Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Effective Feedback Promotes Thinking

“Good Job!” “Excellent Work!!” “Way to Go!” were phrases I used frequently, either verbally or written in the margins of an assignment. As a young teacher, I assumed the more praise I gave to students, the more they would be motivated to learn and behave. However, according to research, my feedback was actually having the opposite effect on student achievement. As Dylan Wiliam, an internationally recognized leader in the development of formative assessment, explains in this video, my praise was more ego involving as it was more focused on the “person’s position in the class.” His comments made me realize that students would have been better off if I would have “just shut up” instead of providing feedback that wasn’t task involving. If the goal is to increase academic achievement and internal motivation, feedback should be more task-oriented where comments are more specific to the task and requires the receiver of feedback to think.

Tara Olson, a former English teacher at Horizon Middle School who recently took the position of instructional coach, said she uses feedback in conjunction with a self-monitoring tool for her students.
The students self-assess their writing assignment, which they also use as a checklist for their final draft. Tara mentioned that she and the students usually agree on the scores; however, if there is a discrepancy, she and the student know that the inconsistency is merely an indicator of where attention should be focused. An example of this is noted in the punctuation section, “Commas! This will be one of your goals for next quarter.” As you can see, the feedback Tara is giving to this student is more task-involving. The specific feedback, such as, “After all the excitement, the ending seemed abrupt.” results in the student thinking about next steps in adjusting the conclusion.

Another example of effective feedback that promotes student thinking is communicated electronically in Rhiannon Roemmich’s Wachter Middle School English classroom. The feedback is immediate, task-oriented, and requires action/thought on the receiver’s end. At times, the teacher is using questions as a form of feedback, which requires students to think about how to answer the questions.

Effective feedback is a very time consuming task for teachers; however, according to John Hattie’s Influences and Effect Sizes Related to Student Achievement, feedback made the top ten in the list of 138. A critical component of the “Piagetian programs” - ranked the second most effective influence in student achievement - is student metacognition.  Student metacognition, which focuses on the “thinking processes” is also directly tied to effective feedback.  
It appears that from Wiliam’s comments in the video and the synthesized results from Hattie, students who have a high success rate:
  • understand the learning expectation
  • are asked to self-reflect on their level of proficiency
  • receive task-involving feedback from teachers with time for revision

Opportunities you DON’T WANT TO MISS:
  • Designing blended environments can often assist in providing effective feedback in the classroom. If teachers are interested in release time for development of automated feedback through a variety of electronic systems, please contact Rebecca Savelkoul at Rebecca_Savelkoul@bismarckschools.org.
  • If you are interested in learning more about giving task-involving feedback, contact Pat Phillips at Pat_Phillips@bismarckschools.org to join the Summer Formative Assessment Academy.

A comprehensive list of resources is also available through the BPS resource A Pocket Guide to Standards-based Education.

Thursday, February 04, 2016

Every Once in a While You Need to Catch Your Breath

It seems the only constant in education these days is that it is changing (with perhaps one very important constant). It is easy to forget how far we have come and the celebrations we should be sharing.

Part of being a leader in a profession is being just ahead of the curve.  It is a tough place to be and an even tougher place to stay.  It is uncomfortable and frustrating to just start to feel right when tweaks need to be made or directions need to change.  Bismarck Public Schools is a leader in this state when it comes to innovation, passion, and expertise.  In the short two years I have been here I have seen it from top to bottom and side to side.  With that frustration comes learning and huge steps forward in the understanding and delivery of education for our students.  We often forget that with that also comes reasons to celebrate.

I want to take some time in this blog to share some of the celebrations I have personally seen in the last two years here. 

The Bismarck High School feeder has been developing and leading AVID in their schools.  A program that targets students in the “academic middle” who want to work hard and attend college.  Watching the program grow and seeing how it impacts both teachers and students has been awesome.  This program opens teachers up to new instructional strategies that are beneficial to all their students. 

This year I was able to tag along on two tours of Legacy High School one with Bob Marzano and the other with Ken Kaye, two folks who garner national attention in education circles.  Both men said how impressed they were with what Bismarck Public Schools was doing.  Neither of them was talking about the building we were walking around it but rather what we were filling the building with; passionate leaders and staff willing to try something new, flexible schedules that encourage students to work on both their strengths and weaknesses.  They were impressed with our “five big rocks” analogy and how hard we work to deliver on them. 

On several occasions I have been invited to see students working on problems and projects that have had direct impact on their communities.  Elementary students selling reusable grocery bags, middle school students taking a look at homelessness and how they can help, and many others. 

The growth of instructional coaches from K-3 to K-12.  Using instructional leaders to partner with administrators in the building to find out where staff are and what staff need to deliver the best education possible.  It has been an absolute pleasure to work with this group of people and get to see them modeling instruction, working with teachers to provide feedback on instruction, and challenge each other to grow. 

I have seen teaching and learning on our learning rounds that gave me goosebumps as I watched kids become engaged in something as simple as discussing the weather.  I myself have learned a half dozen new methods for completing math problems that I never would have thought of using my standard algorithm. 

If you can watch Century High School's student video introducing their Peer to Peer program and not shed a tear while swelling with pride to be an educator you might want to check your pulse.  What an amazing program for students and adults.

I was in Kindergarten in 1981.  I share this because I have a son in kindergarten in 2016.  I recently found my kindergarten report card and one of the boxes that had a check mark next to it said “Knows when to be quiet.”  I will say that the box was checked so I have that going for me which is nice.  My son’s report card this trimester includes “Counts to 100 by ones and tens, Compare groups of objects using greater than, less than, or equal to, use correct capitalization, punctuation, and spelling when writing.”  Amazingly my son still loves Kindergarten.  He loves going to class to learn, socialize, and grow.  He does so because he has a dedicated, professional, and caring teacher which can be said for students all across our district. 

All changes in education aside, I can say with confidence that the one thing that remains constant is the passion and dedication our staff have for our students.  Without these people the best curriculum, arts, projects, and textbooks will fall very short.  Remember to celebrate where you are and where you have come from.  Remember how important you are to our youth and remember that there are a lot of people who recognize the difference you make every day.