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March 18, 2021

Hacking Feedback: The Bookends

I have a love-hate relationship with giving feedback. I love how potent a tool it is to help students move their learning forward. I love the occasions when I can get the feedback to students “just for them, just in time, and just helping nudge forward” as John Hattie said, and see their skills blossom. I hate when I see an intimidating pile of student work. I hate when I feel I don’t have time to give ideal feedback. And I hate when I commit time to giving feedback, but it doesn’t help students.

So, I’m spending some time this year re-thinking feedback.

I have three goals guiding my work:

1) Make it more effective. For me, this means students feel the feedback makes sense and shows a way forward, but does NOT spoon-feed or do the work for them.

2) Make it time manageable. I teach high school students English. And I now have a small child. I’m amazed how many are able to make these two realities co-exist. The struggle is real. I need to get students feedback without allowing it to take over my life.

3) Make it a conversation. In order to know how effective feedback is, I need to hear from students. What kind of model am I, as a learner, if I don’t seek their feedback as well? And because feelings matter, deeply matter, to embrace the risks necessary in learning, I want to know how my feedback sits with students by giving them a chance to respond.

Submission Sheets

One terrible teacher-feeling is getting a disappointing piece of student work and not knowing the story behind it. In those cases, my mind runs wild: Were they rushed, or not able to give the assignment the attention they’d wished? Might something be going on outside of class affecting the quality? Have they been confused/lost/frustrated for some time and I’ve been oblivious? In an ideal world, I would be tuned in to every student, with all learning, all the time. Of course, for those of us in the classroom, we know reality does not often have ideal circumstances.

With all summative and other major assignments, I now have students turn in their work with a submission sheet. It asks the following questions:

  • How do you feel about the work you’re submitting?
  • What did you find particularly challenging about this assignment?
  • What do you think is a strength of your work here?
  • What would you like McComb to be sure to give you feedback on, with this assignment?
  • As far as assignments go, did you like this assignment? (Why/why not?)

After listening to a fascinating podcast by Vicki Davis, I will also be adding the question, “How could this assignment be improved?” to the submission sheets. What a great way to get dozens of minds contributing to the improvement process.

I’m really enjoying the value submission sheets bring to my work. The responses to these questions help to focus my feedback and help me get a sense of how students perceive the work they’re submitting, which helps me to more sensitively craft my responses. They also begin the conversation I hope to have about the work.

Response to Feedback

The other book-end to the feedback conversation is the “response to feedback.” When I return these larger assignments to students, I am curious to know how students perceive and process the feedback provided. With this task I ask students the following:

  • Summarize the feedback you received.
  • How was your assignment turned in (hand-written, Word doc, Google doc, Word online)?
  • How useful was your feedback in helping you understand what you did well and/or what you could have done differently to make this writing better? Why?
  • To what degree will this feedback help you with your future writing? Why?
  • How could the feedback be better next time?

The first question helps ensure that students read and process the feedback that’s offered to them. I ask what medium students use to submit their work because each facilitates different strategies to use in response (for instance, voice notes or screencasts vs. annotating and drawing arrows), and looking across responses might help show strengths with certain forms.

The other questions allow me to see how the feedback sits with students, if it’s applicable to growing their skills, and how it could be better in the future.

I’ve already gotten valuable insight into my students as a result of this hacked feedback process. Their responses reaffirm the importance of specificity and presenting an alternative. Patterns across the feedback have led me to ideas for mini-lessons for re-teaching, or skills to re-emphasize within future lessons. But what I am most thankful for are the few times, so far, that these responses have sparked face-to-face conversations with students about their work. Without knowing the disappointment or frustration students feel about their work, we risk not addressing those needs, and so plant the subtle seeds of disengagement and withdrawal.

Do you use submission sheets or responses to feedback in your classroom? How might you integrate this strategy into your class? Do you have thoughts on how these questions, or the process, could be improved?


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