Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Chapter 5: Use Effective Feedback

The author begins with a good reminder for us all: “Grades” and “Learning” are not synonyms. Grades give teachers a way of quantifying what they communicate to parents, how they make placement or promotion decisions, and when to provide incentive or remediation.  To summarize how I interpret Jackson’s into: 
GRADES DO NOT (always) HELP KIDS LEARN.
Effective feedback should inform students (and parents) about how to do better.  It should tell students where they are in relation to the achievement of the objective/standard/expectation, and exactly what they need to do in order to get there. (Remember Chapter 3: Expect To Get Your Students There?)  “You are at Point A. you need to get to Point B. How are we going to get you from here to there?”  You’re not evaluating, you’re defining (or helping kids define):
Situation à Target à Path
Obviously, there are numerous ways to gather evidence and opportunities for feedback.  We call them by many names: assignments, homework, in-class activities, quizzes, tests, performance assessments, projects, reports, and on and on. 
The first trick is to change it up frequently.  Remember: Start Where Your Students Are (Chapter 1) and Support Your Students (Chapter 4).  Develop relationships with your kids so you know each of them as a learner.  Neither you nor they will know what the next teacher down the road is going to throw at them, so help them become more successful at a broad range of assessment types.
Next, and this is my viewpoint, find a balance in the frequency at which you offer assessments & feedback.  Kids want to be validated every day, and sometimes every minute of every day, but that’s not always practical for the teacher.  Develop ways to offer verbal feedback, through questioning techniques, conferencing, etc.  Instead of a big test at the end of a unit, could you administer shorter quizzes more frequently?  (Remember from Chapter 4 – don’t wait until kids fail to assess learning, give feedback, and apply supports.) Try using rubrics with clear “kid-friendly” descriptors that can help speed up the process for you.
Help kids collect and analyze their own data.  Psychologists call this “metacognition,” and there are few activities that work one’s “Big Brain” harder or more effectively than this.  Develop the expectation that kids keep track of their own progress, and build in opportunities to help them do so.  Help kids develop “learning portfolios” that contain good work as well as work that shows areas where they can make progress.  Clearly relate these activities to a student’s “grade” and progress toward meeting standards/expectations.  Help kids understand how & why they might fail, too, before the failure occurs.  Consider opportunities to retake tests or resubmit assignments, too.

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