Creating a Culture of Feedback

In order to be effective, feedback must be relevant, meaningful, specific, frequent, and time-bound. Feedback helps students move forward, question, and grow as learners. If teachers are providing feedback on every piece of student writing, students are not writing enough. Besides, both Jennifer Gonzalez and Starr Stackstein claim when feedback is only offered at the end of an assignment—particularly when there is a grade attached—students will just skip to the grade. Even in a gradeless classroom, students still want to know, “How did I do?” So when and how should we provide feedback?

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When should we provide feedback? 

Early and often. Waiting until the “end” of a writing piece or performance task to provide students with feedback does not allow students to use the feedback in practice. In the same way that many educators make time for a peer review process prior to submission, so too can educators make time for student reflection and teacher review. Using a single-point rubric can ensure that feedback is specific to the learning targets.

Have you found yourself at the end of a paper or project? Even for those of us who thrive in drafting, writing, and rewriting, there often comes a point when it’s important to move to the next piece. As Jeff Novak, a colleague of mine, likes to say, “writers have deadlines!” At this point in the process, you’ve likely provided students with thoughtful feedback and can now allow time to reflect and provide a brief (yes… brief!) overview of performance.

How do we provide feedback?

Great teaching makes use of multiple modalities; so too can great feedback. Conferencing with students allows feedback to come in the form of questions, shared exploration, or suggestions. 

In my 6th grade social studies class, I challenge my students to explore an identity group. At this point in the process, students research and take notes independently. During this time, I meet with students, discuss where they are in the project, help remove barriers, and ask about next steps. In five minutes or less, I can effectively gauge how students are doing and provide individualized support. I begin by asking students to sign up for a time to meet with me and state a question or focus point for our conference time. Using a shared Google doc, I can provide resources and record their next steps. Each conference ends with the same question: “What do you plan to do when you return to your seat?” It is through their responses that I can assess whether students are ready to move forward independently.  “I’m not sure,” means it’s time to ask a few more questions and provide further support. “I plan to look at the Lonely Planet guide to see what I can find out about social norms,” indicates a student is set up for success.

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Equally important to understanding the many forms of feedback is the importance of understanding the various authors of feedback. Peer feedback, when explicitly taught and supported, can be a meaningful way to move students forward. Earlier this year, while engaging in Socratic seminar, we made use of the fishbowl model regularly. During one of our first seminars, students on the outside were told to observe body language, group process, or overall effort. This allowed students to not only provide feedback, but also consider the role these three elements play in a successful seminar. 

As we progressed in our practice, our feedback forms shifted to allow students to ask for specific feedback on an element they were working on, and ultimately to mirror the feedback I provided students. Throughout the unit, we had meaningful discussions on both content and process. Together with my students, we defined a successful seminar and provided helpful feedback to one another.

Not only has teaching and practicing giving feedback created a classroom culture in which students can support one another, but also it has prepared students to provide me with feedback as well. Each trimester, I ask students to evaluate my practice through a Google form. After having taught the art of feedback, I am excited and thankful for their targeted and thoughtful reflections: “I think Ms. Nold is doing well at including everyone in the topic and works hard to expand everyone’s thinking and learning” and “I think Ms. Nold could improve by allowing for more options during the ‘Do Now.'”

Providing feedback may feel overwhelming, but when we consider the ways it can support students, empower peer feedback, and encourage personal reflection, it is clearly worth the effort.

Christie Nold (she/her) is a public middle school teacher who loves exploring both local and global content with her inquisitive sixth graders. You can follow her on Twitter at @ChristieNold

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