Tag Archives: feedback

Feedback works, even when it’s unintentional.

Sometimes my best work is not enough to get through to my students. Sometimes the careful planning to scaffold the learning does not lead us to where we need to go. Sometimes the feedback, timely and descriptive, falls on deaf ears. Sometimes we need a little bit of help.

When I returned to the classroom, I knew what I had to offer the students. I knew that I would ask students to own their learning: to think and to make decisions. And that I would build a supportive framework in which they would do that learning.

But they didn’t know this.

They didn’t know me. I had been gone from the school just long enough that all of my students had graduated. When they left, so did that “muscle memory” –that information that gets passed on from student to student about teachers and their expectations, style, and what you could get away with. I knew this was going to happen, and I knew that eventually we would build a relationship that would support deep learning.  But time was not something I felt we had. These students had not yet experienced opportunities to make choices in their learning, to provide authentic feedback to their teachers, to be participants. I wanted these students to graduate “learning ready” and the clock was ticking.

I worked intentionally to speed up the process of trust-building. I told stories about the school, former students, and myself. I wrote blog posts to them and commented frequently on their posts. I chatted informally with them about out of school interests and goings-on.  To no avail. They simply weren’t buying into what I was selling.

Rather, they sat and waited. Literally. With arms crossed and blank expressions, they waited for something familiar to happen. Where was the class novel? The chapter end questions? The grammar worksheets? They knew what learning looked like, and the blogging, self-selected reading, conversations, digital storytelling, researching, and metacognitive work was not it.

When the school invited a few former students to participate in an Academic Panel Discussion, there was about a month left in the semester. The grade 10s and I had not made the gains I had hoped for. Many of the students were still wary of the focus on the process of learning and the idea that they needed to take ownership of it. The driving force behind the Academic Panel Discussion was the desire to provide students with relevant and current information about the transition to post-secondary from their peers. Since we had never done this before, we decided to narrow the focus to university with the goal of repeating the event in the fall for our college bound students.

Our former students spoke to the challenges they faced when they left high school, but they also spent a lot of time talking about what the students need to do while they are in high school to be prepared to go: learn to make good notes, use every opportunity to get feedback on your writing, take risks in writing, read widely & beyond your favourite genre, make reading part of your day, practice time management, make using your agenda a habit, learn how to plan, contribute to class discussions, force yourself to do oral presentations, and participate in extra-curricular activities. No one talked about worksheets, chapter questions, jumping through hoops. Everyone told personal stories of confidence and accomplishment because when they left high school they had the skills they needed.

________________________

I hardly recognized the grade 10s when they entered class later that day. They were smiling and laughing. I could feel a relaxed and positive energy from them. They looked me in the eye and asked questions, they were interested in the lesson presented, they engaged.

What had happened? Well, I think that my current students heard a very clear message from my former students (yes, I had taught every member of the panel and the panelists’ stories made that evident) that the skills they learned in English class supported them well in post-secondary. I think that they heard that they could trust me.

We know how important the student – teacher relationship is. We know that we have to work hard to build the kind of trust for deep learning to occur. We know that this takes time. I also now know the value of getting feedback to my students from others.

What do my students know now?

Learning is growth mindset.

Learning is asking questions about what you’re interested in.

Learning is inquiry.

Learning is intellectual engagement.

Learning is asking for feedback and listening to it intently. What is it telling you?

 ________________________

In an earlier post, I wrote that everyone in the room that day changed. It’s true. The other teachers and their students continued the conversation in their classrooms that day, but importantly, teachers reported a renewed interest by students in their studies and in their pathway and course selections. The Principal was also impacted by the discussion. He heard a narrative that was positive, strong, and enduring, and that’s a story he doesn’t want to have end.

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Feedback: Taking the Risk

 

Academic Panel Discussion

On the heels of both #BLC14 and #VLConf2014, where we (those present and those of us who watched from afar) repeatedly heard messages around the importance of understanding what works in education, getting feedback from students to teachers on their teaching, having the courage to fail forward, and finding ways to make our thinking visible, I reflected on my past year and those times when I took the risk to really hear the students. 

Here is one of those times.

The students in the above picture graduated high school between 2005 and 2011. They responded to a general invitation to speak to current students in their former school about the transition from high school to post-secondary.

We called this event an Academic Panel Discussion: The High School University Connection.

We had never done this before, but we needed something to inspire our students to engage in their learning. 

We couldn’t be sure of the outcome. Yes, we provided the panelists the questions, but there was really no way to guarantee that the resulting conversation would be useful/positive/meaningful.  We asked:

1. Looking back to the beginning of your university career, what aspect of the transition from high school to university challenged you?

2. In what ways did the work you did in high school merge, connect, or continue in university?

3. What skills did you learn in high school that you rely/relied on in university?

4. What skills did you learn in high school, but that you later wished you had practised more while in high school?

5. What skills did you learn in high school that you did not use in university?

6. What would you now tell your 16 year-old self to focus on? 

The conversation went on for 45 mins. The feedback was authentic, meaningful, and personal. And everyone listening in that room that day was changed. (More on this in another post to come.)

Would you be willing to take the risk? What opportunity for feedback are you willing to create?

 

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What Growth Mindset Looks Like

I saw this post This much I know about…what a Growth Mindset culture looks like for real last week in my Twitterfeed. Since I get incredible value from posts that share student thinking, I realized that I needed to share out some of my students’ thinking as well. And since we had spent the whole semester weaving growth mindset into all of our learning, johntomsett’s post hit close to home.

summary of learning #4

Transcribed:

Summary Learning      June 24, 2104

From February to today I can proudly say I came a long way. I wasn’t a strong learner  back then, until you introduced “Growth Mindset” to us, the class. Growth Mindset made me look at learning a whole different way. I started making goals for myself and setting time frames when I wanted to complete them. I appreciate on how you made me look at different perspectives on the work that i do; just note in this class but my other courses, thank you.         🙂

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Student Feedback

Teacher: Today we are wrapping up our thinking about learning by creating a visual representation of learning. What word or words come to mind when I say “Learning is….?” One thing that comes to my mind is the idea that learning is a permanent change.  Let’s go around the room and hear your ideas.

In the academic class (or advanced level), I heard  ideas like ‘reading’, ‘hard work’, ‘effort’, ‘on going’,  ‘risk-taking’, ‘caring’, ‘overcoming obstacles’ and ‘exercising the brain’.

From the applied class (or general level) what I heard back was ‘nothing’, ‘boring’, and ‘pointless.’

What does this feedback tell me?

For two weeks both classes were taught the same content around growth mindset, learning, and goal setting. We watched videos about The Learning Brain, we read various articles explaining the difference between fixed and growth mindset, we completed a mindset survey, and we wrote short skits and role –played what growth and fixed mindset language might sound like. We discussed our ideas in small groups and as a whole class, we made notes, and we wrote blog posts.

What else do we need to know about these two classes?

The classes are the same size. Attendance in the academic class is 100% many days, while the applied class is never 100%. In fact, half of this class has already missed three to six days of the first 13 days of the semester. Generally, the academic students complete homework while the applied students do not.  More academic students have completed the required blog posts (writing is thinking) in spite of the applied class having more class time to complete the posts. (For the record, there is one student in the applied class who has no technology available to him at home, and generally, the applied class is less interested in using Chromebooks and various web tools and platforms for their learning. But this is a topic for another post.)

These first two weeks have become an unintentional inquiry into the differences between applied and academic students. Some educators believe that the philosophy of ‘all students learning at the highest levels’ means that all students should be working for academic credits and that it is teacher bias and interpretation of the curriculum that closes doors to those students who are not in the academic stream.

Surely other factors also come into play. What about prior knowledge? What about gaps in the learning created by long-standing patterns of missed school (where they exist)? What about factors beyond the reach of the teacher? What about student choice?

This student feedback tells me that the applied students will need ongoing, direct support in learning to be learners; whereas, in the academic class, we can now weave our thinking about learning throughout the semester.

And it tells me that there is a difference between academic and applied students.

What do you think?

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Letting learners learn.

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ETMOOC = Educational Technology & Media Massive Open Online Course

What I love about this screen shot  from the introductory ETMOOC session is the evidence of participants’ in their own learning.  The learners in this forum have been asked to answer the posed question, and they do clearly. But they also star, circle, and high light others’ ideas.  Immediate feedback to the teacher is a powerful tool for instructional design.  I wonder how responsive a MOOC can be? Is the feedback provided above useful to the instructor or to the learners? And if it is to the learner, who discovers what it is she has to learn next, where does she go? I know that Alec has said that there are experts within the group, and that help is there if you need it, but as I think about introducing MOOCs to my colleagues, I see that they may choose not to try because the every bit of the learning is public. Something for me to continue to think about as I work my way through the course.

I love the next slide! It is so representative of the shift in the culture of learning.
Learning is fun. Learning is messy. Learning is social. Learning has a back channel.

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