A Challenge to Simplify

February 2024

Grading has to be my least favorite part of teaching. It probably does not take up most of our time, but it sure feels like it. The fact students do not use or seem to value the work we put into this feedback makes it feel like an even greater time suck. Many years ago, a friend made me a barn wood sign that said, “Simplify.” It ended up in my classroom, where I would gesture towards it when asked about fractions. Because the sign has been staring at me for years, I have been seeking ways to simplify grading. 

I recently picked up Visible Learning: Feedback (Hattie & Clarke, 2019), and got my money’s worth by the end of page 1. John Hattie and Shirley Clark asked thousands of teachers, “What do you mean by feedback?” They consolidated their answers into what they refer to as the ten Cs:

  • comments;
  • clarification;
  • criticism;
  • confirmation;
  • content development (adding to or confirming content knowledge);
  • constructive reflection;
  • correction;
  • cons and pros (about the work);
  • commentary; and
  • criterion (relative to a standard).

By and large, teachers defined feedback as evaluating the work in front of them.

Then, the authors asked thousands of students the same question. Students’ top explanation, far and away, simplifies to: Feedback helps me know where to go next. Hattie and Clarke go on to observe that, “Oftentimes when feedback is more about the above ten Cs [evaluating their work], the students will claim that they did not receive any feedback.”

So, I have simplified my feedback. If students want to know where to go next, that is where my energy should go. I still used the ten C’s to evaluate the work in front of me. However, instead of sharing my evaluation with students, I made sure to tell them, one way or another, what could be next. That shift quickly helped me better understand how students were developing concepts and skills.

  • Were they stuck with an introductory idea we had done in an earlier chapter?
  • Were they dabbling with ideas they would explore at the end of the year, or in the next grade?
  • What was next?

My grade level team used a 4-point rubric across subject areas. A student with an initial understanding might score 2 on their work. A student working toward end-of-year ideas should be approaching a score of 4. Rather than being consumed with deducting points and calculating the percentage, I used the rubric to describe to students how they were progressing. Students used the rubric to analyze their own work. My verbal and written feedback was about what they knew and what to do next. 

Simplifying my feedback by providing students with clear next steps had amazing side effects. I had to consider the learning progression within the mixed, spaced practice of CPM textbooks, which helped me understand student thinking and how they might approach the problems. I started to see them as people on a journey, rather than racking up points to be dinged by deductions. It prepared me to try standards-based grading and integrate more self-assessment for students. It expanded my idea of what could count as evidence of student learning. Classroom interactions with students could be sources of data about their understanding. Reviewing students’ reflections on their work was more important than marking their mistakes. I was relieved of the burden of churning through piles of papers every night, just to generate a percentage. Most importantly, my students got the feedback they needed. 

I would like to challenge you to simplify.

  • How can your comments help students know where to go next?
  • What tools or systems do you have (as I had a team rubric) to help you better communicate where to go next?
  • What is already happening in your class time that could help you provide better feedback?

And if you need a sign, I have a friend who might be able to help you out.

Picture of Jocelyn Dunnack

Jocelyn Dunnack


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Algebra Tiles Session

  • Used throughout CPM middle and high school courses
  • Concrete, geometric representation of algebraic concepts.
  • Two-hour virtual session,
  •  Learn how students build their conceptual understanding of simplifying algebraic expressions
  • Solving equations using these tools.  
  • Determining perimeter,
  • Combining like terms,
  • Comparing expressions,
  • Solving equations
  • Use an area model to multiply polynomials,
  • Factor quadratics and other polynomials, and
  • Complete the square.
  • Support the transition from a concrete (manipulative) representation to an abstract model of mathematics..

Foundations for Implementation

This professional learning is designed for teachers as they begin their implementation of CPM. This series contains multiple components and is grounded in multiple active experiences delivered over the first year. This learning experience will encourage teachers to adjust their instructional practices, expand their content knowledge, and challenge their beliefs about teaching and learning. Teachers and leaders will gain first-hand experience with CPM with emphasis on what they will be teaching. Throughout this series educators will experience the mathematics, consider instructional practices, and learn about the classroom environment necessary for a successful implementation of CPM curriculum resources.

Page 2 of the Professional Learning Progression (PDF) describes all of the components of this learning event and the additional support available. Teachers new to a course, but have previously attended Foundations for Implementation, can choose to engage in the course Content Modules in the Professional Learning Portal rather than attending the entire series of learning events again.

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Building on Instructional Practice Series

The Building on Instructional Practice Series consists of three different events – Building on Discourse, Building on Assessment, Building on Equity – that are designed for teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM instructional materials and who have completed the Foundations for Implementation Series.

Building on Equity

In Building on Equity, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Essential questions include: How do I shift dependent learners into independent learners? How does my own math identity and cultural background impact my classroom? The focus of day one is equitable classroom culture. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture. The focus of day two and three is implementing equitable tasks. Participants will develop their use of the 5 Practices for Orchestrating Meaningful Mathematical Discussions and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will use an equity lens to reflect on and revise their Chapter 1 lesson plans.

Building on Assessment

In Building on Assessment, participants will apply assessment research and develop methods to provide feedback to students and inform equitable assessment decisions. On day one, participants will align assessment practices with learning progressions and the principle of mastery over time as well as write assessment items. During day two, participants will develop rubrics, explore alternate types of assessment, and plan for implementation that supports student ownership. On the third day, participants will develop strategies to monitor progress and provide evidence of proficiency with identified mathematics content and practices. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

In Building on Discourse, participants will improve their ability to facilitate meaningful mathematical discourse. This learning experience will encourage participants to adjust their instructional practices in the areas of sharing math authority, developing independent learners, and the creation of equitable classroom environments. Participants will plan for student learning by using teaching practices such as posing purposeful questioning, supporting productive struggle, and facilitating meaningful mathematical discourse. In doing so, participants learn to support students collaboratively engaged with rich tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices incorporated through intentional and reflective planning.