Sunday, April 20, 2014

Read Chat Reflect Week 2: Feedback

Call me weird or what ... I feel excited about this week's "Read Chat Reflect!"  So excited I'm already reading the article for the week and thinking about how it applies in my class.

The first sentence that caught my eye in "How Am I Doing?" is "Her paper did not tell her what she was good at or what she needed to keep working on—the marks did not function as effective feedback."  I know students get nothing from the papers I return to them other than a grade.  In my mind, feedback has to happen way before I take up a paper ... and when I do take one up, it's usually a summative activity.  If students want to make corrections or work on that same assignment I invite them to tutorials, and we talk through their errors.

The next thought that I've been pondering this afternoon is this, "Absent a learning target, students will believe that the goal is to complete the activity."  Learning targets are huge in our school.  In fact we not only have targets but also criteria for success! When I joined this school I was familiar with learning targets - I was ready to roll.  And then I heard all the talk about criteria for success and I felt like I was starting over.  Once I got the hang of it, it made sense to me.  So ... the learning target on Monday is, "I can solve equations with rational expressions."  The criteria for success include:
  1. Find a common denominator for every fraction in the equation.
  2. Multiply every term in the equation by the common denominator.
  3. Simplify the equation (distribute and combine like terms where necessary)
  4. Solve the simplified equation.
  5. Check the solution to determine if it works or if it is extraneous.
One way to look at criteria for success is as steps.  As I teach I need to assess each step to determine which students have the individual steps and to remediate immediately those that do not.  This is tricky.  Sometimes we use individual whiteboards and check step by step.  Other times students work through problems, and then I ask them to self-report ... on which step are they struggling.  I go to the list as in my example ... how are you doing with step 1?  Step 2?  Etc.  I try to modify examples based on that feedback that students give to me.

Two other thoughts caught my attention in this article ... Effective feedback occurs during the learning, while there is still time to act on it. And, Effective feedback does not do the thinking for the student.

I can't wait until test day to give feedback.  Students need feedback while they are learning the math skills.  And when I give feedback, I can't do the work for them.  I have a bad habit of taking a student's pencil in my hand and writing the next step or two.  I know this is not good.  It's better if I have an EXPO marker in my hand, write something on their desk - that will help them figure out the next step on their own if my questions are enough to lead them there.

I wish there was a good article or book on feedback specifically in math class. Suggestions???


  1. Hi Beth! I'm not aware of a specific book that focuses on feedback in the math classroom, but here's an example of providing feedback with the boomerang task, from the Mathematics Assessment Project. To summarize, allow students to work individually on a task for about 15 minutes, then collect to provide feedback in the form of questions or hints. If you look at the table inside the document it gives several suggestions on providing feedback for that particular task. Return the task to them the next class period, allow them to work individually for about 10 minutes then have them work in small groups. This method is very time consuming worthwhile.

    For a different spin today my kids were working in groups on a Would You Rather problem. Their math and reasoning were all over the place--even when the criteria for success was, "Your work is organized so another student can understand your thinking." I collected their group work and redistributed it to the other groups for them to provide written feedback. As a result the groups organized their thinking and corrected their mistakes. One student wrote, "Why are you multiplying..." What was cool was that they didn't correct their work, they asked questions or posed comments to make the group think.

    It took most of the block but it was worth it.

    1. Mary - thanks for your thoughtful reply. I've looked at the MAP formative assessments but I usually modify them because of the time factor. I need to take another look and determine how I can use those materials to their full potential!

      I love that you involved students in giving feedback. I'll be thinking about that to see how I can copy your efforts :)

  2. Ah, I know exactly what you mean about taking a student's pencil. Good point; I need to think about making sure the student is still doing the thinking... Except if there is no understanding, then it's time to reteach.

    You mentioned that you write on their table.. that sounds cool, are the tables like giant whiteboards? That would be so useful but do they get grimy? Sometimes I write a few things on a mini whiteboard, then after I'm finished talking to the student, I turn it upside down. "Try to do the question yourself now that you understand it. You can peek at the mini whiteboard if you like, if you need it. But I think you might not need to."

    1. Dry erase markers work well on desks - wipes right off. But I also carry a mini whiteboard as you described and leave it with students.

      The article is challenging for sure. I want to ask my students to give me some feedback on how I give feedback ... thinking about how to do that next week.