Written Feedback: Best Bang for Your Buck

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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.

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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

This series contains three different courses, taken in either order. The courses are designed for schools and teachers with a minimum of one year of experience teaching with CPM curriculum materials. Teachers will develop further understanding of strategies and tools for instructional practices and assessment.

Building on Equity

In this course, participants will learn how to include equitable practices in their  classroom and support traditionally underserved students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Participants will reflect on how their math identity and mindsets impact student learning. They will begin working on a plan for implementing Chapter 1 that creates an equitable classroom culture and curate strategies for supporting all students in becoming leaders of their own learning. Follow-up during the school year will support ongoing implementation of equitable classroom practices.

Building on Assessment

In this course, participants will apply assessment research to develop methods to provide feedback to students and to inform equitable assessment decisions. Participants will develop assessment action plans that will encourage continued collaboration within their learning community.

Building on Discourse

This professional learning builds upon the Foundations for Implementation Series by improving teachers’ 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 rigorous, team-worthy tasks with all elements of the Effective Mathematics Teaching Practices.