Been thinking a lot about feedback lately, and with the new year and my next go at Project 180 right around the corner, there has been some urgency to my thinking. Ever seeking to do, reflect, and do better, I have been racking my brain to come up with a better way to get feedback to my students this year. And though–as with anything I do–I will eventually discover a “better best,” here is my latest “do better” for feedback.
Last year, with grades completely off the table ( gave every student an A), feedback was all that I had at my disposal, for there were no points to assign. And while this produced the learning culture I had longed for my entire career, it also produced a reality for which I was not adequately prepared. Oh, I was no stranger to giving feedback, and I had discovered early on the power of conferencing with students, so in that regard, I wasn’t completely out of my league. But decidedly, I was in a league that was entirely new, entirely different, and past practice was not going to cut it. But all I had was past practice in a realm not familiar with time racing ahead, and so, I had to make do. And that’s what I felt like I did last year: I made do. But “making do,” is not the “do” I seek, so this year I will do better.
I don’t like rubrics. Never have. But I’ve never publicly admitted that, for in many circles they are touted as THE tool of the effective teacher. Don’t get me wrong. Providing criteria for meeting standards is terribly important, I have just found that rubrics tend to over-complicate things. From worrying about micro-differences articulated through “rubric speak” to chasing the elusive “exceeds standard” to translating a rubric score into a traditional percentage grade, I have found rubrics more messy than meaningful. So, I quit. Some time ago, I quit rubrics, at least traditional multi-point rubrics. And I started using what I now know is called a single-point rubric, but I have only come to know that term in last few weeks, largely due to Aaron Blackwelder’s post, The Single Point Rubric, which I came across in his response to someone asking for help on rubrics in the TG2 Facebook Group. I had heard folks in the TG2 group tossing around the term for the past few months, but I had never really taken the time to check my understanding. And then Aaron’s post came along (which I recommend everyone reads), and I give him credit for helping me find my next better. Thank you, Aaron. Once again I have found that our brains are eerily similar. And I find great comfort and confidence in my thinking when I learn that you shares my thoughts.
No More Rubrics
I am removing the term rubric from my teacher talk. In its place, I will use the term “feedback form.” I am not shunning the use of rubrics by others. In fact, Aaron’s single-point rubric is really only different by name, so it’s about names, and it’s about fit. Rubric no longer fits me, so I won’t use it. In its place I will use a feedback form with language that better fits me and my classroom. See below.
I tend to use the term “learning target” in my classroom. I like the idea of something to aim for, and with that, I like to frame feedback in terms of “hit or miss.” Meeting standard in my classroom is hitting the target. I do not provide generic exceeds-standard criteria. I address it on an individual basis in my conferences with students, and I use it as an entry point into differentiating for that student beyond the standard towards mastery, which I believe is a pursuit, not an end.
Hitting the target is straightforward. They met the criteria. As for missing the target, I do make some distinction for the sake of clarity and convenience. I present either a “near miss” or a “far miss.” For clarity it lets the student know how far off aim she was. For convenience, it helps me tailor both feedback and next steps in regards to why/how she missed the target and what she can do to take better aim next time.
Using “next steps” fits well with the journey experience I seek to create for my students. Their work is just part of the journey, and I believe that when I frame it that way for them, they just see “what’s next” as part of their journey. Never there. Just forward. Always forward. So, that is how I will frame feedback. Next I will talk a bit about how I will get it to the students.
I have never–never–been great about getting feedback to 150 kids in a timely manner. I have gotten better, and relying on verbal feedback through conferencing has helped (more on conferencing below), but it’s largely been hit or miss for me, and that’s not acceptable, so here is how I am going to try to do better.
I am going to use what I am going to call a “feedback folder.” I will create one for each of my five periods. It will be where students place work for feedback once they feel they are ready. Any work that gets placed in the feedback folder must have a feedback form attached. The form must have the standards/learning targets on which the student wants feedback (no more than 3). I want them to take greater ownership of how they seek feedback. I want them to see that it’s not simply about handing something to someone and asking them if “it’s good.” In this case, it’s about asking me to engage them in a specific part of their work, using our target language as our means of communicating.
What about the timely part of it? My plan is to respond each night. I know that sounds daunting, and even now I am half-grimacing as I imagine what it’s going to be like, but then I remember a few things. One, in reality only a few students a day will be ready for feedback. Two, with the format of the feedback form and the limit on standards/learning targets, these won’t take very long. And, I am wise enough to know that if it’s going to take too long because there is too much to address, I will just have a conference with the student. Three, I am a terrible procrastinator, and that’s been a part of the problem, so I am using this to force me to be more disciplined and efficient with my time. Of course, there will be times when I do take 150 assignments in at once, and that will take longer than one night, but for the other times that students need more timely feedback, I have the feedback folder.
The feedback-folder approach also provides another opportunity for students to assemble growth evidence for their grade selection at the end of term. And that is part of that ownership that I mentioned above. I want them to become avid seekers of feedback, so I am trying to design a system that better provides what they seek. I can’t ask them to seek what’s not readily there. This is my attempt to make it more readily available. In addition, every two weeks the students have to complete Learning Logs which requires they speak to feedback they have gotten from me, so here is a chance for them to start building their feedback portfolios.
I am also trying to become more disciplined with conferencing this year. To that end, I am going to present a three-week rotating schedule to my students (see below). In the past, I have utilized the sign-up-when-you-are-ready approach to conferencing, but again, this has been hit or miss, and not as many students take advantage of conferencing, which I believe is the most powerful thing that can happen in any learning experience. So, this year, I am going to make that belief a reality for all of my students. I am going to schedule conferences.
Mondays and Tuesdays are “We Are Writers” days. Monday begins with a craft mini-lesson, and then the kids are working on either their assigned writing or independent Passion Papers. We do this on Monday and Tuesday because those are our Chromebook days. In the past, I have wandered and helped or conferenced with kids who have signed up. This year will be different.
I have roughly thirty students in every class. I will conference with five on Monday and five on Tuesday. So each week I will get to ten of my students, a third of my class. I will just lift the first ten names from my roster, placing them in the spaces on the schedule, and then the next ten, and so on. The students will know when they are scheduled to conference with me. I will require them to be prepared by having a feedback form ready, which will then become our conference record. I will address their work from the standards/learning targets they have specified, verbalizing hits, misses, and next steps as they record them on the form. My goal is to limit the conferences to five minutes, which will then give me time to work with other students who are not scheduled for conferences. For those students who are not scheduled to conference with me that week but want/need feedback, then the feedback folder comes into play. This way, I can still “be available” to all my students.
That’s the Plan
In my twenty-one years of teaching, I have never come up with the perfect plan, and this one is no different. There will no doubt be some wrinkles to iron out, but I have come to expect that as a learner. For now, it’s my best plan moving forward. I know it’s better than what I did last year. And really that’s all that matters. I hope you discovered some value in my plan. As always, feel free to use and adapt. If you have any questions, I’d love the opportunity to chat with you.
Do. Reflect. Do better.