Umm, What About Feedback?

As a former teacher, it can be….tricky… to navigate my own kids’ experiences in school. For example, I recently received the following email from my son’s English teacher: 

I don’t return practice or minor assignments back with feedback to students. The grading process is lengthy and it doesn’t yield to giving work back with commentary all the time.”

I shared the email with my sister-in-law, also a teacher. Two weeks later she sent me a picture of a rubric my nephew received consisting of a list of categories with numbers listed below each category. 

As parents, we are frustrated by the lack of feedback. How can our students possibly hope to improve if they don’t know what they need to work on? 

As teachers, we realize that the demands on teachers and their time are only increasing. How can we possibly ask them to do more? 

The feedback my son and nephew received (or rather, didn’t receive) got me thinking about my own professional experience with student feedback. Assessment was an integral part of my teacher certification program as well as the PD I received as a teacher. But, little (if any) time was spent on discussing how to provide feedback to students beyond a summative grade. I distinctly remember attending a PD early in my career where my AP said, “I should be able to walk into your classes and you should be able to tell me what any one of your students can and cannot do.” As a new high school teacher with over 150 students I thought, “Ha! Yeah right.” But, I took that challenge to heart. I created standards-aligned lessons and assessments, formatively assessed students for learning, and used the results of those assessments to inform my teaching and create differentiated instructional groups. 

In retrospect, though, I realize that although I knew what each student could and couldn’t do, I didn’t always include the student in that understanding. If I had provided students with specific feedback on what they’d mastered and what they still needed to work on,  it would have helped them share ownership of their learning, leading to increased engagement and achievement. 

Despite research on the importance of effective feedback for students, my experience with feedback doesn’t appear to be unique. Educator friends and colleagues report similar experiences with little time spent in teaching programs or PDs discussing what makes feedback effective or ineffective, the role of students in the feedback process, and the impact great feedback can have on students’ skills and abilities, motivation, and academic achievement. 

The emphasis on state tests and student growth that is present in most school districts places a lot of pressure on teachers. The formula prescribed by teaching programs and school PDs to achieve student growth generally follows what I did: teachers create lessons by backwards mapping applicable standards, formatively assess student progress, and use those formative assessments to inform future instruction, differentiating as needed. Inviting the student along on their journey of mastering standards by providing them with feedback is not usually identified as part of the process. Teaching is hard. Good teaching is even harder. Providing effective feedback can be time-consuming, but research tells us that it is an integral component of engaging students in the learning process. 

I’m so excited to be part of a team at Opportunity Education (OE) working on free tools and resources that make providing feedback to students easier. A few of these free tools and resources are highlighted below. You can start using them today to help save time and provide feedback to students.

  • Feedback doesn’t always have to come from the teacher! Students can also provide feedback to themselves and to peers. Consider sharing this infographic with students before asking them to give peer feedback.
    • This free lesson planning tool Giving and Receiving Peer Feedback provides ideas and tools for implementing peer feedback in the classroom. 
    • This free Peer Feedback Bingo template and example shows how peers could provide feedback to each other by identifying particular components of a research paper in a bingo grid. The template could easily be modified to be used in a variety of classroom settings.
    • Additional lesson planning resources are available for free here

If you’re interested in learning more about how to give effective feedback or how to support your colleagues through PD on this topic, check out the resources below. You can also reach out to our team at teachers@opportunityeducation.org

  • This white paper, Moving Forward with Effective Feedback, describes effective feedback, its importance, and suggestions and tools for implementing it. 
  • A variety of professional development resources, including some that are grab-and-go, can be found here [check the box next to feedback to filter for feedback resources].
  • OE also offers a professional learning course, Effective Feedback for Supporting Active Learning, on effective feedback.
  • Feedback Forward is a free browser extension, available in early 2024, that allows teachers to give fast, useful, and customizable feedback to students.

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