In the mess of learning, what will stick?

This the second post in a series that explores IQ: A Practical Guide To Inquiry-Based Learning by Jennifer Watt and Jill Colyer.

Here is a blog post where I focus on the assessment process I use in one of my courses. It reveals how to use a rubric to capture the messiness of the project. There is often lots of choice in IBL which can leave you feeling like things are out of control. Not all students have done the same tasks, and even when they have done the same tasks, they may not cull the same activities to represent their learning as other students. Learning how to design an assessment workflow is key to the success of IBL, in my opinion.

One of the areas I’d like to improve in is making feedback “stick” better.

Wiliam asserts that if we can “Make feedback into “detective work”—make the students do intellectual work in responding to the feedback” then feedback will stick.

One way of making sure that students actively use feedback is to make responding to the feedback a task in itself. In other words, make feedback into detective work. In a previous article in Educational Leadership (Wiliam, 2012), I mentioned Charlotte Kerrigan, a language arts teacher who sometimes responds to her students’ essays by writing her comments on strips of paper. She then gives each group of four students their four essays, along with the four strips of paper. The group’s task is to figure out which comments apply to which essays.

Or consider a math teacher who provides feedback on 20 solved equations. Rather than telling the student which equations are incorrect, the teacher can instead say, “Five of these are incorrect. Find them and fix them.”

The same basic principle can be applied to any school subject. For example, in social studies, if a student has included the Emancipation Proclamation as one of the causes of the U.S. Civil War, instead of telling the student that the Proclamation was issued in the second year of the war, the teacher could point out that one of the causes he has mentioned can’t be a cause because it occurred after the start of the war, and ask the student to sort this out.

Such practices ensure that students, the recipients of feedback, do as much work as the teacher who provides the feedback. Making feedback into detective work encourages students to look at the feedback more closely and to think about their original work more analytically. (Wiliam, Educational Leadership, 2016)

I can work on designing detective work opportunities during the conversations and observations of the inquiry process. For example, during the research note-making process, I could say to a student, “This note is almost completed properly. There are three criteria missing. Find out what they are and add them to the note.”

I think that I can generate some canned responses based on my prior experience. I bet you can too. Here is a collaborative document where we can list possible detective work practices.

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