Contributed by Susan Creighton
In my previous blog post, “Using Formative Assessment to Create Active Learners,” I listed five key practices that teachers can use to help students learn to make use of their own formative assessment data. Here, I discuss Practice #4 from that list:
- Provide opportunities and support for students to respond to feedback
in order to revise their work or their thinking
As important as it is, providing feedback to students is not enough. In order for students to benefit from feedback, they need opportunities to respond to that feedback. Imagine during piano lessons, your teacher tells you that you need to change the way you play a particular section, but then says, “So, someday when you play it again, make sure you do that,” and moves on to a completely different piece of music; you would miss an important opportunity to integrate this new knowledge into your learning.
In the previous blog on providing feedback to students, I talked about how effective feedback to students provides three pieces of information:
1) what elements of the learning target have been met or partially met;
2) what elements have not yet been met;
3) a specific suggestion for next steps to meet the target.
It’s this last piece–a specific suggestion for next steps–that students use to act on the feedback. So it’s important that this feedback suggestion is:
- Understandable to the student, using language they can access;
- Manageable for the student, not trying to fix every area of difficulty, but focusing on one or two key points;
- Useful to the student, keeping the intellectual work in the hands (or mind!) of the student.
This last point is especially important, particularly in mathematics classrooms where the focus can easily stray from building conceptual understanding about mathematics ideas to a primary focus on just getting right answers. Feedback in which the teacher has done all the thinking for the student is not considered “formative feedback” that helps a student move his or her learning forward. The point of formative feedback is to deepen the student’s learning, and it cannot do that if there is no intellectual work left for the student to do.
So what can you do in your classroom?
- During your lesson planning, consider when and how you will provide opportunities to respond to the feedback. This can occur during the lesson, or as homework. Be creative!
- Take the time to introduce students to what formative feedback is, and how to use it. In our professional development work, middle grades teachers helped us create a lesson plan to introduce students to formative feedback and how to use it.
- Make sure students understand the feedback they’re receiving. One teacher I worked with would always double-check that students were clear on their next steps, asking them to restate for her what the feedback was.
- Use templates or sentence frames to help students understand the feedback and determine their next steps. It can be as simple as:
- What I did well was….
- What I need to address is…
- The next thing I’ll try is…
Some teachers we worked with created their own templates, while others used ones we provided for them. These prompts can be available in a variety of ways, such as part of a graphic organizer, on a handout that students complete, or on a poster in the room.
- To help students understand how to process the feedback, have them practice giving it. Providing a structured way to practice generating formative feedback, and then discussing as a class, can build understanding of how feedback connects to a learning target. Since it’s often easier to evaluate someone else’s work against the success criteria than your own, this can be a good starting point for students.
Though it is tempting to see these opportunities to act on feedback as an “add-on” to a lesson that is often already pressed for time, teachers who embraced this practice have found that significant learning takes place when students are given time to respond to formative feedback, proving it time well-spent. Often, the time spent here leads to greater efficiency overall in the lesson.
Susan Janssen Creighton has worked in mathematics education for 30 years, both in schools and at EDC, where her work has focused largely on K–12 mathematics curriculum development and mathematics teacher professional development. Currently, her work focuses on helping mathematics teachers adopt and successfully implement formative assessment practices, and on supporting teachers’ understanding and use of the CCSS Standards for Mathematical Practice. She is a co-author of Bringing Math Students Into the Formative Assessment Equation.