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Providing Good Feedback
We have always known that what you write on papers gets read more than the local paper in may houses. The era of “good job” as feedback is long gone and more specific feedback is necessary. My feedback has changed over the years and I am happy to share what has worked with my students.
Students often do not realize that the average 7-12th grade science teacher has to read and respond to 100+ papers for every assignment handed out. On the more simple assignments a simple score is sufficient as is letting students grade their own papers. These are assignments I seldom use for grades. They are formative short practice on a concept. On those more meaningful written assignments, lab reports for example, I need to give more specific feedback both in writing and verbally.
Here is where the time crunch comes in. I do give feedback to all in writing. But, there are some reports that either have so much good or so many errors that they need lots of feedback. I pull about 10% of the papers each time for oral feedback. I talk to the kids one on one and ask them to write what I tell them. On one recent assignment a student had written the dreaded conclusion from the dark side, “I really, really, really liked this lab… I learned a lot.” This was a perfect candidate for the verbal conference.
This student and I sat down and I had their lab report and a green pen in front of them. I asked what they thought of their work. This student was pretty sharp and picked out a few errors I had missed in the data and then spoke about the conclusion. He already knew about what I might say but not the specifics. So, I talked for a bit then paused to give him time to summarize my comments and record them on his paper for his own future reference. This method gives me a good chance to check and see if the student really understands what I am telling them about the quality of their work and how to improve it.
Another student did quite well on the lab and I wanted to reinforce what she had done that was outstanding and a new level of depth in her work. I used the same format. I asked her what she thought about the lab. Here, this student was self critical when she did not need to be. It is important to tell them, I don’t agree, I think that section of your work was actually quite good and here is why. I again asked her to summarize my comments to increase the probability that this student will work at this depth again now that they understand what is powerful about the writing.
At times I can be caught saying “good job” in the thick of a lab. I can catch myself before writing it and write instead, “here is what is powerful about your work on this lab…” That change to providing evidence is also good modeling.
I require that my students back up their opinions with evidence. It is not enough to say I agree with so and so. They have to tell me why they agree. If a student presents a theory or an opinion from an observation I ask them to state their evidence. Show me the reasoning. It is in this reasoning that areas where the student is making conceptual errors show up. That illumination of errors allows me to structure lessons so that the student has the opportunity to construct new more accurate ideas.
There are several good sites to help with restructuring your feedback. These three provide a good start.