Feedback Opportunities

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Last week I took part in a Twitter conversation about student feedback. The discussion evolved into why direct feedback is often more efficient than vague “good job” teacher responses. Most of us agreed that feedback and exploration is often the cornerstone in having students recognize misconceptions and build mathematical understanding. That feedback is so essential and is a vital ingredient in the learning process.  The conversation had me thinking of the different feedback opportunities that exist in and out of the classroom.

Everyone receives feedback. In a school setting that feedback can come in the form of a supervisor, team, students and so many others.  Beyond this, I receive feedback when I forget to shut my car door or leave the lights on. A loud beep blasts out of the speaker and I need to go back and fix the problem. When creating a document and I forget to save before exiting I receive a “do you want to save” message. Absolutely I want to save, and the feedback (or reminder) gives me an opportunity to do so. I could give other examples but the point is that feedback comes in forms that might not be associated with classroom use.

I feel as though giving students feedback is intentionally setting the stage for student improvement. What happens if the student doesn’t utilize that feedback?  What good is the feedback if it sits on the paper? I feel like this happens more often than I would like to admit.

Giving students multiple opportunities to utilize feedback can lead to action.  That action may lead students to make changes in how they approach problems and concepts.  Although the teacher is one of the main feedback systems, it shouldn’t and isn’t the only option. While thinking of feedback, I started to brainstorm some possible feedback systems that can aid in the learning process.  I can picture these systems being used to give feedback after some type of formative assessment or instruction.


Teacher – The teacher is one of the best feedback tools in the classroom. Fielding student questions, clarifying  and anticipating next steps all play a role in how a teacher responds with feedback. Teachers all around the world offer feedback, so much that it becomes part of their daily lives.  The feedback from teachers can be observed in written or verbal form.

Students – Peer editing and group work can be powerful. Of course, modeling and front loading needs to occur before this becomes an amazing tool. When students discuss answers with each other it opens up a door for feedback. Students can explain their reasoning and be critical friends in the process. Group work provides opportunities for students to become better at explaining their mathematical thinking and processes. Hearing how other students explain their thinking can lead students to an explanation that might not have been perceived before.

Math Classroom Conversations – Math class conversations can be beneficial to all involved.  This also takes modeling before becoming a positive aspect of the classroom experience.  Asking open-ended math questions and having students respond can lead students to ask additional questions.  Feedback can be provided during this entire process while students construct understandings. Classroom conversations often involve some type of whole group question, group response and feedback.

Games – Math games can provide students with a low-risk opportunity to practice skills and show their understanding. I find that when students use math games they engage socially, think strategically and practice skills in the process. Board, card, dice and app games all provide feedback in different ways. Feedback is given in how the other students react to each other, how the answer is revealed and in the scoring element. Math games open up a door of possibilities and adds some competitiveness. Apps have helped revolutionize this idea. Kahoot and Socrative have gaming elements that provide students with additional feedback that can be used to inform instructional decisions.

Adaptive Software – No, this shouldn’t be the only method of feedback. Keeping that in mind, the feedback given through adaptive software can be be helpful to a point. Regardless of the adapted score or level, this type of feedback might not be tailored to the individual student.  Although adaptive apps/software is a field that’s improving (as tech startups hire education professionals), this type of feedback isn’t as accurate as some of the other methods above.


How do you give feedback opportunities in the classroom?

 

 

Addressing Misconceptions

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Students in third grade are exploring measurement this week. As students progress through the unit I feel as though they are becoming more efficient in converting Metric units. Near the end of the class today students started debating the differences between US Customary and Metric. The class than started completing an activity where they had to measure different insect lengths.  Students worked in groups to accomplish this task.

During this time I traveled to each group and intentionally eavesdropped on the conversations. Students asked me questions and I listened and asked questions back.  I then moved on to the next group. I wanted the students to work together and persevere. Some students started to talk about the measurement of different objects around the room.  I especially paid close attention to the questions that students were asking each other. This was a great opportunity to check-in on some of the misconceptions that were flying around the room.  I jotted down some of the conversations as the students came back to the large group.

We had around five minutes left in class to review the questions that I noted. I wrote the questions that I heard on the whiteboard.  I was able to clarify some of the responses and answer other questions. This time was definitely worthwhile. The students seemed to appreciate the time as well. During our next group activity I’d like to do something similar, but not completely rely on my less-than-stellar eavesdropping skills. Instead, I’m thinking of having the students periodically use Post-it notes to ask questions. This could turn into a “wonder wall” type of activity. The students could then place the questions in a bin and we can review them throughout the unit. I think this type activity is one way to proactively address misconceptions and answer questions as students grow in their mathematical understanding.

Bridging Procedural and Conceptual Understanding

Yesterday I was putting together a few math projects when a Tweet caught my eye. The Tweet below started a short conversation that I thought was interesting.

David’s Tweet had many responses.  Most responses revealed that educators tend to side with solving one problem ten different ways rather than having students solve ten similar problems.  I started to reflect on how teachers give assignments that ask students to complete repetitive problems that often reinforce procedural mathematical thinking.  I also started to think how in an effort to provide practice, teachers may focus on procedural aspects first and then move towards practical application.  I find this happens frequently with math concepts at the elementary level.  What I don’t find often is the viewpoint that practicing procedural aspects can be embedded in solving specific problems multiple ways.  This type of thinking reminds me of number collection boxes.

Regardless of the assignment I want to be able to give specific feedback.  A larger problem that involves multiple steps can provide opportunities for teachers to pinpoint where misconceptions are and give direct feedback.  This isn’t always possible with ten similar shorter problems.  Below is an example of a few problems that you may find in a fifth grade classroom.  I don’t condone using these types of problems as they are definitely utlized, but I think we need to ask what’s being assessed when students complete this type of problem?  Students are simply asked to find the volume and show a number model.  I appreciate how the problems ask students to show their number model, but these types of problems seem to measure procedural understanding.  Do students know the formula?  Yes, well then they can answer many of these problems, even 10 in a row.

Procedural

 

I think the above problems have a place in the classroom, but shouldn’t necessarily be the norm.  Usually these types of problems are found on homework sheets.  The problem below which was adapted from a recent fifth grade test is more challenging, but gives students opportunities to showcase their own mathematical understanding and persevere.  Some would say that these two problems are completely different.  I would agree, but similar concepts are being assessed.  They do look different and the second requires more skills to complete.  Students need to be able to use their procedural understanding and apply it to the situation.  Also, one key element that’s missing from the first problem is the student explanation.  Students are required to show their mathematical thinking in the second problem.  This is big shift and can reveal student misconceptions more clearly than the first problem.  I struggled with the decision, but eventually had students work in groups to complete the problem below.  Students were allowed to use any of the tools in the classroom to find a solution.

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At first, all groups struggled with this problem.  Near the end of class all the groups presented their findings.  What’s interesting is that all the groups had different answers and ways in which they came to their conclusions.  I was able to offer opportunities for students to see and ask questions about different math strategies.  During the next class I was able to pull each group and give feedback.  This activity took a good amount of time to complete, but I feel like it was worth the commitment.

Through this experience and others I’m continuing to find that it takes a “bridge” to connect the procedural and application pieces.  At times I feel like there’s an assumption that if students are able to answer 10 similar procedural problems that they will be able to simply apply that knowledge in a multi-step problem.  This isn’t always the case and sometimes the bridge doesn’t fully form immediately.  Performance tasks, similar to the problem above can be one way in which teachers can help the transition from procedural understanding to practical application.  Being able to apply that knowledge to a math performance task can be a challenge for some students.  When teachers focus so much on the procedural, that’s the only context that students see and practice.  A blend between procedural and application needs to be established within the classroom.  I feel like activities like this help bridge this gap.


How do you bridge mechanical and conceptual understanding?

Low-Risk Formative Assessments – Kahoot

Using Kahoot as a Formative Assessment Tool
Using Kahoot as a Formative Assessment Tool

Over the past few weeks I’ve focused in on using low-risk formative assessments in the classroom.  I continue to find that these types of assessments bring out the best in students. I want my students to feel comfortable enough in class to take an educated guess without negative judgement.  Moreover, I want my students to be able to use the formative assessment and teacher feedback to improve their mathematical understanding.

In the past I would give my students a paper exit card.  A typical exit card would have a few questions on a half-sheet of paper.  The questions would relate to the concepts covered in class.  I’d gather up the sheets and write feedback on the pieces for students to read during the next class. I also found that some students weren’t willing to take a risk to showcase their skills.  They might leave a question blank or put a question mark in the blank space.  I wanted to find a way to increase the willingness of the students to take a risk.

I came across the website Kahoot.it after following a Tweet by Matt.  I explored it a bit further and found it to be very similar to Socrative.  I enjoyed using Socrative with my classes and thought that Kahoot had some potential to be used for formative assessment purposes.

After creating a teacher account I decided to browse lessons on the site. I was surprised as there were over 160 thousand quizzes in the lesson bank. Many of the lessons were shorter quizzes, but I found some to use with my math classes. The students used the iPads in the class to go to www.kahoot.it and enter the PIN. Many of the students had no problem with this.  As long as their device had an Internet browser, students could use a tablet, computer or phone to access the quiz.  Once the students all joined the quiz I started it from my computer.  The questions popped up on the whiteboard for students to see.  You can add your own pictures to the quiz.  I found this to be helpful as I took pictures of the classroom and imported them into the quiz.

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As seen on the whiteboard

Students are able to see the whiteboard and read the question.  Students answer questions on their device. Their device looks like the image below.

From student device
From student device

Students receive a certain amount of “Kahoots” for answering the questions in a certain time period.  I’m a fan of rewarding quality over speed in math so I give students the maximum time allotted.  This can be changed when creating questions.   Students pick an answer and at the end of the countdown the correct answer is revealed.  During this time I can stop the class to check the answer choices that were made.

Reviewing student choices
Reviewing student choices

This can be a great time to clear up student misconceptions as you can see all the responses without names.  I’ve had lengthy math discussions after completing this activity with students. I felt the conversations were rich and gave insight to student understanding.  When finished I opted to download a report for later perusal.  The report gives all the student response and how long each student took to respond to the answers.  Both of these are valuable to me as I can use the student responses to group students and differentiate instruction going forward.


Note:  I’ll still be using general exit cards in class, but I’m finding a variety of tools useful in collecting data and providing feedback to students. I’m finding that diversifying formative assessment measures has its benefits.  It also gives students a variety of options to showcase mathematical understanding.

 

QR Codes and Math Stations

Providing feedback to students is important.   I find that the more specific the feedback is, the better.  Teachers use many ways to give feedback, whether that’s verbally or through written form.  Ideally, I’d like to be able to meet with every student in my class and offer them undivided individual feedback to improve understanding and enrich.  That’s not always possible so stations or workshop models become part of the classroom norm.  Math workshop models can improve opportunities to give 1:1 feedback.

During the past two weeks I’ve been using QR code activities (1) (2) for one of my math stations.  One of these activities can last 3-4 math sessions depending on the math concept being covered.  These types of stations involve questions that I’ve found through my PLN.  Some of the QR activities that are used involve scavenger hunts.  Students answer questions in groups or individually and check their answers by scanning the QR Code.  The QR code is unlike the actual teacher’s manual as student’s can’t immediately peek over to see what the answer is.

QRcode

Instead, students have to scan the code to check their answer.  Students then document and turn in a sheet that indicates whether the students answer was correct or what mistake happened.  I’m looking into creating feedback codes that help students with common errors  with particular problems.  Students are also asked to write in their math journals about problems that were incorrect.  I’m using  this site to create the codes as SMS messages.  If used correctly, QR code activities can increase student reflection opportunities and engagement.  For more information or practical ideas on how to use QR codes in the classroom check out Denise and Edutopia‘s resources.

On a side note, I’m looking forward to using the idea of clickable paper in the classroom at some point.


How do you use QR codes in the classroom?

Teacher Feedback Tools

Lending your voice to give feedback
Feedback

This school year I’m emphasizing the importance of offering students meaningful feedback.  By meaningful, I mean that the feedback gives students opportunities to reflect and make better or more informed decisions in the future.  This type of feedback is especially important in math as it allows the teacher to correct misconceptions and help guide students through mathematical processes.   Feedback can come in a variety of forms, such as informal, formal, written, verbal, and even digital.  I’ve found that helping students discover mathematical processes can be accomplished through guidance and timely feedback.

I’ve made a goal this year to give meaningful written feedback to every student more often this year.  In an effort to give more direct feedback, I’ve redesigned my class schedule to include more of the following:

  • Increase student-led math conferences
  • Increase student collaboration opportunities
  • Increase writing in student math journals
  • Increase writing opportunities in math class

I believe that these events not only increase student ownership, but also give opportunities to listen and give feedback to individual students.

Record

This week’s #mssunfun post is about “one good thing” this school year.  So for this week I’m going to showcase my newest student feedback tool.  I’m excited to use the Showbie app (free) this year to give student feedback.  Once students complete their digital projects, (e.g. Educreations project) they submit their project through Showbie.  I’m then able to view and give students verbal or written feedback on their project.

You can offer feedback using any of the options above
You can offer feedback using any of the options above

Once logged in to their Showbie account, students are then able to hear their teacher’s feedback from an iPad, iPhone, or computer.

Recording

It’s been two weeks since I introduced Showbie to my students.  I’ve received mostly positive feedback from my students and their parents.  My students continue to look forward to receiving verbal feedback.  What’s nice is that I can record the feedback anywhere and the students access the recording at a later time.  I’m probably going to grade most of their digital work through Showbie’s voice and camera functions (like taking a picture of a finished rubric).  Students and parents can then access grades and feedback on assignments throughout the year.