Sunday, December 14, 2014

Does Feedback Need to Be Used In Class? (Post 8 of 10)

I chat with people about feedback and revision online. Here's what I notice.

  • Everybody agrees that feedback is important.
  • Most teachers agree that revision is important. 
  • Very few teachers are giving students a chance to revise their classwork in class.

What are teachers asking students to do with their feedback? They either loosen the "in class" or the "revise their classwork" requirement of that revise their classwork in class formula:
  • Kids are given the option to resubmit their work, but they're expected to do the revision on their own, outside of class.
  • Kids are given feedback and they have future chances to improve their performance on a different, but related problem. (I'm really thinking of the SBG crowd, here.)

This post is here to report that I haven't had much success with either of these common practices. If I want every student to work on something, I find that I need to ask them to work on it in class. And I find that if I just give feedback without giving students a chance to use that feedback (more-or-less) immediately, that feedback tends to be just another thing that I've said instead of something that sticks.

Maybe things are different for your kids? I really have no clue, and would love to know.

In sum, here are some questions that I have.

  1. Do your kids remember feedback that they don't immediately use in some further classwork?
  2. Are there ways to ensure that your students are thinking about the feedback that you give without asking them to use that feedback on a problem?
  3. What's the theory behind how feedback helps students do better on future tasks, if they aren't using that feedback to practice? 
  4. Do your kids do quality work outside of class? I've never really been able to coax quality out-of-school work from children but kids write essays so it must be possible.
This is the eighth post in a series on feedback. To read the rest of the posts click here.


  1. Michael, I agree with your premise that it is best to expect all kids to revise their work *during class.* I would add that the ideal norm is to then have them re-submit their work and hear your response *during that same class.* Have kids line up and show you their work one at a time. You glance at it quickly to see where their thinking breaks down (if at all), acknowledge the parts they did right, then give them a one sentence cue about how to do the next right thing.

    Challenges with this approach: 1) getting to all 30+ kids in a class period. 2) Finding productive work for kids to do when their product has already met standard. 3) Limitations: can't be reading intensive -- needs to be the sort of thing where you know what you're expecting to see, and then look to see if it's there. i.e. you're not really looking for divergent thinking if you're doing this with each kid during the period (and teaching some other lesson that period also!).

  2. One further thought: you mention the 1) revise work on current problem approach, versus 2) do a new problem approach. To get the most from our students, I think we need to do both. i.e. make kids correct their work on the current problem until it meets standards for mastery, with opportunities to discuss common errors/deficiencies with their peers and their teacher, then expect at some future time that they do a new problem and demonstrate mastery on that problem also.

    In other words, all students should have students work problem A *correctly,* and then have a subsequent opportunity to work problem B. The teacher can judge his/her effectiveness by keeping a simple tally: how many kids met *all standards* on task A? how many on task B?

    In my ideal teaching world, no grades get recorded until a certain high percentage of students have shown mastery on the task.

  3. Hi Michael,

    I completely agree with you here, as it fits right in with the struggle I've had about SBG. I quiz students with 1 - 2 questions at the beginning of class, and then rush to grade the quizzes, enter a grade for the relevant standards, and get them back to students. I also want to (a) provide time during class to do reassessments on standards students select, (b) have time to introduce new material, and then set students off to work out the details themselves, and (c) have class discussions that capitalize on the math content and the social capital in the room. All of these give me opportunities to give feedback right away, feedback that can immediately be used by students.

    I can't make all four activities happen every class - usually there's time for only two or three max. Students have reported, however, that feedback received during class time through these quizzes are the most beneficial. As a result, I've tried to deliberately plan time for this every class, as of this semester. That might mean I do ten minutes of non-interactive direct instruction (as opposed to a more socratic style) because that means there is more time for me to float between students for the rest of the period and give feedback to students.

    The main issue with out-of-class work is that many students lack the self-awareness necessary to identify what they need feedback on. Some can identify where they get stuck, and that's the end of it. There's something productive about two students getting stuck at the same point, in the same room, at the same time. There's also a lot to be said for an experienced teacher giving the right nudge to push a student to make progress in understanding. I have yet to see any non-human interaction (i.e. technological solution) that has the same effect.


    1. For sure. And I'd argue that this "self-awareness" is really indistinguishable from knowledge. Learning math is learning a certain kind of self-awareness. In other words, kids don't know enough to do these problems on their own.

    2. An interesting aspect of moving into IB this year is the emphasis on teaching this awareness. In much of the official IB documentation about teaching and learning, there are descriptions of how students should learn to manage the struggle of challenging material and become better learners over time.

      The difficult part I see is that if the IB program is the first time students have this experience, it might be too late. Obviously we should be doing this in the earlier stages too.

      Getting back to the role of feedback, it is uncommon that students will develop those skills without an experienced learner (read: teacher) reminding them that struggling is normal for difficult concepts, and then asking the right question to get moving. I've told many students this year that if they are spending two hours on my class at night, something is wrong. I'd rather they instead spend thirty productive minutes with me after school or in class.

  4. As an instructional coach in a middle school...I don't get as many opportunities as I'd like to work directly with students. We've had an 8th grade teacher leave...and I've been charged with planning the lessons for the long term sub, and have often been co-teaching in this classroom.
    So, I've been able to try something new that seems to be successful--students have reported that it's useful and they really like it.
    On Fridays...they take their weekly quiz. The long term sub marks it for me without any feedback directly on the quiz. The quizzes have about 10-12 problems. Over the weekend, I make each quiz problem it's on page. I then use colorful stickie notes and write sort of "think-abouts" based on what I know re: the typical mistakes. It's essentially the feedback that I would have given them individually. Each of these one-pagers get posted around the room like stations. The students get their quizzes back on Monday...and one of the tasks that they need to complete is to go around the room to the problems that they need to revise and read the "think-abouts" in order to make their corrections. They make their corrections in a colored pencil.
    Like I said...the students have reported really liking this activity.