Using homework assignments to give feedback is pokey. Inefficient. Slow.
Think about the length of the feedback loop for traditional homework assignments:
- Teacher assigns homework to students.
- Students take it home (maybe) and work on it (maybe).
- Students turn it in the next day.
- Teacher grades and provides comments that night (if not completely swamped with other work)
- Teacher returns assignment the next day with feedback
As teachers, we’re appalled that students take their graded work — with meaningful feedback — and throw it in the trash. (Or my favorite … seeing it trapped in a closed locker door as I walk down the hallway. It makes me think, “I spent all that time grading that work and this is where it ends up?!?!”)
But why wouldn’t they throw it in the trash?
It takes work for students to take themselves back in time to when they were working on that assignment. As an adult, I have a hard time thinking about my thoughts and struggles with my work two days ago.
The path of least resistance is NOT to do that mental back-tracking to apply slow feedback to a meaningless assignment. That assignment was SO two days ago.
I’ve found that the best feedback is the kind that can be applied right away. Why wait when we can get help right now with whatever we’re cognitively wrestling with?
Especially today, where technology is ubiquitous and communication is instant, we can do so much better than tardy feedback.
My feedback revelation with student blogging
This really hit me when my own students started blogging with their writing in my Spanish classes.
At first, I thought I needed to comment digitally on their work if they were writing digitally. So I spent most of my time giving them suggestions through written comments after they were done writing.
Bad move. So, so, so wrong.
Once they were done with that blog post, they had moved on with their lives. They had little incentive to go back into that blog post, find my comments, read them and internalize them.
I’ve heard people say that in traditional school, once a grade is assigned, the learning is over. I was trying to teach them after they thought they were done learning.
The feedback was good, but perception is reality: they thought they were done learning, so the feedback didn’t land.
I revised my techniques and tried a VERY low-tech option …
I think the technical term for it is “walk around class and talk to students.”
Students wrote their blog posts in class. As they were writing, I stopped by each student’s desk and took a knee. I briefly read what they were writing and used the sandwich feedback technique:
- A compliment (positive feedback)
- A change they could make
- Another compliment (more positive feedback)
It sounded something like this: “Hey, that’s impressive that you remembered that word. We haven’t gone over it in a couple months! (Positive feedback.) Remember right there that you want to use the word ‘por’ because you’re talking about a length of time. (A change to make.) Other than that, it’s looking good. Keep up the good work! (Positive feedback.)”
Could I have given that student about 17 corrections? Ohhhhhhh yes. Probably more. But I didn’t.
There’s this thing called cognitive load. It’s the total amount of mental effort being used in the working memory. I figured that if I gave students more than one or two suggestions during their writing, it would be more like cognitive OVERload. So I chose my feedback wisely.
It’s like coaching little kids to hit a baseball. They have a LOT to learn. If you tell them seven different things to remember when they go to bat, they won’t remember any of them.
Tell them the most important thing to remember and they might actually remember it and do it.
As teachers, it makes us feel better — like we’re doing our jobs — when we give lots of pointed feedback. But how much does it help kids when we overwhelm them and they can’t actually use any of it?
10 ways to provide quick feedback students can REALLY use
Looking for some ways to up your feedback game? To make it lightning-quick so students will actually use it?
Here are some ideas:
1. Play a quick formative assessment game. There are lots of great techy options here. Kahoot!. Quizizz. Quizlet Live. The list goes on and on. If we want kids to get meaningful repetitions with instant feedback, they’re a great option.
Try replacing your repetition-based homework assignments with two quick Quizizz games each day. Do the first and check the student results. Do a quick mini lesson to address deficits. Then play the exact same game again. The instant feedback in those two short games will outweigh daily homework almost every time. (Hat tip to Jon Corippo for this idea!)
2. Use digital assignment tools. These tools let you create an assignment and send it out to students digitally. As students work, they can get instant feedback. Some options:
- Google Forms quizzes (forms.google.com) — Create simple quizzes using Google Forms. Then click the settings gear button in the top right corner and choose “Quizzes.” Add instant feedback for students once they’re done with the quiz. They won’t have to wait on you to grade it!
- Formative (goformative.com) — Create digital assignments with questions, teacher-created drawings, videos and more. (I LOVE the draw-your-answer option called the “show your work” question.) Watch in real time as students answer and give them instant grades and comments. (Be sure students have an account and have joined your Formative class to make this happen.)
- ClassKick (classkick.com) — The brilliance of this one is that students can give each other anonymous help. Who says the teacher has to give all the feedback? Create an assignment. Let students work. They can digitally raise their hands for help. The teacher can help — or students who are finished can help. Everyone is invested in everyone else’s learning.
3. Comments in Google Slides, Docs, etc. I’m a HUGE proponent of Google Apps/G Suite for its instant collaboration. I love creating a slide presentation and sharing it with students (giving everyone editing rights with the “Share” button). Each student gets a slide for his/her work. Students and the teacher can leave comments for each other. Plus, those comments are “nested” — you can reply to specific comments and keep that “conversation” separate from other comments.
4. The paper version of #3. Tech isn’t a necessity for instant feedback! Have students complete a task on paper. Then have them pass their papers to the student behind them. That student provides some pointed feedback (positive, constructive or both). Then pass to the student to the right. Then pass again. Return papers to their owners.
5. Post to social media. Looking for a bigger audience than the classroom? Have students copy sentences from their work (or take a photo of a paragraph) and post it to social media. Use hashtags to reach a larger audience. They can get feedback from whoever sees it. (Note: Know that this opens them up to a broad audience that could abuse that privilege. But also know that people are generally good and inappropriate comments rarely happen.)
6. Provide online flashcards. There’s something to be said about flashcards even in a digital age. They still provide instant feedback. Using a tool like Quizlet lets students create their own flashcards — even for classes where the teacher might ask, “What’s a Quizlet???” Students can share flashcards with each other. (Plus, when you have banks of Quizlet flashcards, you can create instant Quizlet Live games to do collaborative group practice in class!)
7. Do speed dating. Not real match-making in the classroom. The academic version. The way I’ve done it is to arrange chairs/desks in two circles — an inner circle facing out and an outer circle facing in. Give each pair of students a minute or so to talk and provide feedback. Then rotate. (My wife calls the rotating group the “taters.” Middle school kids like to be taters.) You can even take a desk and be one of the stops in speed dating. (Just don’t make any awkward dating comments to students, OK???)
8. Communicate in a backchannel like TodaysMeet. TodaysMeet creates what’s essentially a private chat room for you and your students. Just making one of these available for students to use gives them a place to ask questions and trade ideas. Participate and monitor as the teacher as little or much as you decide.
9. Use Voxer for group or individual feedback. Voxer is a digital walkie-talkie app. (And more!) Voice feedback is often the fastest and easiest. Have students download the app and create an account. You can create a whole-class, large-group Voxer group or engage in one-on-one, private feedback with personal Voxer chats.
10. Bellringers, exit tickets and class polls. They’re a classroom staple — and for a reason! They still work. Do them on little slips of paper. Do a hands-up poll. Or find a digital tool to conduct them. The important part is that you ACT ON THEM. When you get data from them, make the feedback instant. Don’t wait until tomorrow.
[reminder]How do you provide instant feedback — digitally OR without tech? How important do you think instant feedback is?[/reminder]
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