Sunday, January 26, 2014

The Changing Face of Feedback

This month's #blogamonth theme is feedback - how do we give it? How do we receive it? What sort of a difference does it make in our classes?

As teachers, we all learn what feedback should be: timely, specific and encouraging. When it comes to marking, that's such a nice dream, but it never seems to work that way. My marking, like most others', piles up at what feels like an exponential rate. Tests and quizzes are usually returned "in a timely manner," but worksheets and larger assignments... well, let's just say not-so-timely. And as much as I would like to give as much written feedback as possible, I haven't yet found a way (squished in margins, on sticky notes, pre-fab assessment chits) that works well for me.

This school year, with the consistent use of learning goals and daily progress measured in exit slips, my delivery of feedback has changed dramatically.

With the exit slips (which are handed in throughout the period, not just at the end), the single-question format allows me to either assess it right there on the spot (telling the student they got it right, or returning it with verbal feedback to try again), or that very evening if it's a particularly busy class and I don't see it right away.

When students come in the next day, they immediately gravitate toward the tracking board. If they see their most recent learning goal coloured in, they know they can move on to the next one. If it's not coloured in, they usually find me before I can get to them - "Can I see what I did wrong?"

Students checking our tracking board during class

It's an efficient system that allows me to be both timely and specific to each student. The slips that get delivered back at the beginning of the next class are accompanied by one-on-one feedback as to how the student can succeed on the next attempt. Students are given as many chances as they need to master the goal before moving on, receiving feedback all along the way.

In class itself, with the students learning more-or-less independently, I have more time to circulate and check-in with students personally. I find students are more likely to ask questions if you happen to be right there beside them, rather than seeking the teacher out at the front of the class themselves.

I'm very happy with how these new-to-me practices are working in class, but there's still lots of room for improvement. 

As students hand in investigations or projects, because each student is at their own place in the course, the work tends to not get handed back (my students seem to work so well together that they think nothing of copying each other's work, and I'm trying to avoid that), and the feedback is lost. 

Creating student inquiry portfolios - accessible to students but remaining in the classroom - is something I'll be trying with a new batch of students this coming semester.

On the flip side, I also want to receive more feedback from my students on how I'm doing as their teacher, and how they feel they are progressing in the course. Are weekly check-ins a possible solution? Should it become part of their assessment to give me feedback, and feedback on their learning environment? And how can I get feedback to the parents in a more efficient manner? 

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