Vignette #7 – In an attempt to figure out how to provide helpful feedback to his students and families, a high school history teacher puts himself in his students’ shoes to clarify what they may need for greater progress and understanding. By reaching out to parents and students, he further gains insights about what is both confusing and meaningful to them.
With over a decade of teaching under his belt, tenth grade history teacher Jonathan Seidel continues to consider how to provide feedback to his students that effectively helps them grow and improve over the course of the year. It is also important to him that the families of his students understand how their children are being assessed in his class and how they can support their kids with the information provided. Jonathan is skilled and aware of the timeliness of feedback – whether it need be immediate (in response to discussions/work in class) or feedback that is offered over the many stages of a project or paper. While grades are an integral part of assessment in his school, Jonathan has mixed feelings about their merit and does due diligence to make certain that he provides clear rubrics/expectations for how grades match student work, and descriptive comments to help students reach goals in the classroom. He reiterates to students and families that the ongoing feedback that they receive is a crucial part of where the learning happens and that grades are part of an evaluation/judgment that come at the end of “that [learning] cycle.” Highly aware of both content matter and the way that minds develop, Jonathan works hard to create constructive responses to what some consider “failure.” He is known as a teacher who “lets” kids write and re-write papers and homework assignments – making it clear to parents that it is often with these opportunities that some of the best learning takes place. He wants his students to develop resiliency and learn from their “failures” so that they can understand that when allowed and encouraged to be persistent, they can succeed.
Jonathan takes time to consider the various learning styles of his students and their differing needs for feedback. In an attempt to better understand his students and their families, Jonathan sends out quarterly surveys to get student/family perspectives on how his methods of assessing and providing feedback are working for them. With so many students and parents looking to grades and test results as the greatest measure of success or failure, Jonathan wants to make sure that the numbers are matched by descriptive explanations that are goal oriented and encourage reflection for students and parents. That said, he realizes that if his feedback is confusing and unclear, then it becomes worthless. He also recognizes that unless he creates time and space for students and families to “take in” the feedback, it could go unnoticed and unheeded. And so, Jonathan uses these quarterly surveys as homework assignments that ask families to sit down and respond to the descriptive feedback that he provides on 2-3 assignments per quarter. It generates opportunities for families to connect over student work and also encourages students to take responsibility for creating ongoing goals for their work and ideas The student/family responses also help Jonathan better understand how they are experiencing his feedback and if it is clear to them. The survey responses often lead him to tinker with the types of feedback each student needs.
The surveys reveal a common theme from parents and students – that they want/need feedback that lets them know specifically “how they are doing.” Many parents reveal that the grades they receive on the parent portal give them a sense of how their kids are fairing, but don’t offer suggestions for how they can help support their kids, especially if they are struggling. Jonathan takes this feedback to heart and considers tangible suggestions that he can offer families. Sometimes this comes in the form of recommending websites that students can go to for extra support. Jonathan also responds to parent concerns by making it clearer when he is available for “extra help” or how students can get more support from the “study skills center” or “peer tutors” in their school. He finds that most parents of high school aged kids don’t want to be directly involved with their children’s work, but would like to be able to make suggestions to their children of where they can get support for learning. The student responses to the surveys often help Jonathan figure out how to be more concrete and descriptive in his feedback on student papers and projects. He admittedly spends a great deal of time providing written feedback, and it is important for him to know if students find his writing too vague or complicated. The student responses vary, and further help him to individualize feedback in these written moments. His largest take away from recent student surveys is to find ways to make his feedback more “actionable,” so he brainstorms a possible project/paper feedback form that provides students with more overt directions on how to improve their work. Where Jonathan once had written comments like “good job” and “unclear,” he now shifts to non-judgmental observations that make apparent what students need to do in order to improve their writing. In his newly developed writing Rubric, Jonathan shares observations about what went right and what didn’t work in the writing (“your use of strong adjectives like ‘forlorn’ and ‘floppy’ provide the reader with a clear sense of Peter’s emotional state” and “consider and rewrite an introduction to your quotation that lets the reader know something more about the speaker’s intentions”). It is a fine balance of encouraging students to learn how to respond to feedback appropriately and creating the kind of feedback that leads to constructive conversations and actions that move student learning along.
- In “Providing Feedback that Fits,” Susan Brookhart clarifies what it means to provide students with feedback that is clear and matches where students are in the learning process. She outlines effective ways to deliver feedback and provides annotated examples of written teacher feedback and “what is best about the feedback.”
- In “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback,” Grant Wiggins clarifies what we mean by “feedback” and offers insights on the “essentials” that make it effective. He insists that feedback must be goal referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent.
- In an Education Week blog post entitled “The Grading System We Need to Have,” Rick Wormeli emphasizes “shifting grades from compensation to communication” and outlines seven “non-negotiable” elements of successful grading and reporting systems: teacher utility, transparency, evidence-based, feedback-focused, disaggregated, mode, not-mean, and constructive response to failure.
- What Parents and Educators Want from Assessments – This blog article briefly discusses the results from a survey commissioned by the Northwest Evaluation Association that looked at the views of parents, teachers, and district administrators on assessment.
- This Comprehensive Assessment Research Review on Providing Feedback shares “research-based strategies for providing actionable feedback throughout the learning process.” In addition, the site provides valuable links to research and examples for practice.