Vignette #8 – An elementary school science teacher seeks out a colleague to ensure that the feedback she provides her students is user friendly, clearly connected to learning goals, frequent, and ultimately successful in keeping her students engaged and invested in their own learning.
When elementary school science teacher Sheila Branch was a student, she recalls feeling like her teachers were “out to trick” their students. When “test time” came, Sheila remembers it often feeling like a “guessing game” that led to final cramming, little acquired knowledge, and low motivation for learning. Committed to educating her students for deep engagement and lifelong learning, Sheila works hard to create an environment set up for student success and empowerment. She realizes that in order for her students to thrive, they need clear learning goals, frequent and effective feedback, and time/guidance for improving their work. As an advocate of modeling learning for her students, Sheila also recognizes that it could be valuable for her students to witness her own experience of getting feedback from a colleague on what she is doing well, what she needs to work on, and how to improve it. And so, when she invites a fellow science teacher to observe two of her classes (in the midst of a weeklong project) to provide her with feedback on how indeed she is providing feedback to students, she builds in time for her students to observe how the adults in their community provide and respond to feedback for improved performance.
As Sheila begins her unit on the weather, she makes a learning goal of the week clear: she wants students to understand what wind is and find a way to “make wind visible” in a culminating project of their choosing by the end of the week. She provides a rubric on the tasks involved in these student projects and what steps her students will need to follow in order to succeed. From defining wind to making observations of the wind’s effects to figuring out a project that shows wind in action, the rubric seems clear to Sheila. While some students dive into the work, others are slow to start. Sheila’s colleague, Kim, provides positive and descriptive feedback on helpful elements of the rubric. Kim notes that the expected steps involved in the process are clear and the questions for student reflection are on learning target. She applauds Sheila for creating a rubric that enables students to evaluate their progress while in process of developing their projects.* She recommends that Sheila incorporate the possibility of students using graphic organizers, particularly “cause and effect” organizers to better examine and understand what they are creating.** She also suggests that providing an exemplar of the project (using a different aspect of the weather) could be helpful for some students. With the students, they brainstorm and model what this project could look like if they used rain as an example. This process of overtly thinking through project possibilities creates an important pause that ultimately helps engage all of the students in the class. With greater confidence and sense of expectations for learning and success, the students move into the process of creating their wind projects. Sheila is then able to move throughout the room – providing students with descriptive comments about their work, clearing up misconceptions about the wind, and providing students opportunities to articulate the goal of the project and their plans for creating their projects.
Three days into the project, most students have received written and verbal feedback from Sheila on their understanding of wind and their plans to make this force visible. With day five’s project presentation looming, the students are in different places with their work. Encouraging Sheila to honor the time that kids need to “improve from feedback,” Kim suggests that Sheila space out the presentations so that the students who received their feedback earlier (or didn’t need as much time) would go first. It would also allow the kids who were still struggling to see some examples and possibly benefit from the group feedback they observe. While she originally thought that staggered presentations mixed with work time for students still in process might be considered “unfair,” Sheila adapts and realizes that these are ways to “continue the learning,” even for those students who have already completed the project. She introduces a post project reflection element to the rubric and provides her students an opportunity to consider in greater depth their own approaches to the project and what they learned from observing their classmates in action. Sheila writes her own reflection piece on receiving feedback from Kim and makes a plan for implementing improvements for her next unit. In addition to creating a more detailed rubric, she considers Kim’s feedback about making certain to clarify the difference between “learning goals” and “learning activities” for herself and her students.
- A “Descriptive Feedback Video Library” with five 5-minute video segments that cover why feedback is such a powerful tool, what constitutes effective feedback, the purposeful planning that goes into effective feedback, connecting feedback to learning goals and success criteria, and how to use feedback to develop students’ self-assessment skills.
- Establishing and Communicating Learning Goals – This “module” focuses on how to help teachers establish and communicate learning goals, track student progress, and celebrate success. It could be helpful to read in conjunction with connecting learning goals directly to feedback.
- This excellent website provides strategies to enhance student self-assessment. It offers sample reflective questions and prompts for younger and older students and presents information on how the following tools can be used to support effective student self-assessment: student-led and three way conferences, use of rubrics, use of graphic organizers, and setting learning targets.
- This helpful website provides ideas and PDF’s for 58 graphic organizers. They are listed by categories: Cause and effect organizers, character and story organizers, compare and contrast organizers, sequence, cycle, timeline, and chain of events organizers, and vocabulary development and concept organizers.