“I don’t know, I thought I was doing OK!”
The student was sincere. He felt he had been keeping up in his English course. I was acting in an advising role and asked him to walk me through the assignments and learning opportunities from the class. As he detailed the course the issue became painfully clear: he had never been given feedback on the specific skills graded in his most recent essay
Granted, he had not sought out feedback himself, but either way it was evident:
He didn’t know what he didn’t know because nobody had told him so.
Feedback from formative assessment fills the instructional gap between the act of content delivery and the details students still need to learn. In our recent Lunch and Learn we tuned in to Dr. Ollie Dreon’s webinar Incorporating 360 Degree Assessment into your Classroom. Dr. Dreon describes 360 Degree Assessment as the act of using three methods of formative assessment in concert: Instructor, Peer, and Self-assessment.
By utilizing these three levels of assessment and feedback students are not likely to escape in ignorance of what they don’t know.
Instructor Feedback and the Keys to Effective Feedback
A great article by Grant Wiggins called Seven Keys to Effective Feedback helps instructors navigate the complexities of giving effective feedback. As the title suggests, Wiggins describes seven essential characteristics of effective instructor feedback:
- Goal-Referenced – Technically, unless a person receiving feedback has a specific goal and has taken some step towards achieving it, what they’re receiving really isn’t feedback. The learner’s awareness of the goal is directly linked to the effectiveness of the feedback.
- Tangible and Transparent – According to Wiggins, if our feedback is vague – such as commenting on a student paper that a sentence is “Vague!” – then our feedback “is opaque.” The word “vague” as feedback is as clear to the student as his or her sentence was to the teacher. It leads only to further muddying of the water. Feedback should be so clear that “anyone who has a goal can learn from it,” in the same way that a joke results in laughter (laughter being the feedback).
- Actionable – “Good Job!” and “Keep it up!” are not actionable whether you are an athlete or a student. What was good? What should I keep doing? To be actionable, feedback should be specific and useful. An observation of a lacking skill, competency, or requirement provides information a student can use towards achieving a goal.
- User-Friendly – Put another way, it should be geared towards the student receiving the feedback. Feedback geared towards a sophomore calculus student is not “user-friendly” to a first semester developmental math student. Feedback should also only contain so much information as is necessary to address a specific goal or issue. Too much feedback is not effective.
- Timely – Feedback should be provided at the first opportunity that does not interrupt performance. Don’t give feedback on someone’s essay as they are typing. But, don’t wait weeks, either. Generally, feedback is best as soon as the activity or project is completed (within the bounds of your schedule and sanity, of course).
- Ongoing – Feedback after giving a final grade is often, to the student, a moot point. Unless revision or another attempt is allowed, the feedback will be minimally effective. This is where the “formative” of formative assessment comes in: by providing feedback and an opportunity to revise or revisit a learning experience students actually get a chance to put the feedback into action and “reform” their learning.
- Consistent – Feedback should be aimed at the same definition of high-quality work within and between classes.
To boil it down: feedback is intended for growth. If it isn’t helping students recognize a gap between their performance and a learning goal in a specific, actionable, ongoing manner, it’s not feedback.
I encourage you to visit Grant Wiggins article for further examples and descriptions.
I Object! With what time…?
A common challenge to providing instructor feedback is “With what time?”
Or in street terms: “Aint nobody got time for that!”
Wiggins addresses this head on:
“Although the universal teacher lament that there’s no time for such feedback is understandable, remember that “no time to give and use feedback” actually means “no time to cause learning.”
This blunt response stands on the reality of learning: reflection and practice create memory (cause learning), content delivery simply provides the information necessary.
Time saving tips:
- Cut out feedback that isn’t “effective!” If it doesn’t fit the seven keys mentioned above, does it need to be provided?
- Consider recording feedback. Many systems provide the ability to record feedback for students as audio files, rather than writing it out. The time may be similar, but more feedback can be provided in 15 seconds of talking than the same amount of time spent writing. Check out this example: Recording Student Feedback
- Audio Memo apps allow teachers to record feedback on an iPad, save it as an audio file, and then share with students.
And, when the reality that there isn’t always time sets in, lean on your students and incorporate peer feedback.
Using peer feedback can be complicated and messy.
However, peer feedback provides multiple benefits for students. The act of considering another student’s work requires an understanding of the learning goal. Critical analysis of other work often causes students to realize what is lacking in their own. The repeated practice and consideration of material is also likely to reinforce learning. And sometimes we need someone else to point out the flaws we are blind to in our own work.
Two keys to successful peer feedback are structure and training. First, teachers should provide a clear guiding structure and language for peers to provide feedback to one another. Second, the students should be trained in how to use the procedure provided.
The Association of College and University Educators (ACUE) has established several methods of creating peer feedback structure and providing guidance for your students:
Another way of structuring peer feedback is to have students consider their peers work as framed by a rubric. This method is also great for self-assessment and feedback.
Giving oneself feedback, or using metacognition, has powerful implications for thinking and learning.
By considering my own work according to a standard (as is outlined in a rubric) I am forced to recognize the places my work falls short. Students who consider their own work using a rubric are often more critical of their work than an outsider, as well as being more likely to make improvements.
Consider doing the following:
- Provide students with a student friendly rubric to assess their rough draft prior to turning it in and give them time for revisions.
- Create a checklist based on the rubric that students use to review an assignment that is concise and easy to apply to the work they are reviewing
- Given several key concepts, have students rate themselves on their ability to explain or describe the content (using a Likert scale, filling in a bar graph, or similar representation).
Not One, Not Two, but ALL Three
Each form of assessment and feedback has an impact on student learning by itself. Together the effect is amplified.
A student who has reflected on his own rough draft, written a second draft based on peer feedback, and revised a third draft based on instructor feedback will have learned a great deal about the writing process.
A student who checks her first attempt at a conceptual problem in calculus using a rubric designed checklist, then reviews the process with a peer, has a much greater chance of understanding and implementing her teacher’s feedback on subsequent attempts.
By wrapping the student’s work in feedback the opportunities for learning increase greatly.