What if I told you that giving your students feedback is a waste of time?
Hear me out here…
If you are spending 20+ minutes writing feedback or working with a student 1-1 to give them feedback about their work in order to try and help them improve
And then your students are not actually engaging with that feedback to help to guide them towards improvement…
That actually is a huge waste of your time…
My name is Ange Alcock, I’m a former Head of English at a prestigious girls’ school, located in inner-city Melbourne, Australia. In my time in the job I made some really concerning observations that changed my life forever.
Student feedback is a time drain
As teachers, we really know our stuff. If you are anything like me, I know I can determine the ‘grade’ of an essay or piece of writing in about 1-3 minutes.
So why does it take me 20 minutes on average to mark each student piece??
Because I spend the rest of the time formulating feedback to give to each student on what they have done well, what needs improving and specifically giving instructions or steps on how to improve.
Now if I didn’t have to give any feedback, marking student work would be dead easy. But it is the feedback that takes all the time.
Flash forward to the next assignment and the same student makes the same mistakes. I give the same feedback AGAIN.
And then we stay in this loop over and over until the end of the year.
Why? Because we’ve been sucked into the trap of rushing through all the content we have to teach, all the boxes we have to tick, that somewhere along the way, education and learning became focused on WHAT students need to learn, not on teaching them HOW to learn.
This really goes back to the core purpose of our education system which is to teach young people the skills that they are going to need to survive and thrive as an adult in our society.
So, setting students up to be lifelong learners is incredibly essential so they can walk into their lives with confidence, the ability to face unknown challenges, and continue learning.
If we are just falling into that trap of just doing assessments for the sake of getting of a grade that we can put on a report, then that is a waste of teacher time, it is a waste of student time and it doesn’t help anyone except for the bureaucrats and other people in power who are collecting all of those grades.
And to be quite frank, I didn’t become a teacher to generate data for the government.
I don’t know about you… but I became a teacher because I really wanted to help students and I wanted to allow them to be the best possible version that they can be of themselves and to inspire them and to help them achieve.
And, if you’re anything like me, you might want to read on for some ways we can stop this nonsense of giving feedback that doesn’t foster student learning, wasting our time, and student time.
3 Pathways to Chose from
Option 1: continue doing what we are doing and sit in this ongoing loop of heavy workloads, low student engagement, and stagnant student learning.
Option 2: Give no feedback on student work and save ourselves that time that is being wasted.
Option 3: give feedback in a way that drives student engagement and guides students to continuously reflect, without making more work for teachers.
Now if you like the sound of option 1 or 2.
Stop reading here.
This article is not for you.
If you are happy:
- Running in your hampster wheel
- Going through the motions without thinking about the bigger picture
- Not trying to find a way to have your cake and eat it too.
Stop reading here.
The best option
Congratulations! You’re still here.
You’ve shown an interest in the evanescent option 3: giving great feedback that helps students, engages them, and doesn’t take teachers forever to write???
I hear you thinking:
“Ange, how on EARTH is that possible?”
The Key To Meaningful Feedback
The key to making feedback meaningful, and ensuring that as teachers we aren’t wasting our time giving it, is creating systems that ensure that students have to engage with the feedback, and respond to it.
We need to take the passivity out of assessments and ensure that both teachers and students play active roles in the assessment process.
We need to promote assessment not as a summative process that has an end. But as something that is a part of an ongoing cycle, to learn, to adapt, to apply, reflect, create goals, and repeat.
This cycle never ends. It doesn’t end when the term ends, it doesn’t end when the school year ends, it doesn’t end when students finish school.
This is what learning is.
A never ending cycle.
What we need to teach students how to do is to be lifelong learners, adaptable. Creative, forgiving. This is the purpose of our education system. And as teachers, we need to remind ourselves why we became teachers. To inspire, to support, to teach.
Without further ado…
THE 4 SECRET STEPS TO GIVE VALUABLE STUDENT FEEDBACK THAT DRIVES ENGAGEMENT AND IMPROVEMENT AND DOESN’T TAKE YOU FOREVER
Step 1: Be clear about what you want students to do
It is incredibly important that both you and your students have a clear understanding of what you want them to do.
If you aren’t clear on the exact thing you want them to do, how can they know what they should do?
Without a doubt the best thing I’ve ever done in my classroom is give students the rubric for the task before I start teaching the skills they will use to complete the task.
We spend 30 minutes going through every single descriptor on the rubric and I give example of what each level looks like. This is how I teach skills.
And then, I get students to refer to and use this rubric throughout our lessons, as a guide for achievement, as a learning scaffold, to self-assess, and to peer-assess.
Then, when they actually complete their assignment, I mark them using this rubric.
When they get their returned feedback, they are intimately familiar with the rubric and can use it to help them understand their feedback.
I can’t stress enough that criteria and rubric sheets are completely useless if you don’t not use them throughout the learning process. If students only see these when they are doing their assessment and getting their feedback back, the insights they offer don’t help students as they are not accessible.
As teachers we need to make sure these rubrics are written in a way that students can understand and connect with. And we need to use them from the start of a unit, not just at the end.
Get the detailed step-by-step guide for creating a rubric by downloading our ‘How to create a rubric that helps students learn Guide’
- Give students the rubric at the start of a unit & spend 20-30 minutes going through it with the class. Tip: record this explanation if you can and link it somewhere students can access to easily rewatch at their own pace
- Use the rubric to teach skills
- Review the language in your rubric and make sure it is accessible for students
- For a step by step, download my guide
Step 2: Only give feedback that directly relates to your assessment criteria
The great part about using a rubric is that it forces us as teachers to be really honest and explicit about what we want students to do.
So many times I’ve been grading student work and have seen that they haven’t done something I would have liked them to.
Maybe it was using literary devices in their discussion to show how the author communicates meaning, or maybe it was discussing how the place of publication impacts on the effectiveness of the author’s argument when analyzing historical sources.
I’ve felt my fingers twitch, ready to write a comment about it, ready to deduct marks.
In many cases I have done so. And certainly these many cases were when I was using wholistic grading criteria sheets…
Once I made the switch to rubrics, I found (to my frustration) that I couldn’t deduct marks for something I hadn’t specified in the rubric…
Didn’t include use of literary devices in the rubric?
Didn’t include discussing bias?
Now, if as a teacher I found this frustrating, imagine how my previous students felt?!
To be deducted marks for something they didn’t know they needed to do??
Frustrated, misled, and confused are a couple of words that come to mind.
It’s safe to say that using rubrics with your classes benefits everyone.
Find out about how to evaluate and review your rubric in our free guide ‘How To Create Amazing Rubrics and Unit Plans’.
- For the love of all that is good, stop using wholistic marking criteria. They don’t help anyone.
- Review your rubric and consider if it includes everything you want students to do
Step 3: Colour code your annotations
This little tactic has been single handedly responsible for achieving what I like to call the ‘ultimate dream lesson’. Picture this…
You’re in class and it’s the lesson after you’ve returned feedback to your students on their assignments.
You’ve asked the students to pair up with another student to discuss their feedback.
You walk around the class and observe students talking in an animated fashion, they point to their work and then at their partners work and then at the rubric.
They have their highlighters out and are gesturing back and forth pointing at a specific cell on the rubric.
You circle a little closer and overhear them saying:
“I think the reason you’ve got this comment is because you needed to show more how the author was….”
They are reflecting on their work and hypothesizing using the rubric you created, how they can improve.
How did this happen?! You asked them to look at their green and yellow highlights and work with their partner to ‘level them up’.
You know those moments in class where you think: “I’ve completely nailed this…this couldn’t have worked out any better!”
Those moments where you see intense student engagement, excitement, and problem solving.
That is what learning is all about and as a teacher it is so heart-warming, and exciting to see.
To achieve this:
Colour code your annotations based on key areas that you typically give feedback.
You don’t have to make this complicated, reflect on what your common annotations are that you make on student work and think about how you can group them.
As an English teacher I tend to focus on 4-5 main things no matter what the year level is.
For me these are: Blue=Structure, Orange=Evidence, Pink=Argument, Brown=Syntax, Green=Unclear (for sentences that make no sense or messy handwriting!).
Our assessment platform, Flohh, allows you to set up your annotation bank in a colour coded structure so you can just drag and drop you favourite annotations onto student work.
- Reflect on your typical annotations and group them into focus areas
- Assign a colour to each group
- Give students a key (this can literally be a handwritten and photocopied key. (They can stick it in their books).
- Pair students up to work together and try to ‘level-up’ their work based on their annotations.
Step 4: Have students use your feedback to set learning goals for the future.
Off the back of your ‘ultimate dream lesson’, have students set learning goals, based on your feedback, and their reflections.
Their goals should set clear targets for what they need to do to improve next time.
Get them to use active language and don’t be afraid to ask them to revise if the goals aren’t specific enough.
Make sure you get them to keep these goals somewhere safe so they don’t lose them!
We’ve got an automated learning goal loop in Flohh, our assessment platform, that can help you to do this and automatically remind students of goals before their next assignment.
- Have students set learning goals based on your feedback
- Record their goals somewhere safe
- Make them reflect on their goals before they submit their next assignment
- Follow detailed a detailed version of these steps in our free guide (link below)
After many requests from teachers, I’ve finally put together a step-by-step guide to walk you through how to create rubrics and unit plans that set you and your students up for success.
This is my take on how to plan for learning that doesn’t just focus on ticking boxes, but the process of learning.
If you’re keen to learn more about how to best use rubrics, and plan for some ‘ultimate dream lessons’ please download it.
It is completely free and I’ve made it just for teachers like you!
To download your FREE copy click the button below
Thanks for reading and have a rippa day,
P.s don’t forget to download.