Tag Archives: essays

The Power of Feedback: Part Three

12 Jan

thepoweroffeedbackpart-1In parts one and two of my posts of John Hattie’s and Helen Timperley’s The Power of Feedback, I gave a summary of the meta-analysis. I still feel reading the entire document is worth your time, but if you want shorter synopses, go to those posts. Now, I just want to share some final takeaways from the white paper and begin to make some connections to other sources I have been exploring to improve my feedback to students.

wiggins feedback.png

ifstudentscannotimmediately-4TAKEAWAY #3 from “The Power of Feedback”: If students cannot immediately do something with the feedback, research shows you are wasting your time giving it.

This one is common sense really, but the research supports it as well. When students can immediately apply the feedback to improve their work, the feedback is more effective. When it is given for “next time,” little effect is measured.

Due to a variety of factors–the finite time we have to cover a unit, the way we were taught, our own innate ability to connect knowledge and skills–we often give feedback and expect students to apply this feedback the next time. We say things like, “This should help you in future essays” or “You have to learn to stop repeating the same mistakes.” These statements are NOT wrong. Such connection making is critical to a student’s success. On a practical level as well, we need to move on to new material…and so we do.

Research argues, however, that if we want to engage in effective practice with maximum impact, we must stop moving on. We should stop; go back; and re-teach if we are interested in improving mastery. Cover less. Teach more. Certainly, students who can make connections from one essay to the next do improve, but if we are interested in helping as many students as possible achieve, we are more successful when we create situations where students are responsible and accountable for immediately processing and applying the feedback.

Excerpt from “The Power of Feedback.”

“There has been much research on the timing of feedback, particularly contrasting immediate and delayed feedback. Most of this research has been accomplished without recognition of the various feedback levels. For example, immediate error correction during task acquisition (Feedback on Task-FT) can result in faster rates of acquisition, whereas immediate error correction during fluency building can detract from the learning of automaticity and the associated strategies of learning (Feedback on Process-FP). Similarly, in their meta-analysis of 53 studies, Kulik and Kulik (1988) reported that at the task level (i.e., testing situations), some delay is beneficial (0.36), but at the process level (i.e., engaging in processing classroom activities), immediate feedback is beneficial (0.28) (see also Bangert-Drowns, Kulik, Kulik, & Morgan, 1991; Brackbill, Blobitt, Davlin, & Wagner, 1963; Schroth & Lund, 1993; Sturges, 1972, 1978; Swindell & Walls, 1993).” (qtd. in Hattie and Timperley 98)

Now, if you read that excerpt and understood it perfectly, stop reading this post. Just go directly to The Power of Feedback. If you struggled with this excerpt, let me offer my interpretation.

As I am first learning new German vocabulary, immediate correction of mistakes seems to help me learn faster. (Thank you, Duolingo!) Yet, as I try to build this new vocabulary into my natural speech patterns, instant corrections on my mistakes will slow me down and cause angst. (Stop correcting every one of my mistakes, please, my well-intentioned German co-workers.) I spend too much time second guessing my article endings, and my fluency suffers. Yet, after I have achieved a higher level of mastery with this vocabulary and attempt to use it as I write a reflection on my own work, immediate feedback would give me greater benefits.

If I applied this trend to a student learning comma rules, I might give them online quizzes which instantly score themselves as the student learns the rule, but as the student writes a first draft, I could ignore the errors (or just circle some and let the student hunt for the rest when she revises the piece). Yet, after she has displayed sufficient mastery of the rules, I might have her teach another student, while I listened in. While doing so, I could correct any misconceptions in the moment, as the students work, and such immediate corrections would benefit all the students.

Of course, I won’t be able to give such perfectly timed feedback to every student every time. Yet, knowing that, in general, instant feedback seems to help a student at the beginning and “end” of learning will significantly improve the chances of me (or fellow students) giving “just for me information, just when I need it.”

classroom-that-values-failureTAKEAWAY #4 from “The Power of Feedback”: A classroom culture that values failure and encourages revision will make feedback more effective.

I despise this cynical cliche, especially when coming from the mouths of teachers, “Well, you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink.” Rick Wormelli has a great response to this old saw, “As teachers, it’s our job to hand out salt licks!” The research shows us we can (and should) take direct actions that make learning more effective for everyone.

Excerpt from “The Power of Feedback.”

“The climate of the classroom is critical, particularly if disconfirmation and corrective feedback at any level is to be welcomed and used by the students (and teachers). Errors and disconfirmation are most powerful in climates in which they are seen as leading to future learning, particularly relating to processing and regulation” (Hattie and Temperley 100).

In other words, if we want to tell students they are doing something wrong–and we want those same students to reply, “Oh great! I chance for me to improve!”–we have to work to display and nurture a growth mindset in our classrooms. We have to create places where excellent mistakes are celebrated.

Again, common sense and big data show us that students typically only give answers when they are relatively sure of the correct answer. Fostering a climate where failing is welcomed and celebrated can improve the likelihood that corrective feedback is received and used.

As a writing teacher, the area in which I am currently struggling to apply this research is how revision is incorporated into classroom work. This graphic from elireview.com is a touchstone for me. I am working to move toward the “Better” image. I have the “Typical” image down cold and need to unlearn it.

writing pie chart.png

I will dedicate a future blog post to the specific work I have been doing to move toward the better allotment of class time. In this pursuit I find myself pulled back to the methods I learned during my student teaching in a classroom that was modeled around Nancie Atwell’s workshop approach.

What is probably our best tool to create an environment which celebrates mistakes and risks is our individual relationships with students. I am paraphrasing a sentiment I have encountered in many different ways throughout my career, and it is one that always rings true in my heart: a student will not learn from a teacher who does not show him or her love.

Dylan William puts this thought another way:

“… the thing that really matters in feedback is the relationship between the student and the teacher. Every teacher knows that the same feedback given to two similar students can make one try harder and the second give up. When teachers know their students well, they know when to push and when to back off. Moreover, if students don’t believe their teachers know what they’re talking about or don’t have the students’ best interests at heart, they won’t invest the time to process and put to work the feedback teachers give them.

‘Ultimately, when you know your students and your students trust you, you can ignore all the “rules” of feedback. Without that relationship, all the research in the world won’t matter.”

Of course, we don’t need to read reams of research to understand that if students truly believe we care about their success, they will respond to our feedback more effectively. Yet, as I grind away at the time-intensive chore that is providing meaningful feedback on student writing, it’s uplifting to realize that big data supports my best practice. I am also motivated to stop wasting my students’ time (and my own) with ineffective feedback. I’ll continue to read and research and explore this topic…and share my findings with all of you. Please share your best practice ideas in regard to feedback, too. I’m sure we all want to learn as much as we can.

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The Power of Feedback: Part Two

14 Jun

ThePowerofFeedbackpartAs I promised in part 1 I am continuing to provide summaries and reactions to John Hattie’s and Helen Timperley’s “The Power of Feedback.” Some of my English colleagues and I have been focused on improving our feedback on student writing, and reading this meta-analysis (published in 2007) was our starting point this year. Of course, the more I read the more I wanted to know, so this reading led to more reading…and more reading, which I will summarize through these blog posts.

Since writing my first post, I had the chance to go to London and hear John Hattie speak at a Visible Learning conference. Hattie and team use a “Barometer of Influence” to explain research results to the masses. His main argument is this:

Almost ANYTHING teachers do helps students achieve. There is actually very little we do in the classroom that decreases achievement.

The key to truly effective learning, then, is to focus on WHAT WORKS BEST. If we want to be effective educators, Hattie tells us to focus on the actions that fall in the green or blue category (anything offering over 0.4 influence), and, very importantly, to carefully measure our actions, gauging whether or not they are actually helping students reach greater achievement.

barometer_of_influenceFeedback, by the way, has a 0.75 influence and falls within in the blue range. In other words, it is very much worth our time to get better at providing it.

Hattie’s argument makes perfect sense to me, and it is edifying to realize that teachers’ gut instincts (e.g. better feedback helps students write better) are actually supported by big data. John Hattie and the Visible Learning team are basing their results on over 1,000 meta-analyses involving 240,000,000,000 students.

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“The Power of Feedback” Summary: Part One

24 Apr

ThePowerofFeedback-1I worry my middle name might be Sisyphus. Despite my best efforts, the inevitable piles of essays that are a part of my working life too often feel like boulders to move from here to there. I desperately want to see each essay as another rich opportunity, a chance to help a budding writer find her voice. At my best, I find this state of mind. Yet, the amount of time required to respond to student work always leaves me with one nagging question: “Is all of this really working?” Thankfully, my tendency to despair about question the effectiveness of my feedback can lead to fruitful reflection.

Lately I have explored how to ensure my time (and my students’ time) is spent most effectively. For the past two years, my fellow English teachers and I set a departmental goal of improving the efficacy of our feedback. This year a few of us tackled John Hattie’s and Helen Timperley’s “The Power of Feedback,” a very extensive review of educational research on what really works in regard to teacher feedback on student work. This 2007 white paper deals with big data, reviewing hundreds of studies sampling thousands (maybe millions?) of students. The paper is dense and technical and big…but it is also illuminating and practical and useful. If you have the time, the study is worth a read. Of course, you probably don’t and just want somebody to give a summary…so keep reading.

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Audio Feedback on Student Writing

13 Dec

audioPart of my job as Year Head involves dolling out consequences for misbehavior. In this work, I’ve quickly learned that a phone call saves time. When I speak to parents directly, they can hear my tone of voice, ask questions, and express their concerns. We typically end the talk with a mutual understanding: we are in it together, both working toward the betterment of the student. When a phone call is not possible and I have to email, misunderstandings often crop up because tone is often misconstrued. None of this is a revelation; it is just common sense. I am a gobsmacked then (thank you, Brits, for that lovely expression) that until recently, I had not applied this same common sense to my feedback on student writing. I have written before about using macros to increase the precision, consistency, and detail of my written feedback, and I have shared other feedback time saving techniques. Of course, I always give students oral feedback in the formative stages of their writing. Yet, until this recent round of essays, I had never tried recording my formal feedback. Many of my colleagues have been using audio feedback to great success, so I thought I would give it a try, too. Research tells us that in order to be truly effective, students must perceive feedback as credible, accurate, supportive, and timely. A student, like a parent, needs to feel the teacher is on her side, working toward the same common goal. Giving summative feedback orally can help ensure that students feel this way, which can make all those hours and hours and hours and hours and hours we spend creating such feedback more effective.

THE PROCESS:

  • As I read the essay in Google Docs, I used the comment feature to leave brief reminders of what I wanted to say. I gave each reminder a number.

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Robo Grader Review: ProWritingAid Google Add-on

23 Mar

4:59A computer can give more effective and timely feedback than I can…sometimes. The potential of “robo grading” excites me. In the case of redundancies, clichés, passive voice, sentence variety, and other writing concepts, a focused report generated by an algorithm can do more than I can. I have used Writer’s Workbench in the past, my colleagues have used ETS Criterion, and I want to try White Smoke. Of course, a free option via Google Add-ons has enormous appeal.

As I mentioned in my previous post, I wanted to let my students experiment with ProWritingAid, one of the new Add-ons offered in Google Drive. This week students submitted novel analysis essays on The Catcher in the Rye, so I imagined online editing reports could get them started on revision while I mark the essays.

Unfortunately, my students and I are underwhelmed. Now, we need to give ProWritingAid a better chance. These opinions are based on just one test of about 30 minutes. We will try it again very soon, but based on this week’s toe-in-the-water trial the feedback was too clunky and abstract to be of much use:

Our feedback on ProWritingAid’s feedback:

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Bitesize Rewrites: Paragraph Revision Assignment

19 Jan

ParagraphetzelThis year my English colleagues and I have set a common professional goal of improving the effectiveness of our feedback on written work. I am very excited by this collaboration, as I am always interested in exploring how we can make feedback more streamlined, collaborative, and manageable. Writing instructors spend so much time creating feedback, and I am always looking for ways to get better at the process (and reclaim some of my private life).

We are still exploring the research and I plan to blog much more extensively on this topic in future posts, but here are the broad ideas I took away from our most recent discussion of what research shows us about written feedback:

  • Students must be able to apply the feedback for it to have any meaning. In other words, writing feedback on an essay that the student will not revise is wasted time for everyone involved.

  • When students see their teachers as more CREDIBLE and LIKEABLE, they are more likely to value, trust, and, therefore, apply the feedback.

  • Positive comments are more effective than negative ones.

  • Written feedback can result in improvement, but feedback has no effect unless the student understands it and agrees with it.

These conversations are helping me reflect on the feedback I give. I am already crackling with ideas on how to improve my work, but I am also happy that the research clearly supports some of my current practices. In this post, I am sharing an idea that helps me address the final bullet point above.

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No Dead Fish: Teaching Students to Write Effective Introductions

12 Jan

dead fishDead Fish Handshakes are a huge pet peeve of mine. You offer your hand in greeting and the other person returns a grip that is downright soggy, their hand flopping in yours like a lifeless cod. It’s not a huge offense in the grand scheme of things, but it also seems like such an easy thing to avoid. Just get a grip, people. Of course, pedestrian, soulless introductory paragraphs are much more difficult to avoid. Teachers of writing will instantly recognize these “dead fish” beginnings. We are all too familiar with them. I have, however, had considerable success using the following strategy to help students write more lively, effective introductory paragraphs.

I use a fairly common symbol to articulate the role of an introductory paragraph. This handout is probably something you have seen before, an inverted triangle (or funnel) that reminds students to begin broadly with a HOOK, narrow the focus of the essay with a few sentences that act as a BRIDGE, and then end the paragraph with a clear THESIS. Of course, this is not the only way to write an effective introduction, but it is an excellent model for most situations, especially for young writers.

(Yes, old writers can benefit from it too. You are a clever little monkey and have figured out that the introductory paragraph to this post follows the same format. Well done.)

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T.V. as Text: Secret Millionaire Essay

8 Dec

Livro ou TV?I will not shock fellow English teachers when I write that most of my students watch television more often than they read. I’m not complaining. I actually think the current generation of teenagers reads more often than the previous one…thank you, Ms. Rowling.

I have, however, been thinking about how I can use my students’ love of T.V. to make them more critical, artistic writers. If I can help them become more empathetic human beings in the process, then maybe I will finally get into Gryffindor.

In recent years I have asked my students to write about ABC’s show Secret Millionaire. For those of you unfamiliar with the show, a millionaire goes undercover for the week, posing as a regular person who happens to be making a documentary about volunteerism. The millionaire visits an impoverished neighborhood and volunteers at charitable organizations within the community. At the end of the week, the millionaire returns to the organizations, reveals his or her identity, and leaves a fat check.

As a way to help students develop skills of persuasion, organization, and communication, I assign this essay. They write to their fellow students, and I ask the most successful writers to submit their pieces to our school newspaper and other online sources like teenink.com.

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Occam’s Razor, Summer Reading Essays, and Google Docs

1 Oct

I am ashamed. Why do simple solutions often elude me? I have been using Google Docs for five or six years now, and one of the main beefs I have with the system is the highlighting tool. It seems like such a small thing, but there is not a way to leave the highlighting tool “on.” I want—desperately—to sweep my cursor across the page, highlighting text as if I had a physical highlighter in hand. Word allows this. Google Docs, however, requires several clicks and menu choices to highlight something, and the process slows things down considerably, especially for an English teacher who reads hundreds of essays in a year and is always on the hunt for ways to shave seconds off the feedback process.

Just last week I realized I have been ignoring a simple solution. I can simply use the comments keyboard shortcut [Option+COMMAND+M] to save considerable time. Now, I highlight my selection, hit a few keys, and then type a quick note: “error #.” It’s so much simpler…and I am a bit sickened by the time I have wasted.

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Grading Essays How-To: Use Macros to Save Time

3 Sep

Here is the skeleton in every writing teacher’s closet: grading essays is soul sucking, mind-breaking work. After fifteen years of dedicating obscene chunks of personal time to the task, I wish I could reveal some cure-all that makes grading fast and euphoric. I can’t. Of course, I find many moments of joy, but the bone-weary reality of the life of an English teacher is that it takes considerable time and significant effort to create meaningful feedback. No matter how I try, I can’t seem to write comments on an essay in less than fifteen minutes. Realistically, it often takes more time. I have experimented with many methods of feedback, but when I need to leave a healthy dose of ink, I use a hybrid approach of handwritten feedback and computer editing tools known as macros. This method doesn’t help me grade more quickly, but it does ensure that I maximize my time. Here’s my basic structure for working through a stack of essays: 

  • Students turn in two copies of an essay, one printed and one electronic copy via Google Docs.
  • I write more quickly on a piece of paper than I can highlight on a computer screen (I have timed each activity), so I go “old school” and leave marks on the page. The two to five minutes I save on each essay quickly add up. I also use a set of symbols to speed this marking process along.
  • I type longer comments that I later print and attach to the essay. I use macros (more on this step below) for common comments, but I also individualize feedback. I always limit myself to one page of typed comments per essay.
  • When finished, I photocopy the completed scoring rubric (which I will use during the revision process), print the one page of typed comments, and then staple the typed comments, the marked essay, and the scoring guide into one packet.
  • I give students at least one week to revise based on my feedback. I require a revision of every major essay, and I use the electronic copy in Google Docs to track the changes. The revision history in Google Docs feature shows me when and where changes were made. Because I made a photocopy of the scoring guide before handing back the essays, I simply look through the revision history on the computer and make changes to the photocopied scoring guide (another time-saver). I do NOT write any additional comments, as the students will not revise this draft, and I am not a glutton for punishment (even though this post may make you think that!)

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