by Jim Bentley
If you've taught any length of time, you've probably had a moment in your career where you stared at a stack of student work you need to "grade" wondering if your students would appreciate or benefit from your comments.
I hate to break it to you, but those remarks are probably not going to carry the impact you want, which means you may have wasted your scarce time to put something in writing that may or may not transform a student’s thinking.
If feedback is only given at the end of a project, it's already too late.
Students need ongoing feedback in a variety of ways for the purpose of making revisions to their thinking and their work. During BIE’s PBL 101 workshops we recommend a 2:1 ratio of formative to summative assessments.
Wiggins and McTighe's Understanding by Design draws a distinction between the terms "assessment" and "evaluation." The former is learning focused and emphasizes progress toward a learning outcome. The latter is summative and "credential-related" as they put it. That means a formative assessment is one type of feedback. Other types of feedback could be written or verbal observations as well as clarifying or probing questions offered by a teacher or a peer. Here are four ways I give feedback during projects.
1. Google Classroom
When I create an assignment in Google Classroom, students create a Google Doc, Sheet, or Slide presentation to complete the task. I review and offer observations or questions directly in their work as pictured below. Additionally, Google Classroom allows a teacher and student to share private comments back and forth on the assignment screen. A teacher can—if they choose—provide a grade out of 100 points or leave the task ungraded.
With the Google Classroom app for iPhone or Android, a teacher can provide feedback anywhere at anytime. Alice Keeler has two helpful books on how to maximize the impact of Google Classroom for student learning, and her Twitter feed is updated hourly with free, high quality tips and tricks.
2. Gallery Walk
If your school or district isn’t using Google for Education tools there are other ways to provide feedback, like using a gallery walk. I have students display a piece of writing on their Chromebook screen or on a piece of paper on their desk. Students circulate the room quietly writing feedback on sticky notes. I often scaffold the feedback to address the following: What works? What’s confusing? What was something you wondered? If a student wants feedback on something specific, I ask them to make a note of it for others to see. Students can get multiple perspectives quickly and in a low risk way of sharing via written comments versus face-to-face or larger group verbal interactions.
Another way I gather information from students to prepare feedback is via Padlet. This is essentially a free, electronic bulletin board where students can respond to a prompt and share their thoughts in one place. Click here to view a Padlet I shared with students as we neared the end of a chapter in our math book. It’s possible to use the comments in a Padlet to sort students into discussion teams or groups that could benefit from more direct instruction.
4. Observe & Prompt
Of course, one of the simplest ways to provide feedback to students is to sit with them and observe them working on a task. I use this most frequently with math. I’ll sit beside a student, my eyes on their work, listening to them verbalize what they’re thinking and doing. When they get stuck, I offer prompts or cues to help them refine their thinking. I’m not engaging in direct instruction or providing more information, just connecting them to what they’ve already learned.
The big point: Give students more feedback and fewer grades. Engage students in providing feedback, too.
The corollary: Once feedback is given, provide students a chance to refine their work or thinking and/or be willing as a teacher to provide more coaching and time so they can grow based on the feedback provided.
The Nature of Feedback
As Ron Berger says, feedback needs to be kind, specific, and helpful. Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey, in The Formative Assessment Action Plan, add that feedback must be timely, understandable, and actionable, too.
Timely means throughout the project process and not just at the end. Also students need time to act upon the feedback given, to revise their thinking and their work.
Understandable feedback promotes revision of thinking or work. If a teacher passes along qualitative comments that aren't specific ("I really like your intro" or "This part is confusing"), a student will struggle to translate those comments into action. This is where a rubric can help.
Actionable means students can build on what you've said rather than react to it. Feedback ought to include next steps, a plan to reteach, a reference to something, an exemplar, a moment to reflect on and unpack what did and did not work.
Ultimately feedback is about the learner. It's about what they can do with what you've shared with them. "Grading" or "evaluating" is a post-op maneuver. It has to happen, but at the end of the learning cycle. Be sure to design frequent opportunities where you and your students can give and receive the feedback they need to evolve and deepen their understanding of what you’re teaching.
You can follow Jim Bentley on Twitter at @Curiosity_Films.