When I was a new teacher I really believed telling a student “Good Job” or “Nice Work” was correct feedback. However, after you say it 40-50 times a day it begins to sound very hollow and meaningless. Students need correct feedback to be able to grow and correct their misconceptions.
Now that I am older (and maybe wiser–maybe not, lol), I am much more specific about how to give feedback. But I confess that some days I am better. Here are some helpful ideas for providing effective feedback for students.
Use a Framework
1. Use the model: Something Nice, Something Corrective, Something nice. For instance, when we were working on our trig ratios in class recently, I told a student he making great progress on this unit. He needed to use the right triangle to help reinforce the tangent ratio but I noticed that he is completing more work correctly.
Notice that it all seems positive and I slipped in the part about identifying ratios more consistently? Most students already know what their struggles are, we don’t need to publicly announce it. If fact, research shows that when students hear negative comments, they shut down.
Focus on Content
2. Feedback is instructive for educational purposes–to help students grow and learn. You need to focus on content or skills needed to be successful in class. Do not say that their handwriting is so bad you don’t know if their math answer is right or not. (Note: My son was once told this in High School. This made him not want to write in class or show anyone).
Feedback should help students identify what they have done wrong and how they can improve. It should be mostly positive and help guide students to a better understanding. This is why I insist that my students always show their work in class. At the beginning of the year I tell them I am a math doctor and before I can tell them how to get better, I need to run some tests to see their problem. If they don’t show their work, it would be like a doctor diagnosing a broken arm without an xray or even seeing them.
Using Error analysis is one way to help students see and explain the wrong answers or procedures. One way to do this is to use problems that students have completed. Take off the names, use a different period and show 2 examples of the solution with steps. Ask students to identify which (if either) is correct and what could be done to fix the errors. Have them work in pairs or groups to compare their answers before the whole class discusses.
3. Any feedback needs to be at the time of learning. In my early days of teaching, I though immediate feedback was to give the test back a week later with helpful comments. NO. This also applies to homework or any classwork assignment.
You need to catch the students in the moment they are first learning to correct any problems so they do not repeat the same mistakes. When students repeat mistakes, this becomes their learning–and it takes more time to unlearn the mistake and relearn the correct skill.
4. Look for the positive. OK, it doesn’t matter how much a student is struggling, there is always something positive to say. This is especially important if you need to attend a parent conference. And often if a student is struggling, the conference can be so depressing.
If a student is struggling, seize the moment they take notes completely and praise. Look for that right answer to a math problem. That struggling kid needs positive reinforcement to keep moving. Sometimes, all it takes is a good word to keep them from giving up.
5. Be specific and in the moment. We use Desmos in class and it has a great feature. While the students are working, I can add comments as they complete problems. In a recent lesson on volume, students were having difficulty remembering to divide the result by 3 for volume of a pyramid. So in the moment, I was typing, remember the formula, divide the result by 3 and students could immediately correct it.
Meet with students
6. Meet with students individually. Pull students aside to ask questions. How did you get this (wrong) answer? Find out the misconception so it can be corrected. Sometimes the students will say simply, “I forgot to check my notes” or “I used the wrong formula”. And if they do, problem solved but a teacher needs to know the misconception before they can address it. Asking questions will help.
7. Use Post-its (or other small notes) strategically. I print some sticky notes with messages so it saves time. Sometimes students need to be reminded to stay on task, finish the quiz, use their notes, etc. Having pre-printed notes will speed this process.
It also avoids embarrassing students if you need to give them reminders. And if you are using printed notes, print some with notes of encouragement as well. “You have a perfect score” from a quiz or “Huge improvement” from a recent assignment.
8. Review Notes. When I am doing notes with the class I am focused on giving as much information as they need, including reasons and sub-skills that they might need. However, some students may not realize they need to take ALL the notes. So anytime I take notes, as students are working on a problem in the notes I walk around to review what they have written.
As you continue in the unit, you can add to the notes as students have misconceptions. Add reminders, add additional formulas, etc. When we were reviewing how to convert a general form of an equation to the standard form, I had to review perfect squares, the difference between diameter and radius, and how to simplify radicals.
I may have gone too fast, but when students have incomplete notes they are at a disadvantage. So I post the complete notes online so they have them available to complete their own notes. Note: before a test or quiz, where students are allowed to use notes, I remove them temporarily so they cannot use my notes.
Use Peer Feedback
9. At the middle school and high school level, peer feedback can be very valuable for building confidence especially. When the class does a gallery walk, students give feedback to posters for other students. I always model the types of comments to make so it is positive. And I provide sentence frames if students are finding the process difficult.
I ask the students to write a comment on what they liked about the poster such as: “I really enjoyed this poster because….”. And they also need to give some comments for improvement such as: “Next time, you could improve your work by ……”.
The first time we use this process, I check the notes before they are posted. But in general, most students are kind to each other and respect the process of giving feedback in a positive manner. This type of activity is good to use at the beginning of the year when students are first getting to know each other.
Do you have any other ways you give specific student feedback? I would love to hear your ideas. Comment below or email me at email@example.com.
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