpful overview of feedback strategies and content that affects student learning and motivation.
- In “Do You Check for Understanding Often Enough With Students,” Elena Aguilar writes about the significance of formative assessment as the tool to figure out how well students are mastering the daily objectives that we set out for them. In addition to providing examples and helpful links, Aguilar shares how she includes written plans for “formative assessments” alongside each the activities/goals in her lesson plans.
- Improving the Feedback Loop – This short blog article stresses the importance of actively including families in the educational process by listening and learning from them. The article provides recommendations for how to engage and involve families in the process of exchanging feedback about their children.
- This short article of “Tips for Grading and Giving Students Feedback” offers a quick look at things to keep in mind while giving feedback, especially when feeling challenged by large class sizes.
- Communicate Learning With Silent Signals – This two-minute video from The Teaching Channel shows a teacher and her students demonstrating how various “silent signals” are used in the classroom. The signals provide data points that are especially helpful in checking for understanding.
- Tracking Tools: Assess & Celebrate Learning – This two-minute video from The Teaching Channel shows how a teacher uses a simple thumbs up/thumbs down signal as a way of getting feedback from students about their levels of understanding and confusion.