Sunday, September 14, 2014

Reflective Teaching: Day 14, Feedback for Learning

Day 14--What is feedback for learning, and how well do you give it to students?

Feedback for learning is one of those new "it phrases" in education, but it's been around for a long time.  Of course, people are now are telling us that data says how teachers have given feedback for generations (the grade, the "good job," the "you could do more," or the sticker) is not enough.  It's not helpful.  That kind of feedback is not "for learning" because it doesn't make the student think differently about his/her work or do any kind of self-assessment.

I guess I have a hard time understanding that.  When I was in school, the feedback given at the top of the page always had me doing some self-assessment.  If it was a good grade, I felt validated that my hard work had borne fruit.  If it was a "you could do more" then I looked at my work to see what I had not done to fulfill the assignment.  I still have some of the scratch-and-sniff stickers that my elementary teachers gave me; I attached them to a folder.  They were badges of honor and pride that I showed my friends, and I kept that portion of that Critter Sitter folder (see picture) because it was covered with the proof that I was doing the right thing by doing what was expected of me as a student.

Somewhere along the line something changed and now that kind of feedback is not enough.  Feedback for learning is giving feedback that will not discourage a student while at the same time showing him/her what he/she needs to do better next time.  It can come in many forms, but all studies agree it should be timely, specific, and focus on the positive.

Timely: When you teach high school English, as I do, it can be hard to give feedback beyond the grade or the rubric or the now-frowned-upon "Good job!" because I teach four sections of the same class, and that means I have over 80 pieces of work each time something gets handed in.  I try to be timely in returning the work, but sometimes I'm not as good at that as I would like.

Specific: Adding specific comments to over 80 English II essays and 20 Creative Writing poems in a night (or even over the weekend) is sometimes hard to do.  I try to do it, but sometimes it's difficult to weigh the need for cleaning/laundry/dishes/personal time/catching up on sleep with the time that it takes to write specific feedback about the student's work on each paper or poem.  So, I'm still working on that.

Focus on the positive: I really try to do this beyond the "Way to Go" or "Nice" or even the smiley face.  This is when I'd love to be able to just put a sticker on the paper and be done.  I know that I'm supposed to avoid just marking the errors in a paper because that will make the student feel defeated.  I know that I'm supposed to point out the good things the student did to encourage him/her.  This is where I have the most issues in this feedback for learning, though.  I am still working on a way to make the student not feel defeated while at the same time showing him/her what he/she did wrong so that next time he/she can do better.

So if I were to rank my success at giving feedback for learning, I would say that I am still working on it.  Do I get a sticker for that?

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