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.


  1. Interesting frank and honest post here David. Thanks for sharing. I have a question, is sharing of feedback on Edmodo something that everyone at your school does or is it department led or just you?

  2. At present it is just a few of us in the PE department. We're using Edmodo whilst our Frog VLE page does what Edmodo does. If we had it our way we'd stay with Edmodo as its so simple to use and has so many functions. The idea of sharing the feedback really keeps parents in the loop as well and builds that connection between school and home. Edmodo makes that very accessible. Just need to make sure that learners are acting upon it so they are making progress.