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Posts Tagged ‘feedback

 
If there is one thing I am positive about it is that I would rather be “cruel” in order to be kind. I do this even if I might come across as negative.

I design and implement learning experiences for adult learners. Most of the learning happens when they attempt challenging assignments and perform authentic tasks. These activities highlight gaps and my learners are likely to make mistakes or fail.

When I provide feedback, I offer encouragement when it is warranted. I also highlight areas of improvement as directly and as clearly as I can.

Most students seem able to process such feedback in the spirit it is intended. A few seem to only expect positive strokes or do not believe they could be wrong. This is unrealistic and harmful — no one is perfect, and focusing only on the positives does not build resilience or nurture reflectiveness.

If students do not receive less than pleasant feedback, they are not taught how to listen under these circumstances. They also need to be explicitly taught listening strategies, e.g., wait time, clarifying questions, reflection.

I would rather critique than mollycoddle. As an educator of not just content but also of values and attitudes, I would be acting irresponsibly if I did not.

Today I reflect on a section in a written assignment in which my students respond to feedback about improving their work.

One student did not appreciate that I was pointing out only areas of improvement. What I saw as constructive feedback seemed to be viewed by that student as negative and lacking encouragement.

I am all for providing encouragement and acknowledging good work. But I give it only when it is deserving and warranted.

It should be obvious when something is deserves a positive comment. In the context of the assignment, this might be when a student clearly describes a good idea or skilfully outlines a meaningful strategy.

However, it might not be as clear when such feedback is warranted. I only provide it when I think is does not lead a learner to be complacent, i.e., the idea is good enough and does not need improvement.
 

 
I do not encourage for encouragement’s sake. If a student is doing the equivalent of driving towards the end of a cliff, I do not compliment them on how well they drive in a straight line. I tell them to change tactic or course.

It might be easy to label students who depend on positive feedback as snowflakes. I do not. They are products of nurturing. If their teachers before me were only positive and did not occasionally use tough love, they will find what I do unnerving.

But they must learn that life does not operate that way. If I am the first to provide a concrete experience and point this out, then so be it. I will be cruel in order to be kind.

This teacher’s generous sharing is a good example of an open classroom practice.

It is also an example of Cuban’s description of practitioners often being experience or practice rich but theory poor.

The teacher shared some excellent ideas on how to go “gradeless”:

  • Poll students to see where they are at
  • Empathise with the mindsets of students
  • Stick with policies and model practices of going gradeless
  • Get buy-in and support from school leaders and peers
  • Communicate clearly with students and their parents

However, there are areas where experience, practice, and experimentation are not enough.

What the teacher describes are “gradeless” is actually a type of formative feedback; the former is somewhat intimidating while the latter is more mainstream. It is important to lower or remove barriers when trying something new. That principle is fundamental in managing change.

The teacher also had poll responses that puzzled me. For example, what is the difference between “learning biology and also getting a good grade” and “both learning and getting a good grade”? Is the latter about learning in general? If so, how is that option relevant?

Options in a poll or quiz should not be ambiguous or overlap conceptually. This is fundamental to poll and quiz design if you are not to confuse students and if you want to get a clear idea of where the learners are at.

No teacher or teaching is perfect. We need to take the roses and rotten tomatoes thrown in our direction in equal measure.

Far wiser and more articulate people have shared their thoughts on assessment, grading and feedback. So I reshare what they shared.

From these and the work of others, I distill some wisdoms into these image quotes.

Formative feedback

Quantitative grading ends learning. Quality feedback sustains learning.

Turnitin’s Feedback Studio (FS) is a useful tool, but it is not perfect. In fact, far from perfect. The developers attitude to feedback is far from desirable.

For two semesters I have experienced error messages while providing feedback and grading online assignments with FS. I use the latest versions of MacOS and the Chrome browser.

Last semester, the errors would start with this popup overlaying the assignment I am grading.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 1.

I have to close the window with the assignment to return to the LMS interface from which FS was launched. I cannot get back to the comment I am writing to attempt to salvage it.

The LMS frame which used to contain a list of student names and assignments contains this error message instead.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 2.

This happens consistently and almost predictably every 30 minutes. Even though I set a timer for 29min 45sec to try to refresh the LMS windows and reopen the assignment, I sometimes still get caught by this error.

This semester I have also come across a more elaborate error message.

Turnitin Feedback Studio error message 3.

I do not cancel anything or make any request. The FS system creates this popup and the effect is the same — I lose whatever I am working on and need to refresh the LMS window

The usability is poor not just because these errors disrupt the flow of providing feedback by way of comments in each assignment.

FS is also a pain to use because I cannot mouse scroll in an assignment. I have to use the up and down arrows or a scrollbar. Providing feedback and grading requires me to rapidly look at different parts of an assignment. It is not like reading a news article from start to end. The lack of non-mouse scroll slows me down and frustrates me every minute of using it.

If you think that my mouse or track pad are faulty, they are not. I can scroll just fine in the original LMS window. The fault lies with the FS window.

FS is useful because it leverages on Turnitin’s vast database to match for similar content. However, that feature is an anti-plagiarism measure. FS is, as its name implies, for feedback. While I can provide feedback on assignments, I have to put up with lousy usability and constant time-out and error messages.

How is Turnitin going to respond to my feedback? With a non-user-friendly error message perhaps?

Martin Weller recently wondered out loud if more personalised learning, greater flexibility in schooling, and increased feedback was better.

His thoughts were provocative as they usually are and well worth the read. He shared them because he felt that:

we shouldn’t let these unspoken assumptions pass unchallenged, because huge industries and major university strategies which will affect thousands of learners are based on them.

I agree.

However, I disagree with what seemed to be a focus on quantity. I do not think this was Weller’s intent, but he did use phrases like “more feedback” and “more flexibility”.

Imagine if adult learning institutes focused instead on strategic personalisation, meaningful flexibility, and timely feedback. These are about the quality of learning experiences.

More is not the issue. Better is.
 

After reading this piece on formative assessment by Steven Anderson, I decided to focus on formative feedback instead.

I sum up and oversimplify formative feedback in four broad and overlapping activities. These are driven by the questions:

1. Where is the learner now?
2. Where does s/he need to go?
3. Why does s/he need to go there?
4. How might s/he get there?

Three questions for formative feedback.

The problem with generalisations is that people start and end there. I do not share these questions to drive dogma. Instead they are distillations of the collective experiences and wisdoms of progressive educators everywhere.

Post production note: I originally had just three elements — I did not have the WHY at first. This might not seem like a logical formative question, but it is an important one to ask to keep the learner’s motivation up.


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