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  • Erin Comninaki

Efficient and Effective Feedback in the Remote Setting

Updated: Sep 13, 2020

I have to be honest. When I was in the classroom, I hated grading. There were times early in my teaching that students would hand in papers that would then go back and forth between school and home more times than I’d like to admit without ever coming out of my school bag. Eventually, I would spend hours pouring over these assignments to provide meaningful feedback to each student, only to realize it wasn’t timely, and the students only cared about their grade, and not what I cared about--the learning.

Matthew Miller, author of Flash Feedback, points out that when you give students grades and feedback at the same time, students will spend more time focused on the grade than on the feedback they receive every single time. So if we just delay the grade, students will focus on the feedback you’re giving.

Grades and feedback are very different things, but also very much intertwined. As we continue in this weird world of remote learning where students are having more choice in the pace and place of their learning, and assignments are rolling in at all hours, we could easily become overwhelmed with feeling as though we must look over every assignment to give a grade. But what is the reason for giving these grades?

To go back to my initial story of long hours offering students feedback just to find out they only focused on the grade, it’s because once a student “turns in” an assignment, they feel they are done. It has been checked off the list, completed, and they are now ready to move on to the next task. So what if we try and shift thinking away from “turning in” work for points, to “submitting assignments” for feedback, delaying the grade just a little longer? Would it hurt to allow students to practice skills and standards without the risk of failing grades?

This idea takes me back to track practice with Coach Camden (hey Coach, ya still got that “Stop Whining” shirt?) back in high school. Each interval practice he would come to the track with his clipboard and give us our workout for the day and the interval times expected of us. And like in the classroom, not everyone was running the same amount or the same pace. On those dreaded 10 x 400m practices, he would tell me how fast he wanted each interval, and then would mark down my actual time. At times I ran too fast, and other times too slow. But on those days where I didn’t make any of my times and wished I was anywhere else, I wasn’t kicked off the team. Instead, he would take this feedback to figure out how to better support me at the next practice. And while I had practice every day, my “grade” didn’t come until the meets, where the times counted for a place and standing. So in sports, it makes sense to not test too much, for fear of burn out and injury, but in the classroom we often feel this need to plug in grades almost daily. Would it be better for us to approach teaching as coaches do with their teams, where most of the work we do is simply for practice?

This year especially, when we can be overwhelmed by so much going on, we need to keep in mind that as we assign work, we’re looking to collect learning and not just grades. As Dr. Thomas Guskey from the University of Kentucky stated "There is no research to support giving kids a low score as motivating, in fact the opposite, it causes kids to quit and give up," and therefore it’s important to ask yourself the question, “Why am I putting this in the gradebook?” Does the grade show summative results and learning gained after a lot of practice, or is it simply an indication of participation and completion?

When creating content and assignments for our students, we need to keep the end goal in mind. What concept are we looking to have them master and what is the most efficient/effective way in the remote setting to do that? LCS has a great start in that our “I can” statements, created in our pods, are consistent across the division. Now, just as we would first place a destination in our GPS when driving to a new location, and then pay attention to each turn along the way, we need to consider the same in our instruction. Instead of starting with a topic, we’d be better starting with an end goal, which would in turn drive the technology we choose to use. In this backwards planning model we identify what students should be able to do, create the assessment/performance task that will measure that learning and then create the lessons that will prepare students for this assessment. Once these items have been identified, then we can consider appropriate tech tools, how we can provide feedback and what we need to grade.

As we dive into this topic more over the next two weeks we want to consider what makes feedback effective, and how technology can make feedback both more effective and efficient. In addition, once we move beyond feedback, and are ready to grade, how can we ensure the grades measure learning gains and don’t keep us up and working all hours of the night? These topics we hope to not only cover but provide tech tools you can use to make feedback and grading more effective and efficient.

For more on the topics of backwards design and delayed grading I encourage you to check out Jennifer Gonzalez’s podcast and blog “The Cult of Pedagogy.”

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