Feedback for Thinking: Working for the Answer


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


We run the risk of giving the wrong kind of feedback for students, and it’s not because we are bad people. We love our students. We want them to be successful, and sometimes these desires can actually get in the way of a student truly learning.

Take a typical situation of a math problem involving money. A student is unable to determine the percentage that he or she should be getting, and is struggling with multiplication of decimals. Often we notice this struggle and “swoop in” to save the day. As educators, we sit down with that student and show him or her how to do it, pat ourselves on the back, and move on the next student. In fact, we didn’t “save” that student’s day — we may have made no difference at all. Feedback that simply shows a child how to do something won’t cause that child to think. He or she will merely learn to replicate what the teacher did without truly “getting” the concept being taught.

3 Strategies for Structured Teaching
We need to move away from this type of feedback and toward feedback that causes thinking and metacognition. Here are three ways that teachers can guide students in the right direction, as described by Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey in their book Better Learning Through Structured Teaching.

1. Questions
We all know that asking questions can help us check for understanding, but questions can also be great tools for having students really articulate their ideas in a deeper way, and allowing them to think about it. Try asking open-ended questions to probe student thinking and push them to think deeper. Instead of “Do you understand that?”, move toward questions that cause students to explain and justify their ideas.

2. Prompting
Prompts are statements and questions that cause students to do metacognitive work. We teachers should not be doing their thinking work for them during guided instruction. We should be empowering students to think by using the right type of question or statement. Take this example. A student is working on a written assignment, and the teacher notices that he or she may be missing commas. The teacher says, “I see this paragraph has some commas in it, but the next paragraph seems to have none.” This will cause the student to look at the paper with the idea of adding more commas if necessary.

3. Cueing
Similar to prompting, cueing “shifts the learner’s attention.” Cues are often more specific. There are many types, such as verbal, gestural, and visual. Even highlighting an error on a paper can cause students to think about how they might fix the error without necessarily giving away the answer. With this cue, you prompted thinking. Similarly, a verbal prompt like, “This step in the problem is tricky, don’t forget how I modeled it this morning” will shift the students to think and reflect about their process and perhaps move in the right direction. Don’t forget that even pointing to something can serve as a cue for students to think.

Errors Versus Mistakes
As you see students struggle with concepts and notice a “wrong” answer, consider this reflective question: “Is it an error or a mistake? How can I find out?” Through specific questioning, you can dig deeper to find out what’s going on in a student’s head, and make the thinking visible for both of you. Sometimes a wrong answer means a mistake. This implies that a student really does know a concept and only made a misstep in the application of learning. As the teacher, you only need to redirect. However, if you uncover that there is an error, it means that a student really does not understand the concept, and he or she will require a different type of instruction, perhaps further modeling or teaching, and different kinds of prompting, cueing, and questioning.

Dylan William, in Embedded Formative Assessment, says “Feedback should cause thinking,” and I couldn’t agree more. If we focus on feedback to cause thinking, we can prevent “learned helplessness” in our students. When we limit ourselves to showing students how to do something, or maybe do it for them, we may be communicating to kids that only the teacher can persevere and solve the problem. If we want students who are self-directed learners, then we have to scaffold appropriately — and then remove the scaffolds. Modeling a concept and thinking aloud are critical components of teaching, but we then need to turn the power over to students and let them struggle and finally experience success. Feedback for thinking creates a “can-do” atmosphere in the classroom.

What are your strategies for encouraging students to think?

The 5 Keys to Successful Comprehensive Assessment in Action


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


Assessment is the key to good instruction. It shows us what students know and allows us to adjust our instruction. Assessment is tied to learning goals and standards, but students must own the assessment process as well, as they must be able to articulate what and how they are being assessed — and its value. But what does this look like in a unit of instruction?

In this post, I’m going to walk you through how I have used the 5 Keys for Comprehensive Assessment (see Linda Darling-Hammond in the video below) in my unit on Informational/Explanatory Writing so that you can see how comprehensive assessment is not only possible, but also great teaching and learning.

1. Meaningful Unit Goals and Question
I began with the end in mind when I planned this unit. In terms of assessment, we as educators must know what we want students to achieve by the time they leave the unit of instruction. If we don’t know where we are going, we may or may not get there. I want to make sure that all of my students succeed, so I must know those goals for all students.

Many of us are driven by standards. Whether those are Common Core State Standards or other important district- or school-level objectives and outcomes, we must make sure that our units of instruction are aligned to them. For this unit, I wanted to focus on what many consider power standards on Information/Explanatory Writing. Specifically I used these Common Core standards:

“Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.”
“Produce clear and coherent writing in which the development, organization, and style are appropriate to task, purpose, and audience.”
“Gather relevant information from multiple print and digital sources, assess the credibility of each source, and quote or paraphrase the data and conclusions of others while avoiding plagiarism and providing basic bibliographic information for sources.”

To frame the unit and provide relevance, I provide an essential question around the power of media. It’s something my students experience every day, whether listening to the radio or other music industry outlets, watching TV shows or news, or streaming online media. The question I gave them was: “How do advertisers trick us?” I wanted them meet the writing objectives I had set out through a relevant issue that they would find meaningful.

2. Summative Assessment Through Writing
Since the intent of the unit was to assess writing standards, I knew that they needed to provide a well-written product. In this case, I could still provide them with some choice. Additionally, the standards I chose had to do with evidence, and so they needed to do research, cite evidence, and make sure that it aligned to their ideas in their written product. Some students chose to write a traditional essay, while others chose to write a letter to someone they knew, and perhaps bring some awareness to a larger audience. Even though there was choice in the written products, there was a common, standards-aligned rubric that could be used to assess all the products to ensure that all students were meeting the same outcomes.

3. Performance Assessment Through Presentation and Portfolio
It is important that we allow students other modes of showing what they know, and we can also use these performance assessments to assess different learning outcomes. In fact, students were able to show some of their content knowledge as well as speaking and listening standards around collaboration and effective presentation. They got to choose how they would present their answer to the essential question, whether by a podcast or a Prezi formal presentation. It allowed them to go deeper and express their creativity with the content. Performance assessments like these allow us to check not only for engagement, but also for deeper learning through 21st-century skills.

4. Formative Assessment and Feedback Along the Way
There were many benchmarks that allowed my students and me check for understanding of both content and skills. Great teachers formatively assess students all the time and may not even know it. In this case, some formative assessments were formal (a draft or outline), while others were more informal (interview questions, discussions and exit tickets). All of these allowed me to know where each of my students was in the learning process, as well as make instructional decisions. Some students needed more one-to-one feedback, while others were ready to move forward. I was able to make differentiation decisions and work smarter through small-group instruction and whole-group instruction.

Students were also given specific, timely, and actionable feedback through the formative assessment process, with peer critique, teacher critique, and even outside expert critique on their performance assessments. Formative assessment allowed students to experiment and, yes, sometimes fail. However, they were given the tools, both through feedback and instruction, to improve and move forward to success.

5. Student Ownership of Assessment Process
What has not been mentioned is the voice that students had in the overall construction of the unit and the assessment. When I first asked what they would be interested in learning more about, they mentioned commercials, adds, media, etc. Together we brainstormed some ideas, which I then transformed into an essential question. Already mentioned was that students did have some choice in the summative and performance assessments. By providing choice, more students were able to own how they showed what they knew. In addition, I gave them the rubrics early in the assessment process to set goals, provide meaningful feedback, and self-assess and reflect. The goals were transparent so that they could be agents in their assessment, rather than passive observers.

Any great unit of instruction can include these five components of effective assessment. These methods mean that assessment is no longer done to students, but with them, putting the focus on the student and learning. Although students are awarded grades, they are rewarded through being at their best and coached through their challenges.

How are you using assessment to empower students to own their learning?

Culturally Relevant Teaching: How Do We Create Equitable Learning Environments?


This post originally appeared on InService, the ASCD community blog. ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development) is an educational leadership organization with 160,000 members in 148 countries, including professional educators from all levels and subject areas––superintendents, supervisors, principals, teachers, professors of education, and school board members. View Original >

Elementary Students
Students enter the classroom with their own specific learning needs, styles, abilities, and preferences. They also bring with them their own cultures, backgrounds, and personal histories. In culturally responsive classrooms, teachers make standards-based content and curricula accessible to students and teach in a way that students can understand from their varying cultural perspectives. If the goal is for each student to succeed academically, how are we using the cultural capital available in our classrooms to capture attentions, engage students, and make curricula relevant?

On this episode of the Whole Child Podcast, Sean Slade, ASCD’s director of whole child programs, and guests explore what it means to, as Gloria Ladson-Billings writes, “empower students intellectually, socially, emotionally, and politically by using cultural referents to impart knowledge, skills, and attitudes”; how to create a positive classroom learning community; and what supports teachers need to serve their diverse students.
Listen to the episode below or download here.

Formative Assessment Is Transformational!


This post originally appeared on Edutopia, a site created by the George Lucas Educational Foundation, dedicated to improving the K-12 learning process by using digital media to document, disseminate, and advocate for innovative, replicable strategies that prepare students. View Original >


I think formative assessment is one of the single most important things that teachers can do — and already do — for their students. In fact, great teachers use formative assessment whether or not they know it. Formative assessment may not be new, but it certainly has begun to crystallize into particular elements and components that are currently in the spotlight. When teachers practice great formative assessment, it can be a transformational experience for them as practitioners and, more importantly, for their students.

Grading Transformation
When teachers check for understanding, they are doing so as a means to ensure that students are successful in the summative assessment. It’s important to remember that formative assessments are for learning, not necessarily of it. Summative assessments, on the other hand, are often assessments of learning. Consequently, the teacher’s grade book is transformed. I wrote about this personal transformation in a previous blog post. By embracing formative assessment, teachers are awarding students at their best, not at their worst. The grade book more accurately reflects student competency of content and skills. Formative assessment leads to more equitable and fair grading practices.

Teaching Transformation
Teachers work smarter, not harder, when they use formative assessments. One of the biggest mistakes a teacher can make with formative assessment is to over-simplify the process of using it to adjust instruction. Formative assessment is actually more nuanced. For example, a teacher collects an exit ticket and discovers that about a third of the class missed a concept. Because of this, she returns the next day and reviews the content with the whole class. Pardon me, but I think that is crazy! Why would you do that? Only a third of the students need that review — the rest are ready to move on.

Here, formative assessments must be used in making decisions to “feed forward,” or make the right decision in terms of instructional next steps. Teachers also need to probe whether or not the mix-up was truly an error or instead just a mistake. A mistake implies that further instruction on that content may not be needed, while an error indicates that instruction must happen, as there are gaps in the learning. These instructional next steps might indeed be whole-class instruction, but they also include one-on-one support, small group instruction, and other important differentiation decisions. Overall, a teacher can give the right instruction at the right time as his teaching becomes responsive to students, rather than responsive to other forces.

Student Learning Transformation
Teachers use formative assessment to let students know where they are in the learning journey. Assessment is no longer a surprise! Student learning becomes transparent and also personalized. In addition to just-in-time learning, students get just-in-time feedback. Teachers rely on formative assessment to give students specific, actionable feedback that they can use to refine their work, seek out resources, and engage in learning that is specific to their needs. Because of this, all students increase their capacity for success. All students are getting what they need when they need it, as opposed to when the teacher guesses they need it. What happens next? Increased engagement! Students are more engaged in the learning because it is relevant and meaningful to them.

Classroom of Empowerment
Another big transformation that occurs when teachers practice formative assessment is a classroom of empowerment. Students are empowered to take ownership of the learning process. They know where they are and can set goals for next steps. They are given the power to “fail forward” and know that it’s never too late to learn. Teachers are also empowered to make the right decisions in meeting their needs of their students. In fact, I would take this a step further — remember that a formative assessment isn’t formative until you decide it is. Similarly, a summative assessment isn’t summative until you decide that it is. You, as the teacher, use your professional judgment and are empowered to make the right decisions for your students as individuals and your classroom of learners as a whole.

Remember, formative assessments look and sound different — and frankly, they should. Formative assessment includes oral language and questions, projects or performance assessments, written components, movement and gesture activities, technology tools, and more. These assessments are not always intended to be large assignments, but rather can be quick and efficient ways to check for understanding. I hope my comments here serve to affirm that which you’re already doing well. Great teachers know their students, make adjustments, reflect, and honor the learning process. When teachers embrace and regularly use components of formative assessment, they are truly transformative teachers!

How is formative assessment transforming you, your students, and your school?

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