Rethinking Feedback with Students

This is my third year as a TRC team member The first two years I was on a team exploring goal setting to increase student achievement. This year I have graduated to investigating the use of feedback with students. Giving feedback to students on their learning has long been the work of teachers. In recent years I have learned to make my feedback more effective by focusing on the learner and giving next steps instead of making evaluative statements. No more, “I like the way you showed your work.” Instead, the more effective version focuses on the learner; “Your work shows your thinking by…” No more “I like”, “Good job” or “Very cool.” These statements bring the focus back to the evaluator and take away from the learner’s effort. Now, I choose to focus on the learner and the criteria; I use “you” statements, give next steps and of course make it timely.

At the beginning of the school year I started talking to my students about feedback and showed the video Austin’s Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work . The video is about a kindergarten student whose task is to make a scientific drawing of a butterfly. The first draft lacked detail and students helped Austin with multiple drafts to follow by giving effective feedback. My middle school students loved it and we still refer to it in class.

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For one of the first feedback activities in my classes, I asked my students to give feedback to each other on their homework. We talked as a class about what the expectations were for homework. I shared some feedback sentence starters with the students.

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7th and 8th grade students were engaged in Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 7.54.38 PMthis process and seemed accepting of the feedback they received. Most students kept the sticky note with their feedback on their homework. In this first attempt, many students still wrote, “I like” and “good job.”

I have always tried to give students immediate teacher feedback on quizzes. I have recently started to have the students be the initial grader of their own quizzes. The students use a colored pen and the solutions are projected. They use a rubric to determine the score. A few months ago I started asking students to give themselves feedback on their quiz. The feedback should reflect where they showed understanding and what they need to improve.

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Of all of the feedback activities I have tried in my classroom, this self-feedback seemed to be most meaningful to the students. Students took ownership of their learning. Instead of waiting for me to identify their errors, they identified the errors and gave themselves feedback and next steps in some cases. It is so much more powerful when they say it. Many of the statements were so authentic that they reflect what I would want to say to them.

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The student who wrote, “You need to try more,” really surprised me. That was exactly what I was thinking, but it is so much more powerful as a self-reflection. Many students’ feedback and next steps were really learning goals. Students themselves were identifying what they needed to learn. That is what it’s all about to me. I plan to continue finding feedback opportunities in my classroom and as I continue to explore feedback with students I am most excited to find new ways for student self-feedback.

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