Using Feedback to Enhance Classroom Culture
For students to truly embrace their learning, they need to be an active part of the feedback process. Feedback needs to be ongoing and collaborative between the teacher and student. Most often, feedback starts with a grade on a particular assessment. However, the feedback process can truly begin before an assessment is actually administered.
Before administering our Quarter 1 assessments in our high school science classes, teachers discussed our department’s philosophy behind the assessment. This philosophy was disseminated to all science students by their teachers and included the following information:
- The Quarter 1 exam is a district-wide assessment that has been created/reviewed by the teachers.
- It consists of 30 multiple choice questions on material that has already been covered.
- Scores on this assessment reflect a snapshot of where each student is at this point.
- Teachers will run an item analysis and analyze the results to identify concepts that were difficult for students to master.
- On our Superintendent’s Conference Day, teachers will work in teams to construct learning activities that will be conducted during a “GAP Day.” These activities will be designed to reteach or disseminate the information in a new way, thereby closing the learning GAPs.
- Activities will be in the form of learning stations.
- Concepts will be on future assessments to reevaluate achievement.
- Our goal as a science department is to allow all students to be successful in all areas of the curriculum.
Sharing philosophy is important for students to understand that an assessment is not the last step of the learning process. It guides both students and teachers to:
1) identify areas for improvement
2) brainstorm ways to reteach/relearn the material
Before teachers can give authentic feedback to students, they themselves need to analyze the results of an assessment and reflect on the teaching/learning process that has taken place. Let’s first think of what analysis really means. Analysis can be defined as methodically examining something in detail and/or separating material into constituent parts. Over the past 20+ years of my teaching experiences, I have found that my own analysis has evolved. Specifically, it has become more in depth, and I have picked up on some creative ideas from colleagues.
The first type of analysis that can be done is what I like to refer as chunking the data. For example, if a Science teacher has 3 separate classes taking the first quarter exam, they may run all scantrons through for grading and an item analysis for the group as a whole. This would give information such as the most commonly missed questions, questions that all students may have answered correctly and those questions that fall somewhere in between. One could then reflect on the material that may have been difficult to grasp, or perhaps, a question that was difficult to interpret.
To gather more information on this chunked data, this teacher could then share results with another teacher who has given the same assessment. They may find similarities in the results. If this is the case, they can work together to brainstorm ways to reteach a particular concept. If, however, one teacher’s students really struggled on a particular item, and another teacher’s students excelled on the same concept, the teacher who had success with the concept can share how their students learned the concept. Perhaps it was taught hands-on, or in a variety of ways to reach all learning styles, or maybe the teacher just knew from experience that students struggled with this particular concept in the past and they provided more practice problems in this area. The teacher can then go back and actually provide this specific feedback to students.
Some examples of this feedback could be:
- Many of you did not get this concept correct. You will have the opportunity to have more practice with this concept.
- A bunch of you did not get this concept correct. Upon reflection of how it was taught, I realized it is a difficult concept and you could all use a different approach to learning about this topic. I have provided some videos for you to watch, or I constructed a hands-on experiment to illustrate the concept.
- Number 18 was definitely a challenge. I believe that you all understand the concepts/facts needed to answer this question. However, it was a difficult question to interpret. I will be providing opportunities for you to practice questions like this one, and give more strategies for you to interpret what is being asked.
Notice that for examples 2 & 3, the teacher is disclosing that perhaps they as teachers can do more to raise achievement. It is important for students to realize that student success is team work between the teacher and student. Disseminating feedback in this way is an important part of the process.
In addition to chunking all students’ scores together, results can be broken down and analyzed in a variety of ways. Each class can be analyzed separately, as feedback may differ between classes. If a teacher has a heterogeneous class, perhaps they may want to run certain analysis separately. I have found that special education students have the same potential to achieve as all other students. However, the way they learn is often different. One could separately analyze the results of struggling students. When the data is chunked, it may appear that most of the students mastered a particular concept. However, what if all the students who got this concept wrong were special education students? Analyzing their results separately could help to identify different approaches to a topic. The teacher can then work with these students in a group and individualize feedback in a positive way.
Feedback can begin with the explanation of assessments followed by the disclosure of what can be done differently to enhance learning. The culture of a classroom should include the understanding that an assessment is not the end of the learning process, but rather a tool that can enhance achievement.
Debbie Langone is currently the Science Chairperson at East Meadow High School in Long Island, New York. Her 24 years of experience in the field of education spans from elementary to college level. Her philosophy is that all students should be in an environment where they can achieve and there should never be a ceiling for expectations. Rather, individual maximum potential should be a variable that changes with each topic and grows throughout their education. Debbie Langone is a past recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award from the Harvard Club of Long Island.