Feedback Loop

We’re entering the fifth week of the semester, which for two of my classes, means that we’re in the home stretch. I teach two condensed, seven-week courses which means that stuff moves at pretty quick pace. Even though the end of the course is near, I’m still trying to gather information on the best ways to support my students. This means getting feedback.

As teachers, we mostly focus on giving feedback. We assign papers, schedule exams, and give quizzes and use that information to give students feedback on where they are in comparison to the learning targets and competencies we’ve set. Some of this can be progress feedback where we communicate to students the stuff they’re doing well. We can also provide discrepancy feedback where we explain things that students can do better and offer ways for them to improve. (For a more in-depth discussion of feedback, check out Glows and Grows)

While we’re in the thick of providing feedback, we can forget that we need to receive feedback, too. Sure, the process of assessment should itself serve a means of obtaining some feedback on our teaching. When students are successful on an assessment, that should communicate how well we’ve done as teachers. When students aren’t as successful… well, you get the picture. Sometimes, interpreting assessment data can be a little like reading tea leaves, though. It can be hard to decipher exactly what the assessment data means and what that says about our teaching. I graded some papers recently and found that half of the class did really well, while the other half didn’t do as well. This “bimodal distribution” seems to confusingly suggest that I’m doing a great job and a not-so-great job at the same time. And that confusion can stifle any efforts for me to revise my teaching practice.

Thankfully, teachers have other feedback strategies at their disposal. At the end of every class, I survey the students about what questions they have or what they’re confused by. I sometimes use the survey to simply ask “How’s it going? How can I help?” These exit tickets serve as both formative assessments for students (and for me) to gauge what they learned, but also as feedback opportunities for me to check how things are going with class. While I’ve used a bunch of different techniques over the years, I really like the ones that I’ve (slightly) modified from Stephen Brookfield’s book, Becoming a Critically Reflective Teacher (2017). Brookfield offers these “critical incident questionnaires” as a way to “see ourselves through our students’ eyes.”

  • At what moment in today’s class did you feel most engaged with what was happening?
  • At what moment in today’s class were you most distanced from what was happening?
  • What action that anyone (teacher or student) took in today’s class did you find most affirming or helpful?
  • What action that anyone took in today’s class did you find most puzzling or confusing?
  • What about today’s class surprised you the most?  (pg. 108)

While the student responses can be hard to read at times, the questions can help to uncover opportunities to course-correct (no pun intended). And that’s important to do, even when there are only a few weeks left.

References:

Brookfield, S. D. (2017). Becoming a critically reflective teacher. John Wiley & Sons.

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