One of my roles as Director of Educational Technology for the Roseville City School District is to lead changes with grading and support teachers with their grade books. One thing that keeps coming up in my learning is the importance of feedback. There are some areas in our society where we give feedback and expect our children to improve based on what they are told. We are so much better at giving feedback in sports and performing arts than in the classroom. If you ever watch a good coach during a sports practice, they are constantly on their players about where they need to go, what they need to do differently, and letting them know when they are doing things correctly. For these athletes, it is not a guessing game. With performing arts we tell children that they need to be louder, they need to change the note they are singing, or they need to change their position on the stage. We give them specific directions, give them a chance to practice it, and then provide more feedback based on their most recent performance.
The research is clear; we improve through clear and actionable feedback. Research from Ruth Butler shows that grades can stop learning. Even if you give feedback with grades, learning stops. When they receive feedback with grades they only see the grade, ignoring any of the feedback. However, if a teacher just gives feedback without grades there is an increase of 30% in learning. When students only receive grades those grades can make them complacent. With feedback only, students are given areas they can improve that is actionable. We also know from John Hattie that feedback has one of the highest effect sizes when it comes to student achievement.
Despite knowing what the research says, we rarely talk about the best ways to give feedback to students, and we don’t work with students on how to take feedback and improve their learning. As educators and parents, we tend to focus on grades. What grade am I going to give this student? What grade does my child have? My hope is that in education, we start focusing more on specific and actionable feedback so students can improve their learning since that should be our goal.
Technology can help. For example, through Google Docs, teachers are able to leave comments on student writing while they are working on drafts of their papers rather than waiting for a student to turn it in when they are finished. We can use Google classroom to give feedback and have students improve their work. There are websites like Quizzizz, Kahoot, and Socrative where students can take formative assessments that will help their learning. Newsela allows students to monitor their own comprehension and with that feedback adjust reading levels.
We must get better at giving students feedback in order for them to improve. We constantly do it in sports and other areas but, for some reason, not as much in education. We know what the research says. Feedback that is specific and actionable helps student learning. If we want students to improve their learning, we have to switch the way we do things in the classroom and focus more on feedback and less on grades. Grades are important for communication, but they aren’t essential for learning. As parents and educators, let’s start focusing on the right thing.
Brandon Blom is the Director of Educational Technology for the Roseville City School District. He is passionate about making school fun for students and staff, as well as looking critically at what we do in our schools so we can meet the needs of our students. Brandon has been a CUE Rockstar Teacher camp presenter, CUE Rockstar Admin presenter , NAESP presenter, and keynote speaker. He loves how technology allows us to connect and create like never before. You can follow him on Twitter @brandonkblom or read his blog at brandonkblom.com.