“Praise addressed to students is unlikely to be effective, because it carries little information that provides answers to any of the three questions: Where am I going? How am I going? and Where to next?, and too often deflects attention from the task.”
– Hattie & Timperley: The Power of Feedback
If you aren’t already familiar with John Hattie and Susan Brookhart’s work in connection to feedback and assessment then many rabbit holes await you—they are the king and queen of their domains. I was introduced to Hattie’s work a few years ago and I remember the way his work helped to both alter the way I view feedback, but also provide practice structures from which to design feedback practices.
…but then as happens, life intervened and I stopped using some of those structures (sigh). That is until Hattie entered my life again in the way of my latest PLT (Professional Learning Team). Our focus: “Student Feedback”. The enormity of this topic was daunting in the beginning, but I found myself diving right back into Hattie and Brookhart’s work and there I found clarity.
Our PLT goal is:
Over the next 6 weeks, students will engage in feedback strategies (2 different strategies) with the intention of developing specific skills connected to increasing self-regulation of their learning process.
– ACS: PLT Goal, 2019-20
One of the many resources we discussed was Hattie’s research on the 7 best practices of feedback. How feedback should be: timely, goal-oriented, actionable, consistent, tangible & transparent, ongoing, and progress toward a goal.
Now this is all good and well…but how could we connect this to our goal of getting students to take more ownership over their formative process?
After much discussion we had the realization that students too often see the teacher as the only access point for feedback on their learning.
So, how could we increase the number of access points for student feedback?
Our answer: Providing structures to allow students to access multiple points of feedback throughout their process of learning. By having students become more self-regulated—a skill necessary for the real world—it also allowed us to distribute where we spent out time more effectively.
My AP students are just starting a narrative unit where they are writing a flash non-fiction piece—a mini-memoir of sorts (Brevity Magazine has a never ending supply of mentor texts). And in light of my current PLT goal, I am incorporating two specific structures to help increase the access points and encourage more ownership over their learning process.
Access Point #1: Questions instead of Answers
“Feedback can be the information that drives the [formative] process, or it can be a stumbling block that derails the process. To craft teacher feedback that leads to learning, put yourself in the student’s shoes.”
– Brookhart: How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students
Is this right? What can I do better? Does this sound okay?
These types of questions are common. Students are doing the right thing by asking a question to help them improve, but the question they are asking doesn’t actually help them or me. Disclaimer: I used to answer these questions. But I don’t anymore. Instead I ask them a question right back.
I will be able to say if it is right if you can help me understand what your purpose of this sentence, section, etc…is? “Right” in this case is context dependent.
What are you trying to do and how are you trying to do it? If I have more information, I can guide you on some strategies to help you do it better.
What is it supposed to sound like and why do you want it to sound that way?
This opens up a dialogue with the student and it provides valuable information on their understanding. What I have found is that the more I reply back to them with questions, the more specific their questions become… and the more quickly the initial “song and dance” of empty questions transforms into a purposeful conversation around their learning.
Impact: Students end up using the language of the standards, skills, and rubric when they ask questions and this, in turn, leads to better conversations throughout the formative process.
How does this save time? Conversations are cut in half (or more) as the time spent getting to the heart of what they want feedback on is brought to the forefront…both in real life and when using the comment tool in their google docs.
Access Point #2: Peer Feedback & Confidence
Students are definitely a resource that we need to maximize. But students also need to be taught the skills to be effective at giving feedback. One way to do this is to model giving a student feedback—too often our one-on-one conversations with students are done in isolation (and sometimes this is necessary). But students should see how these conversations are structured, the type of language used, the types of questions to ask. Taking time to watch peers give each other feedback and then giving them feedback on their feedback (insert never ending feedback loop here) will help them build these skills.
Impact: A colleague in my PLT is being very purposeful with this skill set in his senior HL Econ class right now and of his students said that: learning how to give feedback properly is helping him to be confident in helping his friends during their weekend study group…that he feels he has more to offer now.”
How does this save time? I think this is obvious. If my 100+ students see me as the only access point, that is A LOT of time I am spending fielding every question. When students are taught the skills to be effective at giving feedback, their learning can exponentially increase (…and a bit of my sanity remains intact).
A Final Thought…
“The aim is to get the students actively involved in seeking evidence: their role is not simply to do tasks as decided by teachers, but to actively manage and understand their learning gains. This being more responsible for their learning and being involved with peers in learning together about gains in learning.”
I love having conversations with my students about their learning—when you see that metaphorical light bulb turn on or you watch them get excited about a word they found that “fits perfectly in this sentence”—that is the good stuff. However, some students don’t need as many conversations as others, they just don’t know any other way.
Most of my students are fully capable of directing their learning more than they are currently demonstrating…and providing them with more access points will help them become more aware and confident of doing so. The fact that this also opens up more time to spend with those students who need a little bit more guidance, is an added bonus.
[Another structure I am going to test out this year is providing more purposeful reflection time during a unit. For this I will be using Hattie’s FeedUP, FeedBACK, and FeedFORWARD strategy—look out for a future post on this!]
What are you favourite feedback strategies that engage students in their process? How do you increase student ownership over their learning? Comment below or connect with me on Twitter @ReadWriteMore or on the Moving Writers Facebook page.