Teaching Opinion

Have You Provided Students Enough Feedback for Growth?

By Starr Sackstein — March 14, 2017 3 min read
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“Please reshare your draft with me at the end of the period, so I can ensure everyone made use of today’s lesson. Depending where each of you end up today, I may have to push back the due date because I’d rather you learn through your work than just meet a deadline.”

Ongoing communication about learning is essential, not just for students and parents, but for teachers too. This thoughtful exchange allows for teachers to norm what is being said and meaningfully adjust and modify lessons to appropriately address the needs of all students.

If school and classes are truly to be about meeting our students where they are, then we can’t allow the arbitrary starts and ends of semesters and grading periods to determine how fast or how slowly our students complete meaningful assessments.

With project-based learning, it is easy to walk into a project thinking students are ready for every part only to realize later that it was premature to make this assumption. Then we must slow down, reassess and provide the instruction for those who need it and allow others to move forward as needed.

Starting each marking period with a solid, but flexible plan that stems from a performance assessment, the students and I backward plan to ensure all the skills are scaffolded into the lessons as we go. Sometimes building upon lessons already given in the past and other times working from scratch despite spotty remembered learning from other years. Instead of assuming students know something or should know something, it is best to ask them directly and then instead of getting frustrated, just start from there with the understanding that all kids can do whatever you are hoping they will, just maybe with additional scaffolds.

As we move through the projects/assessments, there needs to be a steady flow of information and feedback. The better the communication, the better the learning for everyone.

So here’s what we can do to ensure we are doing enough:

  • Knowing how students best receive feedback will help ensure each child gets what he or she needs each day. Whether the student prefers one on one conferring time in class to talk out ideas or written feedback on documents, students should be receiving some form of feedback daily.
  • In order to keep feedback from becoming onerous in each class, make sure that there is time built into each lesson where students either work with each other or the teacher is circulating and looking over shoulders as students go. The more eyes that are on documents and notebooks daily, the more assurances there are that issues can be caught and addressed immediately.
  • Build a culture where students are empowered to ask for the help they need throughout the process. Taking time from class occasionally to model how to ask better, more specific questions to receive the feedback needed for growth. “Is this good?” can’t be a question we allow students to ask as it doesn’t offer any precision in what they want out of the feedback. Are they looking for validation or actionable feedback that will improve their work?
  • Remind students that they have multiple opportunities to improve what they are working on. Ask them to track their on-going growth by showing what they are changing. They can do this either directly in their documents with a highlighter and post-it notes or as a reflection with specific references to where in the work they were working.
  • Allow and encourage students to revisit goals as well as feedback logs and have them determine their own growth to be normed with what you see you. Get students in the habit of displaying work to support their understanding of mastery all along the way. The more comfortable they are with the language of the standards and their display of the skills, the more readily the will be able to discuss their growth.
  • Maintain online communication systems and/or class websites so parents can always see what is happening in class. It is advisable as well to have an email or social media account students and parents can contact you on with questions if there are any.

Learning is an ongoing process and it seems inadequate and arbitrary to try to label learning along the way when it looks so different for so many students. But since many of us are in the situation that does require grades, we must make sure students and parents aren’t surprised when progress reports or report cards come. Even if your comments are pre-written, make sure to provide meaningful comments to aid in understanding the snapshot you are providing.

What do you do to make sure families are always in the loop their student’s learning? Please share

The opinions expressed in Work in Progress are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.