Feedback, in essence, is evaluation.  When given at the end of a project or unit, it’s summative.  When it occurs while the learning is taking place, it’s formative. While both are important, formative evaluation is the most effective, giving the receiver of the information a chance to correct any mistakes. Both, of course, have their place.

It’s best to provide feedback as rapidly as possible. The longer it’s delayed the more distant the learner is from the event, making it difficult to integrate the information in a meaningful way. However, time is only one factor.  The feedback also needs to be meaningful.  Whether you are correcting a written paper or making comments as students are working, what you say should be focused and specific.

“Good job” is not specific feedback. It’s nice to hear but what does it mean?  Far better to add, “Your conclusion clearly sums up the issues and the points you raised.” This is something that can be used in the future.  The learner can see what is considered to be a good conclusion. 

For most people, it’s more challenging to make a negative comment, but these can be even more valuable, especially when the project is still underway.  Saying the sources selected are not authoritative and suggesting the student review the criteria for finding such sources points makes the feedback a learning experience and provides a direction for success.

Don’t overlook receiving your own feedback.  It’s important that you have an accurate picture of how your lesson or a complete project went.  As you see what your students have done and given them constructive feedback, identify what concepts they are getting and which ones are causing them difficulties.

Reflect on this information.  Why were you successful with the concepts they understood and integrated? What kept them from getting other concepts?  How can you reintroduce the difficult ones so they are learned?  And how can you teach it differently in the future so you need not review it from another perspective?

Exit tickets are another way of getting feedback from students.  Come up with thoughtful questions to ask and give the class time to reflect on their responses before ending the lesson. Don’t make it too complicated but give them the chance to decide what they want to let you know.

For example, you can have one box of exit tickets that say, “The most important thing I learned today was….”  A second box of cards might ask, “I’m confused about….,” while a third set has the statement, “I’d like to know more about….”  When students get to choose which card they wish to complete you will get more relevant responses.

Don’t get defensive or upset about getting many “I’m confused about…” cards.  This is your opportunity to refine your teaching.  In addition look carefully at the ones answering “The most important thing I learned today was….”  Are the statements only surface learning?  Did they receive an Enduring Understanding?  Did they deal with the Essential Question? If not, how can you better focus your lessons?

You also need to get feedback from the teachers with whom you work either collaboratively or cooperatively. Don’t just ask, “Did the lesson I gave go all right?”  You most likely will get back a reassuring affirmative answer.  Like, “Good job,” this doesn’t tell you anything.

Although it’s more difficult, and sometimes painful, ask the hard questions to learn how to improve your instruction.  You can start out by asking what they think worked for them and the students and then follow up with, “What didn’t?  Was there something I should have done differently?”

I once did a unit with a general science teacher on composting.  She was passionate about the subject and knew what she wanted students to discover.  I thought I did a great job with the first lesson, but when she got back the initial reports from students they hadn’t located relevant sources.  As is so typical, they grabbed the first two hits.  Even though they had used a database, their searches were not sufficiently refined to target the key ideas.

I retaught the lesson and students did better.  The teacher also realized how she could frame the assignment better.  The following year when we taught it again, the students did much better.  Because they did, the teacher saw ways of continuing to improve the lesson.

Incorporating regular feedback in your dealings with students and teachers will help you do a much better job and improve your students’ learning.

Do you give and get feedback regularly?  How?  Do you use exit tickets?  What are your best questions?

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