Saturday, October 15, 2016

My Journey with ISTAA Experienced Teacher Accreditation #2

Researching and Testing Ideas

Since I last wrote about my journey I have been working at refining my ideas. I'm not one to focus completely on book research first and then shift to classroom research second. I tend to mix the two together and get everyone involved in the journey!

Connecting with other Educators
I've been chatting to people about what I am puzzling over. Having people to listen to my thoughts has helped me to work through what I am reading about and what I am seeing in the classroom. My colleagues are being very encouraging (even though I'm sure they're getting tired of listening to my ramblings). I've made new connections at work in my quest to find other people with an interest, knowledge and experience in the realms of assessment and feedback. I've also found some who may be able to help me work through developing the action research side of things. My colleagues have given me ideas and suggestions for other things I could try.

Using Twitter
Over the years I have developed my Twitter profile to include an extensive list of educators around the world. This is my professional learning network. If I'm to be really honest, I haven't been consistently great with this over the years. While I'd love to do it more, in reality, it does end up being both addictive and time consuming. I also find that I hit information overload quite quickly once I get started. Everyone is sharing great resources that I grab to read later, or feel inspired by in the moment. But I find that I end up with my brain buzzing in too many directions, trying to do too many things, and just can't keep up that sort of momentum. I have to try to find a workable balance. I'm trying to connect more effectively with people in this arena by popping along to Twitter discussions and getting involved with the conversations. By looking at my Twitter feed it's easy enough to pick up on whether there is a discussion happening and to get involved.

After reading a tweet where someone asked for resources on peer feedback, I realised that I should be using hashtags to find resources about feedback. I did a search on #feedback and found a tweet about the work of Ben Newmark (@bennewmark). His school is trying new things in terms of feedback to students, and while I don’t want to take on board the whole kit and caboodle of what he is doing (particularly as it is designed for high school history), I really do like where he is headed in terms of making feedback meaningful. 

Ben’s school has stopped marking books and is now completing a Feedback form when students have submitted their books. He reads through the books (not worrying about marking spelling errors or leaving a comment) and jots down the things about the class’ response using a feedback form. He then makes a PowerPoint presentation that goes through the things that came up on the feedback form. He highlights the things students do well and shares these with the class as examples of exemplary work.

I liked reading about this system and am going to try a modified version of the idea, initially with my Maths class. I wondered what happens in Ben's class in terms of self-reflection to help them to make use of the feedback. Do students jot down takeaways that they will work on?

Another victory with the #feedback hashtag came another day when I discovered this tweet:

This research, while difficult to digest, was exactly what I have been looking for. It looks beyond what makes good feedback, to instead explore what is required for students to engage with feedback and use it. After reading this, I was able to draft out a bit of a plan to use in the classroom. The researchers also outlined some gaps in current research - namely education prior to Higher Ed, and studies that look at the resulting behaviours of students rather than merely the reported behaviours. I'm excited to explore this further.

Dylan Wiliam's Webinars
I found some of Dylan Wiliam's previously recorded webinars online at The Dylan Wiliam Center. I watched these and took some notes as I did so. It was good to hear his view on feedback. The results from studies have shown that feedback can also have a negative impact, thus the reaction of the student should be the focus rather than the feedback itself. I feel this is tied in with my ideas about encouraging student self-reflection in order to apply the feedback, and also providing time for the feedback to be used not just stashed away. Dylan said that the success of the feedback is about the relationship the teacher has with the student and knowing when to push and when to back off. One suggestion Dylan gave for activating students as resources for one another was to use two stars and a wish for peer feedback.

I feel that the challenge lies in learning more about how to provide the right sort of feedback (which may mean different things to different students), and how to help students to react positively to what they are told and use it to improve their learning further. This all ties together with the growth mindset, and a willingness to see failure as an opportunity for further growth. More of Dylan Wiliam's webinars can be found here and he is about to run another webinar about Assessment Literacy on Wednesday 19 October 2016.

Trying things out
Term 4 started this week and I had my students back for the last two days of the week. Why wait, I say! We got straight into exploring some ideas with feedback. Very soon we are going to begin trialling Seesaw to submit and share classwork and gain feedback from each other. In the lead up to this, I wanted my students to get a sense of why feedback is useful, how we can request feedback from others, how we can give feedback and how we can use feedback.

I wanted to introduce my class to the concept of feedback. I wanted them to get a sense of the power of feedback for helping you to learn and progress forward. In our first lesson of the day students were working on a writing task and I found that students were asking me and one another for help with spelling words. I helped them at the time and then used them as examples for the next lesson.

I referred to this as an example of "seeking feedback" and pointed out how it helped them to be more accurate with their work. I then showed students the video of Austin's Butterfly as an example of how feedback leads to improvement. Students were amazed by how Austin's work progressed. 

Austin's Butterfly: Building Excellence in Student Work from EL Education on Vimeo.

I then explained that students would create a drawing of their holiday and that at any point when they wanted feedback they could take a strip of paper to someone they trust and get them to write down something good about their work and something for them to improve. They could then take the feedback and use it to improve their work. They could repeat this as much as they desired.

What I found was that initially students wanted to get their work just right. It was almost as if the idea of peer feedback was making them think more critically about their own work. To begin with, I felt that the feedback that students gave one another was fairly shallow and opinion based. eg. "Please colour the white and the background." However when I paused to think of what I might have written, I didn't come up with anything better! This helped me to realise that part of the strength of feedback comes from having some sort of a goal to work toward and markers of what constitutes quality work.

We continued this work intermittently over the two days, with students continuing to seek feedback from one another and re-drafting as desired. A lot of verbal feedback was being given by students and not being recorded on the paper strips. This suggested to me that students may prefer to give and receive feedback informally and verbally. This may be happening already in the classroom without me realising that it is taking place. 

As would be expected, I found a variety of responses to this task. Some preferred to begin a new draft, while others made modifications to the original. Some were popular choices for students to go to feedback, while others weren't approached at all. Some students seemed more focused on self-review of work including one who did not get any written feedback.

Nothing Official Yet!
Of course, I am yet to write up my literature review, and none of my trying things out is part of my proposal at this point. For me, these steps are necessary for me to get a proper understanding of what I am reading and to keep a check on whether it is based in reality. It's also about me finding what works, and seeing how things can be improved. I guess my next step is to get serious about the literature review and speak to someone about action research.

If you have tried things out with formative assessment, feedback and/or growth mindset please leave a comment with link so that I can check it out. 

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