Teaching is in the Feedback (Loop)

Do you remember writing those 30-50 papers in college and anxiously awaiting the professor’s comments? During the writing process, did you ever think, I know this part is amazing? Returning to class a week later, you’d arrive early with a nervous exhilaration, hoping to see the remarks all over your paper. When the professor begins with lecture, you think, s/he will pass it out before break…nope. Then later you think s/he will pass it back just before we leave. . . nope. Repeat this for the next three weeks.  By then, you’re already deep into your next writing assignment and your original brilliance is only a faint memory.

The original paper is returned unceremoniously just before break. In your car, you look at the comments (Yes! a whole written page on the back) and realize you can only decipher about every fifth word your professor wrote.

This was pretty much my entire college existence. It leaves me with the question: What did I learn?

Recently, a variety of educators and researchers have made me see that it is in feedback that the real learning occurs for students; additionally, the feedback needs to be timely (almost immediately) and interactive (the loop).

Brain Dump

During day three of #DitchSummit 2017, Poojah Agarwaal presented a video interview, “How to Make Learning Really Stick for Your Students,” that reinforces the idea that timely feedback is the key to learning.  Agarwaal talked about the importance of having students practice retrieval which can easily be done through the process she calls Brain Dump.

Brain Dumps don’t take long and they help students cement their learning and teachers can quickly assess what needs to be revisited. One example would be after students read a couple pages, have them stop and write everything down that they can remember. According to Agarwaal, the most important part of this practice is the student receiving feedback (immediately). Did s/he remember what was important? Feedback shows students what they are learning.

Feedback Loop

Alice Keeler, teacher, author presenter, and innovator, tweets and writes about the feedback loop. She believes that assignments are the start of a conversation and that teachers need to respond in a manner that pushes the student to think critically and respond to the teacher.  According to Keeler, this cycle should occur a couple of times because this is where the learning takes place for the student. If students read comments to an assignment three or four days later, typically this goes in the trash, or electronically, it disappears in the Drive forever and students are moving on to the next assignment.

Lesson Plan for the Feedback

Since feedback is so important, this means I need to lessonPLAN for feedback.  This does not mean that now I’m going to be spending even more hours providing DOK 3 level questions for each student on every single assignment. There are multiple ways to give feedback in the classroom.  First, students can give each other feedback.  For some assignments, this is the most effective feedback because students are preparing for an authentic audience. The important point to remember is that students don’t always know how to give feedback and I often have to teach this skill. Second, if I simply want a check of DOK 1 level knowledge, I can make a self-grading Google Form or Socrative and the students will get immediate feedback on their knowledge.

In planning for when I need to give very specific feedback, I need to decide what area my students need the most support with at the moment.  In high school, this is typically critical thinking and deeper level analysis.  Therefore, this is where I will focus my energies and provide that feedback loop, engaging each student in a meaningful conversation that will lead to true learning.

One last note on grading:  The grading should be how the student participates in the conversation, not on the initial assignment.  Obviously, if the student could do the assignment perfectly, there would be no reason to assign it in the first place.

How do you provide timely feedback and open-up a conversation with your students?


What can we learn about Native American history through artistic expression? What can we learn about ourselves?

As winter break looms before us, the students enter class smiling, chatting, excited; but also stressed, overwhelmed and frantic. The class has completed their writing final, and now they await the summative final which is still a week away. What can I do to make this last week meaningful and engaging for the students without increasing their tumultuous feelings about impending finals?

As a precursor to planning my final week of instruction, yesterday I interacted with two online texts that helped guide me with instruction.  The first, I listened to while walking my dog Onyx,  A Cult of Pedagogy podcast by Jennifer Gonzalez titled “What to do on Lame-duck School Days.”  She offers many suggestions that might work at some point in my teaching, but each was too far a departure from where I’ve been with the students this year.  The second text was a post on Twitter from Teachthought:


Both of these online interactions put me in a position this morning of wanting to create a continued, inspiring experience for the students that will simultaneously utilize skills they will need for the summative final (creative and critical thinking). Here’s what I came up with:

What can we learn about Native American history through artistic expression? What can we learn about ourselves?

I’ve embedded the interactive slide show that the students will use as a guide through multiple activities that require creative and critical thinking combined with self examinations.  Unfortunately, you cannot see the directions because they are in the speaker notes. You can make a copy of the Slides here.  I should also note that it was my TA who shared the beautifully made program Injunuity with me via a text on Saturday!