Jenni White, Evanston, WY
The stack of papers to be graded seems to grow every time you turn your back. Diligently, you pack your bag to come home with the stack of student work; you know how important feedback is to the learning process. You spend hours neglecting your family and your other obligations because you know that your students need the information you are giving them, they need your feedback on their learning. Yet the next day when you hand out the tests covered in suggestions, thoughtful questions, and corrections, your students take one quick glance, compare scores with their neighbor and ignore the rest. You are crushed but have no time in the class period to address the issue. You sigh. You move on. You do it again. As a third-year teacher, I know I have.
Feedback is something that teachers know is vital to the learning process. Yet reality has to step in. I work in a small district but I have over one hundred students in my room every day. How can I give meaningful written feedback to each and every student? How much is enough? Too much? How much time should I be devoting to giving written feedback? How much time for the students to process the feedback? The problem we all face is: How do we give effective feedback to deepen our students’ learning but is still time effective? After all, we have other demands we need to meet professionally and personally, not to mention that we all face the time crunch of the class period. It is this dogmatic problem that Anthony Johnson and I have chosen to tackle for our contribution to the TRC 3.0.
As I stepped into my classes this year I have focused more on written feedback than I ever have. With a touch of reality on our time constraints, Anthony and I had decided to start by giving written feedback and response time to react to the feedback at least twice each chapter. In order to do so, we developed a Quick Quiz Form, which is simply a paper that is split into thirds. The top third is where the students attempt the work or problem for the first time. The second third is where the assessors write the feedback, and the third portion is where the students respond to the feedback and do something. This is done with a single problem as opposed to a set; the idea is to provide concentrated feedback but in a timely manner. We are hoping to see students respond to the feedback and not simply respond to a grade at the top of the page. We are striving to encourage our students to realize that the learning process is never really done and that a letter grade is not just enough.
My Algebra I students have reacted to this feedback process with mixed emotions. Some have latched onto the procedure and look forward to seeing what they can do or what the next step may be. Others are frustrated that even though they have correctly worked through the math problem they are not done with the process. A few are uncomfortable with the process as they miss the grade and the knowledge that they are correct. Despite their mixed feelings, I feel that this practice is worth the time and effort we are putting into it.
A few lessons we have learned from our research so far:
- Be sure to use this process on a formative question. If all of your students are comfortable with the material, it is more difficult to push for deeper understanding.
- An online forum (Google Sheets through Google Classroom) can be very successful as an ongoing discussion can happen as both the teacher and student have access to the work. This format is not limited to the three stages that the single paper form imposes.
- The online version allows for more feedback as typing can be done quicker than a pencil and paper combination; it also allows for copy/paste between student work.
- Giving time for students to respond to feedback is perhaps the most important part of the feedback cycle.
- When reviewing the paper forms, a highlighter is a teacher’s best friend. Instead of writing a lot of questions over and over again, highlight the mistakes. Ask students to look at the highlights but also the non-highlighted portions of the work. This cuts feedback time down dramatically.
- Even with written feedback, time is of the essence. If more than a few days have passed, even quality feedback loses it potency.
Anthony and I have also noticed that it seems like our higher achieving students struggle with the lack of an actual grade, they embrace the idea that learning is never done easier than other students. I have overheard my lower achieving students react well to their quick quiz forms; they appreciate the quick turnaround and knowledge of if they are on the right track or not and find this a confidence boost. Anthony’s students (PreCalculus students) have asked to keep their forms as study materials for the future while mine are still quick to toss the papers once the process is complete.
I know that I am putting more thought into the feedback I am giving; the idea of “feed-forward” student learning, of pushing student thinking deeper, is enticing. My understanding of where my students are in their learning is better than it has been before because of this hard look at formative feedback. The preliminary results of pre/post data collection is showing promise of student improvement. From these effects alone, I am excited to see where the rest of the year and the rest of the research will take us.
Being a part of the process has been both a pleasure and a privilege; to work with such exceptional professionals as are on the TRC teams has pushed me in my own teaching practices to become a better educator. I feel that one of CPM’s strongest assets is the fact that they listen to educators and are continually looking for feedback in order to improve their curriculum and practices. As a teacher, I have found that CPM’s leadership is incredibly accessible and not only willing to listen to opinions but actively seeks them out. I look forward to continuing the research and to pass along any knowledge that may be gained along the way.