Wednesday, 27 June 2012

Acting upon feedback

In my last post I reflected on my teaching and realised that although I feel I give effective feedback and share it in a way that works for my class, I don't feel learners actually do anything with it.  This was a bit of a wake up call and only came about after a Twitter discussion with @Totallywired77 @Learningspy and @Teachitso.  It was in this discussion that I realised that I need to build in actual time for learners to act upon this feedback and improve this work.  As a result, I came up with a list of things I could trial with my Year 10 GCSE PE theory class in the final term before implementing the best learning ingredients from September.  For those of you who haven't read the post, here is a summary of ideas:

1.   Spend more time on the reflection element of my lessons to give self, peer or teacher assessment.  They need to know what to work on.
2.   Build in actual dedicated time for learners to act upon feedback.  A purposeful time where learners can actual improve their learning with structure and support in place.
3.   Use SOLO taxonomy more.  A phenomenal way for students to monitor and track progress.  Uses success criteria to highlight depth of knowledge.  Allows both feedback and feedforward which is essential if learners are to make progress.  Clearly shows what learners need to work on to develop their knowledge and understanding of a topic.
4.   Use more 'Success Criteria'.  Helps scaffold and highlight what learners need to do/understand/master if they are to become successful in a particular topic.  This structure is a key part of SOLO taxonomy.
5.   'Critical Buddies'.  Pair learners up in lessons.  Teach them how to critically analyse, evaluate and feedback to each other (A bit of learning to learn teaching me thinks!).
6.   Make acting upon feedback compulsory and bring parents more into the loop.  I currently use Edmodo but need to do this more effectively.
7.   Do a similar task again to see progress, improvement or areas needing attention.  I do this in lessons (with a before and after task using the 'Accelerated Learning Cycle') but could build in more tasks throughout a unit where they could use their knowledge again and check improvement.

So, with the ideas mapped out, it was time to implement them.  Because of my strong feeling towards this area I decided to take action straight away and used them in my very next theory lesson.  During this lesson, learners would receive back their unit test which had been marked, except for the long answer scenario question at the end.  I specifically didn't mark this as it was evident that they had answered it badly (becase I have never shown them how to answer them) and this could turn into a real learning opportunity.

So I went a planned a two lesson learning experience that would ultimately help them answer long answer questions and then teach them how to give feedback more effectively, using Critique (from the inspirational Ron Berger).  In the first lesson, I paired students up with a 'Critical Buddy'.  For this purpose I selected the groupings based on friendship groups (by avoiding them!), pairing growth learners with fixed learners and pairing students who have weaknesses with a partner who has that as a strength.  I then did a blind task, and using the mark scheme, I got them to give feedback on their partners long answer question from the exam.  To be honest, at first glance, they seemed to write a number of points.  It wasn't the 'well done, good piece of work' that I was worried I'd get.  I then asked students to hand back their feedback to their buddy and verbally talk them through what was good with their answer, what wasn't so good and what needs to be done to develop their answer further (feedback & feedforward).  It is safe to say that here is where it became apparent that the feedback wasn't very helpful.

A number of students had generally tried to give structured pointers and suggestions of improvements.  As anticipated, the level of feedback wasn't very specific and didn't actually map out a way to progress or improve.  There was also the usual 'well done' and other points of praise that didn't structure any areas to improve.

As a class we analysed these comments and realised that most of the comments weren't effective in helping anyone make progress or improve the quality of their work.  I then introduced the process of Critique. 
Critique lesson
Selected slides I used for introducing critique
We went through the main points and talked about the fact that any comment need to:
  • Be helpful
  • Be specific 
  • Be kind
I made the point that the comments you get should reinforce the sections in the work that were completed effectively (either the detail, the process or the effort).  These things should have a fuss made about them so learners get into good habits and do these over and over again.  I also said that you should be highlighting areas for improvement.  These should be a sort of 'instructions manual' that helps map out what things need work.  I also talked about being 'hard on content and soft on people'.  This is a really crucial rule as we want learners to embrace this process and see that acting upon feedback is vital, not deject them with harsh and unfair comments.

Improved analysis through critique

So, with critique introduced, students went off and started to critique each others work again.  There was silence in the room as individuals really assessed the work.  As I observed, students were really getting engrossed in the process and thinking very hard about what to write.  At the end of this stage I got students to share the new and improved comments they had made.  The difference was amazing.  Students had now been very specific and given detailed instructions of how to meet the success criteria of the task and improve their work. 

One comment was still vague by saying "he needs to improve more detail".  When as a class we unpicked this, we identified what exact detail it was that the student needed to improve.  Lastly, I asked them to take these comments and use them to re-draft their work again.  I was waiting for a grumble or comment of "can't we just add to it" but it never came.  What they didn't finish in lesson, I asked them to do for homework (again, no grumbles!).

Students re-drafting their work in the lesson and using the critique given to them by their partner.

The next lesson I started by asking students to sit with their buddies again.  They got out their re-drafted work and gave it to their partner.  They read through the work again and highlighted the areas which had been improved based on the previous critique.  They also used annotated where the work had used the structure for the long answer questions I had taught them.  They then fed back to their peer and explained what had improved since last time, but what specific elements still needed work.  We then reviewed it as a class and looked at the progress of this process.  All of the students (honestly!!) that I questioned were able to explain the quality of their work.  They were also able to explain what sections of their work needed improving, and, which of the critique instructions from last lesson they had achieved or not.  I feel at this point if I had asked them to re-draft it again they would of!
Follow up critique lesson
Selected slides I used at the start of the next lesson
I have to say, that although this is very basic critique and still has a lot of work to do, the quality of the analysis was much better than when we used simple peer assessment.  Comments were more specific and more like a set of instructions.  They all linked to achieving excellence in that piece of work.  And most improtantly, I was told very wisely, that critique is more of an ethos or culture than a task.  I believe that my class has bought into that culture and now its up to me to develop it!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Twitter makes you think...about acting upon feedback

Now if you’ve read any of my previous posts, you’re probably going to think this is a bit of an unusual one from me.  And you would be right.  Normally, I write about what I’ve done in lessons or in school projects.  These normally come in the form of Learning to Learn (my biggest pedagogical interest) or developing rich learning experiences for my students (my biggest passion as a teacher).  I do what I normally do and reflect, evaluate the impact, analyse and assess, or I chat through something I’ve done or am about to do and explain why I’m doing it.
This time though I’m looking at the bigger picture and evaluating my methods as a teacher.  Now I’ve made it no secret that as a PE teacher by trade, I’m not classroom trained.  At university I probably spent 99% of my time learning about or delivering practical lessons.  As a result, I have always played catch up in theory.  Over the years people have said I am a very innovative teacher.  This has led to me getting the position of a Learning Innovator at my school (a mini AST of sorts).  I have read about, researched, asked and tried a number of things.  But….if I think back to classroom based lessons I taught in my NQT year 7 years ago I shudder at the thought of how I delivered them.  Even up to a few years ago I feel that my methods in the classroom probably worked for me, but actually did little or nothing for my students.  I feel that I could ‘wow’ people with different activities incorporating different methods of delivery, but I would hazard a guess that not many of them really pushed my students towards mastery of my subject.  I now realise that ‘jazzy lessons’ don’t always equal good deep learning.
This all changed in 2009 when I went on a big research and readathon.  I literally became a bookworm or internet geek and read everything I could.  It was a Eureka moment as I really saw the bigger picture and asked the questions a) What are the best methods? b) Do they work c) Why do they work? and d) Can I implement them into my teaching.  I read everything from Petty to Gilbert to Hattie to Dweck.  I probably e-mailed them all as well (Geoff Petty & Ian Gilbert were especially helpful!).  Finally, after a few years refining my methods, I think that I have got to grips with understanding exactly what I should be doing in a classroom.  I feel my eyes have been opened and I finally get what to do.  But as always, there is always room for improvement.

I have to say being introduced to Twitter by @chrisfullerisms this year has been a breath of fresh air.  I have met so many wonderful and helpful people who have really inspired me.  I feel that I have been reinvigorated and am again developing my understanding of what good learning and teaching is.  One thing Twitter has done for me (and I have tweeted this on a number of times) is made me realise things I should be doing, either because I had forgotten or just not known.  One thing in a chat with @learningspy, @totallywired77 and @teachitso last week was about feedback.  Now I think, as most teachers do, that my methods of feedback are pretty good.  Because of my Dweck and L2L influence, I am a big advocate of feedback first – grades later, peer assessment, AfL and many other feedback methods.  But, this conversation got me thinking, ‘Do my students actually do anything about my comments?  Do they actually go off and act upon it and develop their understanding of the subject content?’  My honest answer is probably not.  And the reason why?  I now realise, although I make a fuss about it, I don’t create learning opportunities in my lessons for students to do anything about it.
So, I am now on a mission.  I, like I have been on a quest since 2009, want to push the learning in my classroom up another level.  You’re probably reading this thinking this is basic stuff, and it is for me in the sports hall or on the field, but something I need to work on in a theory lesson in a classroom.  I have therefore started to investigate ways students could act upon feedback and how I could manageably implement them into my practice.  So, in simple steps, here are a few things that I think I could easily implement into my teaching this term in preparation for September:
1 – At present, merged in with my secret trial of SOLO taxonomy, I use the Accelerated Learning Cycle.  I have to say it has been very effective and really developed the lessons I deliver.  The final section of the cycle is review/reflect.  I feel at the moment that I put a lot of thought and emphasis on the stage before (the demonstrate section) as a way to assess a deeper understanding of the topic.  This means I probably always fall short of having time to effectively use the reflect stage.  If I did this better and used either peer, self or teacher feedback, I would have an effective way to initially identify gaps in knowledge.  Students need time to give and receive this feedback.
2 – But once this feedback has been given, what do I do next?  One thing that @teachitso talked about was building in time for students to actually read through the feedback and act upon it.  This is an essential element of teaching and something I don’t actively have enough of in my lessons.  The concept is so simple but with only 1 hour of classroom time a week, and a lot of content to cover, I have simply overlooked it and forgotten to build in purposeful learning time for this to happen.  Initially, with only 7 weeks left of the year and a whole unit to cover, I will build in two dedicated times where learners can read through their feedback and do something with it.  Ideally, next year, I will have this more frequent and but I need a starting point as I get to grips with making it effective.

3 – Use SOLO taxonomy more!  Now, there have been a lot of opinions going back and forth on Twitter regarding SOLO taxonomy.  Some people, and rightly so, are sceptical that it’s another fad and does it really do anything special.  Now, I have firm principles in my approach to teaching.  Firstly, for me to use a method, it has to be something I feel will benefit the learning in my lessons.  Secondly, it has to work.  Whether this is from personal trials or from research.  If it has no impact then it doesn’t stay.  Finally, if I think it could do the above, give it a go.  What’s the worst that could happen?  I’m happy to say that SOLO taxonomy in my short trial has been phenomenal.  In fact it is probably the best approach to teaching that I have used in a while.  And why?  Not only does it structure surface to deep learning, but it thrives on feedback and assessment for learning.  The most powerful word that I have learnt from SOLO is not feedback but feedforward.  SOLO shows learners what it is they have achieved, and what they need to achieve the next level of learning.  Isn’t this a key part of what I want students to do (identify where they are at and what they need to do to move forward)?  My recent trials of SOLO have been in my planning but from Sept I will launch it fully with the full terminology and structure so students can feedback and feedforward.
4 – Success criteria.  Something I have been championing at our school for a while (I even wrote a piece about it a few years back for our L&T newsletter).  But, I seem to have forgotten to use them consistently of late.  That is until I learnt more about SOLO taxonomy.  It is very easy to create success criteria for each level of the taxonomy which students can use to check where they are at and what they need to do to go forward.  Time for them to make a come back!
5 – Implement some sort of critical buddy.  I use L2L in my theory lessons quite a bit.  I have finally got my class to not only know what good teams are, but how good teams work.  They are now able to self-manage themselves and support each other’s learning.  So, couldn’t I quickly implement a critical buddy?  After scaffolding and teaching the class the responsibility of this role, each pair or table team could have a critical buddy who uses the success criteria to help check understanding and provide feedback & feedforward.  Obviously this won’t be as detailed as the feedback I will give, but it will get the ball rolling and build in this effective time.

6 – Make acting upon this feedback a compulsory part of my class.  At present, I put all of my students’ feedback on Edmodo (don’t worry, I also mark their books!).  This allows parents and students a chance to see what they are doing and what areas of knowledge need to be developed.  Its aim was to build a portfolio and keep everyone in the loop.  At a recent parents evening, students were very honest.  Some said they read the feedback, some said they don’t.  I need to make it so that all of them read the feedback and do something with it.  How else are they going to develop their knowledge base and get a deeper understanding?  I am powerless when they sit in their final exam and realise that they never actually learnt a topic properly.  By that time my influence is over.  I need to create a protocol or ethos now that doing something with feedback is essential (and will now be compulsory).
7 – Do something similar again to see if any progress has been made.  Easy way to see if they’ve acted upon feedback and done what has been necessary to improve their knowledge.

Now, I know that some of this is probably extremely basic and some of you reading this are thinking that this isn’t revolutionary.  But for something as important as acting upon feedback, I don’t want to create another ‘jazzy’ activity.  I want them to learn and do the fundamentals right.  Eventually (and I’m quite excited about this) I want to move onto incorporating Berger’s ideas on ‘Critique’ in my lesson (thanks @saidthemac for this) and concepts taken from High Tech High’s public assessment displays (thanks @jamieportman for blowing my mind away with some of the photo’s you sent back from your visit!).  But, one step at a time! 
As usual, if I have missed a trick or there are better ways of doing what I want to do, then please tweet me at @davidfawcett27 or leave a comment.