What remote learning has taught us about: Feedback

In the second instalment of this mini-series from Durrington, we take a look at feedback. As a crucial part of classroom practice, remote learning has offered us the opportunity to reflect on the wealth of knowledge that we already have on feedback with a fresh eyes. This blog looks at feedback from two perspectives: Feedback provided by the teacher for the student, and feedback provided by the student that the teachers can use to assess their level of understanding.

What we have tried:

  • Using voice recordings such as Mote to leave individual and whole-class feedback on students’ work.
  • Providing whole-class feedback for students in the stream in Google Classroom or via recorded videos.
  • Giving individual feedback to students via typed comments.
  • Teachers gleaning feedback from students via Google quizzes.
  • Finally, teachers and students sharing feedback in a reciprocal way through live lessons, specifically by calling on students to answer questions in the ‘chat’ function or by unmuting if they have access to a microphone; intervening as students work ‘live’; or having an open style lesson where the teacher is present in a ‘live’ capacity for students to call upon if they need help.

What we have learned

  • Unlike explanation, feedback works best when it comes from the class teacher. Really effective feedback requires a fine-level, granular approach, and the work produced by students during remote learning has made this more obvious than ever. This is not saying that students require individual feedback on every piece of work, but that their individual work needs checking at critical points for the feedback to be as effective as possible for all classes.
  • The best type of feedback feeds forward. As many teaching colleagues will attest, it has been exasperating at times to get remote work submitted that is riddled by an easily-fixed mistake. In class, we are able to spot this early on and intervene. In remote learning, this has proven more challenging to do. A solution has been to be more proactive about checking students’ work at the planning and mid-way stage. This way, feedback can have an immediate impact and go some way to stopping the misunderstandings and misconceptions before they arise.
  • Technology cannot replace the teacher, but it can really help. For example, once all of the students have submitted a response, Google forms identifies commonly missed questions. This is incredibly powerful information that is easy to miss in the busy classroom even with the most well-designed quiz. These questions can then be the focus for the start of the next lesson. It takes minutes to plan but is a sure-fire way of addressing gaps or insecurities in students’ understanding.
  • Linked to above, Mote allows teachers to see how many of their recorded verbal comments have been ‘moticed’ or ‘unmoticed’ by students. Despite the research evidence telling us that feedback is often ignored by students, it is surprising (and just a teeny bit dispiriting!) to see how many students really do not take any heed of the feedback we provide and instead just focus on getting the work done.
  • Take-up Time Matters. All of us have probably by now experienced the awkward and at times anxiety-inducing scenario of asking a student to respond to a question during a live lesson and not getting anything back, at all, for what seems like eons. Then suddenly, as you are about to jump in to help, they respond. This has really emphasised the importance of allowing students thinking time after posing a question and, furthermore, how that thinking time probably needs to be at least double the length we normally provide.
  • Some students are better than we ever realised. Away from the peer pressures of the classroom, some students have really excelled. It is not not uncommon for teachers to report that a student who, before remote learning, was not a shining example of commitment is now dazzling their way through the work. Accordingly, we could argue that the feedback gathered during the last few months has perhaps started to dismantle some of the confirmation bias with which all teachers contend.

What we will keep:

  • As Dylan Wiliam explains, feedback needs to be a windscreen not a rearview mirror. Going forward, teachers need to identify and intervene with feedback at critical points before mistakes and misconceptions occur. This could mean giving feedback on plans, partially completed work or chunks of learning rather than completed pieces.
  • We need to make sure that students are not given the opportunity to ignore feedback. For example, part of retrieval quizzes or questioning could include asking students what their feedback was for a certain piece of work. Alternatively, before we accept work as complete we could insist that students use feedback to check it themselves, thus promoting self-regulation and monitoring at the same time.
  • Teaching at a screen has made it much more obvious when the same students are answering all of the questions, thus devaluing the formative assessment of the learning taking place. The buzz of the physical classroom can make this imbalance much more difficult to discern, so creating a simple monitoring strategy is key. For example, using a seating plan to tick every time you ask a student a question is an easy way to check who you called upon and make adjustments as necessary.
  • Finally, the example of students who have gone far beyond expectations during this remote period link neatly with Hattie and Timperley’s feedback model in their 2007 paper The Power of Feedback. Here, the writers advocate only providing feedback on the task, process used by the student or their self-regulation when completing the activity rather than on the student’s sense of ‘self’.

Fran Haynes

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