Thursday, January 18, 2018

Feedback is useless.... Unless

All day today I had this feeling that I needed to blog and when I got home, I found out that Jennifer (@HHSmath) had started a new MTBoS blog initiative called #MTBoSblog18 where you blog *something* on the 18th of the month, every single month of 2018.  Now that's a blogging challenge that I think I might actually be able to do! :)

Over the past few weeks, @pamjwilson and I have been reading Embedding Formative Assessment by Wiliam and Leahy.  If you know me at all, you know I love a good #EduRead, but we've been taking this one pretty slow, with a chapter every 2 weeks or so to give us time to research and implement the strategies.  This past weekend was a long weekend for both of us, so we had arranged to read and chat over Chapter 5 - "Feedback that Moves Learning Forward"

Feedback is one of those difficult topics for me.  I know I need to give feedback, but the key is how to give *effective* feedback.  In the chapter, the authors actually share that a lot of the research on feedback isn't very valid due to issues such as a lack of a control group, varying experimental conditions, etc, but there were still some really good nuggets of information, such as this one...

The only thing that matters with feedback is the reaction of the recipient.  No matter how well designed, if the student doesn't act on it, then the feedback was a waste of time.

In other words, feedback is useless UNLESS the student reacts to it and uses it to improve their learning.  I'll admit, that kind of hurts.  I mean, I spend time writing thoughtful comments and hints on their papers, but they aren't taking the same time to read and process those comments. 

But then the sucker punch came....

Don't give feedback unless you allocate class time for students to respond.  If it's worth your time to generate the feedback, it's worth taking instruction time to ensure students respond.

Do I have systems in place for students to read and process my comments?  Have I set aside class time to model how to interpret and respond to my comments?  And key question - have I taught my students HOW to use the feedback as a tool to improve their learning?

Those were the thoughts rumbling about in my head while I was lesson planning on Monday.  Because of the holiday, this was a short week and I knew my students had a lab report due in Forensics on Tuesday.  Could I figure out a way to implement some of these feedback strategies to help my students write better lab reports?  I knew I wouldn't have time to read and give feedback in a timely manner on 30+ lab reports, so Plan B was born - we could do Peer Reviews! 

In most of our science classes, we use a CER format, which stands for Claims, Evidence, Reasoning.  In general, for Forensics, we use this format more when we have "Casefile" lab where the students have to make a Claim about who did (or didn't) commit the crime, and then back it up by citing their Evidence and then explaining their Reasoning on how they logically came to that conclusion and how they eliminated the other suspects.

We gave them a few minutes at the beginning of class to finish up their CER and refresh on the Casefile from the previous Friday.  Then, we asked them to exchange with another student that was NOT in their lab group.  The student reviewer was to read the CER and provide feedback in terms of a "stars and wishes" - what the original author had done well and what could be improved.  During this time, they were not to talk at all, just read and write.  Then, they returned the paper to the original owner and talked over the feedback and asking clarifying questions.  Finally, we gave the students time to use the peer feedback to revise their CER before turning it in. 

While I have some other strategies from this chapter that I want to try, my biggest take-away is that I need to have a systemic approach to feedback.  I need to spend some time thinking about how to teach my students to read the feedback, but more importantly, how to USE the feedback.  I have to build time into my classes for students to receive feedback and actually implement that feedback to improve their learning.

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