I noted in the comments of John's post that I found it really interesting how his students were mainly leaving reminder notes and questions for him to answer. In this case, I'm talking about feedback in a traditional teacher-directed sense.
This is something I've really been focusing on this year. It's definitely been rough. I attribute this to the lack of quality feedback students normally get from us but that's another story. I wish I was friends with more English teachers because this is their bread and butter.
The whole thing is pretty standard but as usual, I buried my big insight. It's Key Point #2 if you want to skip ahead.
First, I narrowed the scope. I tried to teach them to leave feedback for only one type of question. In the topic on Atoms, we focused on the explanation questions—how you can explain different phenomena through the motion of atoms.
Second, I went through the process of how I'd evaluate those question types and wrote out a flow chart. It looks like this but you can certainly just do it as a series of questions or a checklist.
I drew it up on the board but you get it nice and typed. For the science folks, at the time we used the words atoms, molecules, and particles interchangeably.
Students are supposed to go through the flow chart and then write their feedback based on the chart. I gave them a sentence frame where each step they pass is a positive comment and when they hit a "no" they step back and write the improvement step.
For example, if you got to the second "no" you'd write something like, "You wrote an explanation for why water boils when heated. Next time your answer needs to mention atoms, molecules, or particles." or "You wrote an explanation for why water boils when heated and included atoms. Next time your answer should include how atoms move."
After that it was pretty standard. We used some generic sample answers to try as a class. Then they wrote peer/self feedback on some of their previous answers. I had them predict some things they hadn't seen yet, like sticking a balloon in a freezer and they traded and wrote peer feedback as well. Each time we wrote a set of explanation questions, we'd do this for at least one of the questions.
After a few tries at this I added another step in the flow chart at the end, "Does the explanation connect the motion of the molecules back to the observation or prediction?" This was much more difficult for kids to get than the first three but it is also a much harder skill.
Two key points:
- My real goal here is that they do this enough times and when they're writing their own explanations they have the flow chart running through their head. Is this an explanation? Did I talk about atoms? Did I talk about how atoms move? Did I explain how that's related to what I observed/predicted?
- What's really important is what's missing. I didn't have them leave feedback for correctness. This is where kids usually get hung up on feedback. If I don't know the answer myself, how can I give that kind of feedback? I can't tell where you went wrong if I don't know what the right move is. What I want them to look at is the quality of the explanation itself. Every kid can look at a written explanation and decide if it has certain qualities. It is important for a student to understand that he or she can be factually incorrect but can still give a quality explanation and vice versa. These are two different skills and we are going to improve both of these. This is the part I feel like I got right. Student feedback can't depend on the level of content knowledge.
I'm giving this a tentative endorsement. The higher level feedback is still up to me but this has definitely helped move the lower and middle level responses up a notch.
One teacher-bonus I noticed from doing this is how dumb it is when I ask a kid to, "Check your answers." Yes, sometimes there are careless errors they can catch. Mostly, if they didn't know it when they answered the first time, they still don't know it. (Actual quote: "I checked it. I still don't get it.") I really need to do a better job of teaching my students different methods for verifying an answer.