Is It Just Me or Is More Feedback Not Necessarily Better?

2 Oct

Here’s a tale about teacher feedback on assessments:

Based on my new streamlined approach to grading (more on this in the next blog entry), I nixed my plan to grade every grade 11 dialectical journal and instead asked the students to identify their top journal entry in four of the five dialectical journal criteria (1. understanding/importance of quote; 2. analysis of quote; 3. literary conventions; and 4. organization, development and revision of entries — I left out 5. language and punctuation this round).

Once they had identified the best journal entries in each category (which, for some, was actually only one entry — if the student believed it was his best in all criteria), I used class time to conference with each of them briefly. I did not get to every student but did get to most. I offered time during their study hall and after school for anyone who needed feedback or who needed more of it.

Several students came to see me for a longer chunk — about fifteen minutes. Some came twice. Some didn’t come at all.

How did they wind up?

Half the class scored between 74% – 88%. The other half scored in the 60% range, and one student scored 48%. Without exception, the students who came to see me (about five of them) for extra feedback all scored in the top range. Every single one.

All of the students in the 60% or lower range chose not to seek extra feedback (or any at all if I had missed them in class).

One girl did have a conference with me in class but did not write down any of my feedback, even when I suggested she do so (she claimed she’d remember it); she scored in the 60% range and repeated the same errors I’d highlighted in our conference. Lesson for her? Write down the feedback.

And my top student, who had scored an A on his first dialectical journal (which was graded but not counted), chose not to seek feedback at all and scored 80% this time around.

Every student improved at least four percentage points from the previous journal (graded but not counted) except that top student who wound up with the 80%

So what is the lesson for me?

I’m not sure. Here’s my dilemma — I’m not sure more feedback necessarily means better results. I suspect that the feedback that most of them got from me in class was a bit “in one ear and out the other.” The vibe in the class that day lacked a sense of urgency or seriousness about the task. The deadline for submitting the journal was still a few days away.

But as the deadline grew closer, students came with more urgency. Some came the period before it was due in a desperate attempt to fix what they could. Suddenly, the drive had switched on and they were truly engaged in the task of processing feedback and revising accordingly. For some, it was too late to do the necessary revisions to get an A-range grade; but even the last-minute ones improved over the previous draft.

So, I’m not sure whether I will change things the next time around. Yes, I will better plan my class time so all students get a built-in conference without exception. But, as they are now in Grade 11, I think it’s best if they learn to seek the additional feedback they need when the “drive” kicks in. I think that until they understand that feedback is, paradoxically, a two-way street (you need to get it but you also need to be actively receiving it for it to have any effect), there is no point in giving more feedback just for the sake of giving it. My take-away from this is that students need to really want the feedback for it to do much good (the student who chose not to write any feedback down is case in point).

I don’t know. I welcome any thoughts, insights, or advice on this way to help broaden or question my thinking. Am I just being lazy? Should I include several rounds of feedback before the next submission, or is it good for them to take some responsibility off my shoulders and onto theirs?

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