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I was recently given advice that you only get out of Professional Development what you put in. This is especially true when you are guiding your own PD online. What’s best is that you can chose your path and what interests you most.

This week #MTBoS had PD on giving feedback and asking questions. Since last year, I have tried my hardest to ensure that my feedback to students was useful for them. I would provide them a grade and some encouraging words to promote continued effort.

However, I began doing some research for a project in my Masters of Business courses. What I found out is that when teaching, students only respond to grades, when a grade is present. In essence, when I was providing my students a 45 on an exit ticket along with some questions as feedback, they only read the 45 before moving on. That wasn’t the point of me putting in the effort to come up with some positive words and questions for every student as I graded.

How can you change the way your students receive and process feedback? (why provide it if they don’t use it?)

1. Don’t provide a grade, only provide probing feedback
2. Redirect, don’t negate wrong answers
3. Questions should not contain the answer
4. Feedback should provoke thinking by the student
5. Students should be able to use the implicit feedback in the question.

Alright, so let me break it down for you:

1. No grade? Why not? My students need to know that they’re failing!

Truthfully, a student that is failing knows they’re failing. But a student that is failing also feels helpless because the grade says they’re failing and they didn’t read that feedback where you told them what to work on.

So what can we do as teachers? Just write the “growth” feedback. Probe the student to think about their weaknesses and how to improve. Write down their grade in your gradebook and reserve it for another day.

What I do is I provide grade feedback once a week. Throughout the week, my students receive words of encouragement and probing feedback. At the beginning of the week they look inside their folders to their “feedback” page where a one sentence summary of feedback is written next to their current overall grade.

According to the research, the students won’t read the summary feedback, but the whole point is that it is a summary of the feedback that they’ve already received and absorbed… The grade is the only new thing, and to them, the only thing that matters.

2. I can’t just say no, wrong, what were you thinking?

Redirecting student wrong answers is super important to maintain a feeling of ability. Telling a student they are wrong makes them believe that they don’t get it. When, in fact, their answer would have been perfect for a different question!

Well… I didn’t ask that question they answered so they’re wrong. Correct, they’re wrong for not having answered your question, but frame your feedback differently.

Say, “You told me that the table shows a function. Great job, is it a linear function though?”

Now the student doesn’t think they’re completely wrong but rather that they learned something earlier and just misunderstood the question. Framing is the key to feedback, because it can cause students to shut down or push forward.

3. I don’t put the answer in my questions… I clearly asked a question.

I think about this as “making the question easier for students.” I sometimes what to ask “What is the equation of the line in slope-intercept form?”

Now students know that they need to find slope and the y-intercept… they didn’t have to think about what pieces they could use to create and equation at all… they’re recalling.

Instead, make questions very barren… students can answer in multiple ways:
“What is the equation of the line?”

Students now need to think about how to create an equation of a line, what information is available on a graph, what types of equations exist.

It would be amazing for a student to find me the standard form equation of a line. However, asking for the slope-intercept form cancels out all possiblity of that happening! Let it happen!

4. What if _______ happened? Can you get rid of the fraction a different way than dividing by the fraction?

Probe probe probe! For students that struggle with math, it’s very helpful to get them thinking about math… they can ask themselves a variety of questions and answer their own questions to push forward… “What did I do? Mr. Wright said there are multiple ways… maybe I can try this?” Students are willing to try multiple ways only when you tell them there are multiple ways, make sure your probing and asking open-ended questions that guide thoughts!

What about those advanced students who have everything correct and don’t need to grow mathematically at all? Ask them to think differently! “What would happen if….” “What is the point of dividing 2x by 2?”

Students that can think and explain that thinking master skills.

5. Implicit feedback is tricky because well… you didn’t actually say what you meant.

To ensure students get your feedback, don’t over complicate it. This goes along with the idea of not adding the answer to the question. Again don’t say “How do you get rid of a fraction when multiplying by a variable?” instead implicit feedback that isn’t complicated would say, “What are the possible ways to cancel out fractions with a variable?” Now, students know that they’re getting rid of a fraction, that a variable is present, but no clues to the answer are present. By saying “multiplying by a variable” you give a clue that you need to divide… but by asking “cancel out fractions with a variable?” the student must think to themselves, when is a variable present with a fraction and then what steps must I take to cancel it out.

The student will understand the push you’re giving them without losing their thoughts since you asked a loaded, misleading question with part of the answer present.

As you can see, this is by far my longest post with #MTBoS yet, but that’s because I think feedback is a vital piece for growth of students. Feedback is tricky, especially when we ask questions, but once we perfect the way we ask what we want students to know… the student will start asking themselves these questions to provoke their own thinking..

GOODLUCK in formulating feedback for your students… If you’re a little scared, write out a few of the questions you think may work and see if you hid a piece of the answer in there… then change it… and shorten it!