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Tag: Formative assessment

Student Feedback Loops

A few years ago, edutopia, an excellent resource for faculty teaching at all levels, shared an article by Taylor Meredith on student feedback loops. Meredith writes, “A feedback loop is a process of checking for and affirming understanding that is specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on a learning target.”

What Are Student Feedback Loops?

This process aims to move learning forward through feedback. Ideally, this feedback loop would happen frequently, in all subject areas. Meredith offers these steps as a way to start the process:

1. Begin With an Aim

An aim is a learning target or essential question that is unpacked from the standards, a part of a learning progression that is clearly communicated to the students at the beginning of each lesson.

2. Feedback Exchange

Feedback should be specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on the aim. If the aim for the day is that readers should structure reasons to develop a compelling argument in a research-based essay, all feedback exchanged should be focused on that aim.

3. Revision and Application

In order for feedback to be effective, students must be given time to revise and apply their new understandings or ideas. Susan Brookhart and Connie Moss, authors of Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders, speak of the Golden Second Opportunity, that moment when feedback is grasped and applied. When a student takes the feedback, makes changes to his or her work, and as a result moves a step closer to meeting the desired learning of the day’s aim, then the loop has started. It is authentic, purposeful learning. The teacher begins the process, but the student owns it.

4. Reflection

Closing the loop is time to reflect on the aim. Did students meet the desired learning of the day’s aim? Could they move to a different level of proficiency? Could they ask for more feedback? Are there any other areas to revise?

In student feedback loops, students are the ones who drive this process. The teacher supports the students by clearly defining a structure for feedback, modeling effective feedback, highlighting critical student feedback, and participating when necessary.

That’s Meredith’s approach to giving students feedback. Let’s look at the feedback process as a way to improve your teaching. Consider formative assessments such as the Minute Paper as a way to solicit comments from students about the class lesson or a just completed project. Spend several minutes at the end of class and have students do a quick write (anonymously) to determine if they had difficulties, felt the directions weren’t clear, or perhaps they were able to correctly summarize the topic. Using formative assessments to hear what students have to say about your class can help improve our dialogue with students, and help students develop a sense of belonging. If you collect student feedback, though, make sure you respond, and that your response comes quickly. Tell students what you learned (For example: I heard you say that the directions on the project weren’t clear, and I will make sure to check in with you about directions before the next project is assigned.)

Learn more about using formative assessments in your classes by reading this edutopia article, 7 Smart, Fast Ways to Do Formative Assessment.


Visible Learning for Teachers

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Is Innovation Just a Buzzword?

Have you been to a conference or a meeting on campus recently where the word innovation WASN’T used? It seems to be a buzzword not just in the halls of academia but in the business world as well. What does it mean to be innovative, and how do we incorporate innovations into our teaching practices?  defines the verb to innovate as: to introduce something new; make changes in anything established. Does innovation mean revolution? No – it can mean small changes, incremental changes, to your daily work. Think Small Teaching by James Lang, a book I wrote about in an early post. Lang writes about “back pocket techniques” that you can have at the ready to enhance student learning. I wish I had known that innovations could be small when I first started teaching. 

In my first several years in the classroom I struggled to “get things right” and when things started to go smoothly, I did what many of us do: I rested on my laurels. At that point I was mostly concerned about covering the material each day and not evidence of student learning.  Since then I have taken to heart this quote by 19th Century Clergyman William Pollard, “Learning and innovation go hand-in-hand. The arrogance of success is to think that what you did yesterday is sufficient for tomorrow.”

So, it’s not critical that you re-invent your course or yourself. What about starting with one small task next week? Yes, planning for innovation is a good way to make sure it happens. Consider this: On Monday, start class with this activity. Say to students: Before I introduce the next topic to explore in class, please find a partner and discuss the big topics we have learned so far. Make a list and be ready to describe how they are related.

Opening class with a “retrieval” activity will let you know how well students have actually learned the material, and is a great way to help students to see the big picture of the topics in the course. I should note that the first time you introduce an activity like this you may be surprised how difficult it is for students. I can tell you from experience that not all my innovative practices were a resounding success! Don’t throw away an activity just because it doesn’t work as well as you’d like the first time around.

Are there innovative practices that you’d like to share? We’d love to hear about them!

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Formative Assessment Podcast

A new podcast on Formative Assessment is now available for your viewing pleasure.  If you prefer text, access this Formative Assessment transcript.  This episode is a condensed version of a Teaching and Tools workshop held April 19, 2017 at Everett Community College.  The EvCC eLearning webpage includes a list of upcoming events and other workshops that may be of interest to you.  Check back for the latest developments and announcements!

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Does feedback enhance learning?

Each month I meet with a group of faculty in the New Faculty Academy to discuss chapters in the book How Learning Works: 7 research-based principles for smart teaching (Susan Ambrose, Michael Bridges, Michele DiPietro, Marsha Lovette, Marie Norman). Our discussions allow us to do a deep dive into our classroom practices, and because the faculty come from different disciplines and teaching experiences, there are always rich conversations that enhance our own learning.

Recently we discussed the chapter “What kinds of practice and feedback enhance learning?” There are 2 kinds of feedback that we tend to give students: formative and summative. Many of us rely solely on summative feedback, such as exams, projects, or papers. I recently heard someone describe the case of relying on exams alone as doing an “autopsy” on student work. Formative assessment is a way, as the authors state, to focus on ways to help students “work smarter.” The authors believe that “feedback plays” a critical role in “keeping learners’ practice moving toward improvement.”  Formative feedback that you might be familiar with would include things like the minute paper or the PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter feedback. Both of these address student learning and allow the instructor to make changes in their classroom practice in real time. Using the minute paper at the end of a class asking students to summarize the main ideas of the day allows an instructor to reflect on whether they were successful in getting those main ideas across. A PLUS/DELTA mid-quarter assessment allows students to comment on what’s working in the class to promote their learning (PLUS) and what changes they’d like to see in the class to help them learn better (DELTA).

Here is a short list of the strategies that the authors suggest for targeted feedback:

  • Look for patterns of errors in student work
  • Prioritize your feedback
  • Provide feedback at the group level
  • Design frequent opportunities to give feedback
  • Require students to specify how they used feedback in subsequent work

Of these, I am most interested in knowing whether you have ever used the last type of feedback. Would this be valuable to you, the instructor, and to students? Do you think it would help students to connect the dots between different assignments?

If you’d like to learn more about other kinds of formative assessments, please connect with me!


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