Feedback in the Remote Setting
Updated: Sep 28, 2020
Feedback is arguably the most critical and powerful aspect of teaching. That being said, how is giving meaningful feedback feasible with our current teaching conditions?
Feedback looks a whole lot different now than it did when I was in school. It used to be that work was done with paper and pencil or using Microsoft Word and printed. Teachers’ bags were always heavy with schoolwork. During these years, professional development often included the question “Is using a red pen a bad thing?” and feedback came at the end of an assignment in the form of a handwritten note, scribbled at the top of a page. Now, while we can agree that feedback is done mostly digitally, the question of what constitutes good feedback isn’t always clear. If you were to go around LCS and ask educators “What is feedback?” You would probably get a variety of responses ranging from “comments” to “pros and cons” to “criterion” to “criticism.” However, John Hattie found that if you ask a student the same question, “What is feedback?” more often than not, the student will tell you it is a grade, and when given feedback in any other form, it’s likely that this student will claim they never received any. Ultimately, Hattie defined feedback as “information provided by an agent (ex. teacher, friend, parent, etc) that fills the gap between what is understood and what is aimed to be understood.”
For feedback to be valuable it must be timely, written with a clear goal in mind, and given in the midst of learning. In addition, we know that for new learnings to “stick” students must encounter multiple opportunities for understanding and engagement, and that feedback is important each step along the way. Because students can’t learn from continued practice of misconceptions, they must have varied tasks with varied feedback, making a teacher’s job that much more difficult. What makes feedback even more challenging is that feedback in one situation can be highly valuable, but the same feedback in another can be meaningless.
For example, James Gleeson, a teacher in Australia identified 6 types of errors common in students’ mathematics: (Hattie, John. Visible Learning: Feedback (p. 33). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition. )
Reading Error: The student misread the question
Acquisition of Knowledge: The student doesn’t appear to have the knowledge to be able to answer the question
Strategic: Has demonstrated knowledge, but when given a novel question in context does not appear to know the ideas or procedures needed
Execution of Knowledge: Student has demonstrated understanding and ability to identify procedures, but makes mistakes perhaps due to rushing, or “careless” error
Calculations: Mathematical error adding, subtracting, order of operations, etc
Findings: Did not present findings in required way (ex: units) to show complete understanding/application
Identifying the “whys” behind student errors can help us to provide more meaningful feedback, and once the reason behind needing feedback has been established, we can then figure out the tech tool that will be most useful.
A growing number of studies show that technology enhances the possibility of better feedback for students, as it allows flexibility in the modality and timing of analysis. As feedback is stored online, it offers further flexibility in allowing students to return to it wherever and whenever they need to review. Expanding on the table above, let’s add the technology that may be valuable for each reason for feedback:
In order to provide appropriate feedback, we must first understand what students are thinking and what they do or do not know. Software such as Flipgrid, and the options of inserting audio or video into Google applications helps us to “see” and hear students’ thinking when they are not in the classroom. Not only that, but applications such as Flipgrid and Jamboard also allow for peer feedback once initial understandings have been achieved.
Asking good questions of the whole class and individuals during “walkabouts” is a teacher’s main technique in collecting on the spot data during class. Moving beyond the typical “What is the answer?” to “What do you mean by…” can be done using educational technology like ClassKick, PearDeck, or Nearpod that allows you to give immediate feedback synchronously. Edpuzzle is another helpful tool that assesses student learning as they progress through a video or lesson.
But how can knowing these tech tools help reduce the time you spend giving feedback to your students? Let’s take a look at some feedback tools below and how they can be used to give you more time back.
Finally, teachers, when finding the balance between effectiveness and sustainability, keep in mind these 6 rules:
Not every assignment needs your full attention. For any student, plan on giving in-depth, specific feedback in 1 out of every 4 assignments.
Periodically, let students self assess by identifying their learning goal and answering the feedback questions of “What am I doing?” “Where am I now?” and “Where am I going?”
Use technology strategically. Plan your assignments first, then decide how and what technology can support both learning and feedback.
Try peer feedback. Instead of you looking over everything, provide a rubric and allow peers to support one another.
Recognize busy work. Not every new concept needs an assignment. Keep in mind those “I can” statements when deciding what requires feedback.
Have students turn in their “best work.” When students complete multiple assignments, have them pick which best represents their learning to turn in. Provide feedback on only that assignment.
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