Originally posted June 8, 2017
Originally posted June 3, 2017
Originally posted February 24, 2017
Picture this scenario—you’ve found yourself asked to provide feedback to an aspiring Olympic downhill skier. You’ve never skied before nor have you studied any of the technical side to downhill skiing. How do you focus your feedback?
Well, I can offer some possible conclusions of what might happen based on a similar scenario I implemented with classroom teachers. Working with a group of 7th-12th grade English Language Arts teachers on feedback and revision practices, I knew I had to place them outside their comfort zone of content knowledge to truly “get” how easily we fall prey to providing ineffective feedback. The new content—juggling! Creating trios, I assigned roles: a juggler, a coach, and a field researcher. Each field researcher was given a checklist delineating out Jan Chappius’ Five Characteristics of Effective Feedback:
- Feedback directs attention to intended learning, pointing out strengths and offering specific information to guide improvement.
- Feedback occurs during the learning, while there is still time to act on it.
- Feedback addresses partial understanding.
- Feedback does not do the thinking for the learner.
- Feedback limits corrective information to an amount the learner can act on.
The field researcher was told not to share their notes with their trio partners but rather, to place check marks in a chart similar to the below example:
Using Jan Chappuis’s Five Characteristics of Effective Feedback, note how many times (using a √) during the activity you hear the peer reviewer give feedback connected to the corresponding feedback characteristic. Jot bits of dialogue, phrases, etc. in the notes column.
|Effective Feedback Characteristics||√||Notes|
|#3… and so on|
I then shared a brief how to video on juggling. Then, with three tennis balls in hand, jugglers were to juggle and coaches were to provide helpful feedback. You can imagine the mayhem that ensued. Very quickly coaches became exasperated because, as they said, “I don’t know how to juggle.” They, like their juggling trio partner, were entering into a practice in which neither had any background experience. Quickly coaches fell back to supportive statements such as “Don’t give up—keep trying” or “You almost got it that time.”
So why do I share this story? Because we enact what we know and learning-focused feedback is not necessarily something we as educators have experienced. In Joellen Killion’s The Feedback Process: Transforming Feedback for Professional Learning, she lifts up that feedback is a process and not a product. In the foreword, colleague and friend Jim Knight (University of Kansas Center for Research and Learning) states, “skillfully crafted feedback that doesn’t prompt growth or learning is no better than poorly crafted feedback that doesn’t lead to change—what matters is growth, learning, and change” (pg. vii). How frequently as educators do we engage in “feedback” that we believe is about growing learning but falls flat? Could our past experiences with feedback be trapping us into a hierarchical positioning that disempowers a learner?
Ending the expert to novice mindset
When I placed teachers into the trios, empowering one to be the coach, I was also playing into a long-held perception that feedback providers must enter into the relationship as the master of the content and the juggler as the responder. I saw this dynamic play out noticing that in some trios the juggler didn’t engage in conversation with the coach but rather just kept trying to juggle as the coach shouted encouragement. But in a few trios I saw the juggler and coach strategizing together; assessing quickly what wasn’t working and problem solving new methods to try. Killion’s book addresses the phenomenon I witnessed. As she shares, the common lament of how to get people to use another’s feedback “suggests that those asking the question see themselves as the master and the recipient as a responder to their demands or expectations” (pg. xi). In this dynamic of master and responder there’s an unequal investment. In learning-focused feedback, Killion explains, the learner is in the driver’s seat. More than half my room of 7th-12th grade ELA teachers lived into a master-to-recipient hierarchy. They did not position the juggler as the driver of the learning. As the activity progressed, they increasingly grew very uncomfortable in their roles as coach without feeling expert on the content being enacted.
So the challenge of learning-focused feedback is to let go of seeing feedback as an expert-to-novice dynamic and to live into being a learning partner. As Killion describes, we need to see feedback as a “constructivist process that engages learners with their partners in generating and deconstructing knowledge” (pg. xi). How frequently has someone providing feedback received feedback on their feedback? Sound confusing? If we are entering into a “constructivist process” in our feedback then we must move beyond a one directional flow of feedback. Wondering what that might look like embedded in classroom practice?
Theory into practice
As a writing teacher, providing feedback to student writers was a daily event. My early instructional approach to writing highlights all the “don’t do” moves of feedback. I’m sure I wrote many ineffective “awk” (awkward) notes in margins. I felt only useful feedback came from an expert. Over the past 5 years I’ve been researching the power of peer feedback. Research is emerging on the power of learning that can happen for the one providing feedback–especially when the one providing feedback receives feedback on the level of helpfulness from the receiver. Eli Review, a peer review software, is just one example of an evolving landscape of educational feedback resources repositioning feedback into a constructivist process versus a one directional red pen copy-edit interaction. But the Eli Review group would also share how peer feedback—or even shifting feedback practices of writing teachers—is still in its infancy.
Join the conversation
Shifting our feedback practices will take intentional focus. We invite you to engage further in exploring how to build learning-focused feedback practices:
- February 27, 9:00 pm on a Twitter chat facilitated by Joellen Killion in collaboration with Learning Forward Virginia and Learning Forward Michigan. Join the chat at #lLFMI. Spend
- March 21, 8:30-4:00, with Joellen Killion to examine the attributes of the feedback process as well as the various types, purposes, and sources of feedback among teachers. Register at https://learningforwardmichigan.org/events/the-feedback-process-the-power-of-learner-focused-feedback/
Learn how to create a culture in which educators routinely engage in the feedback process for professional growth. Gain a deeper understanding of the feedback process and how to employ it to promote increased educator effectiveness.
Additional online modules centered around the Standards for Professional Learning and Learning-Focused Feedback will be available this spring through the Michigan Department of Education’s Edupaths professional growth portal.
Susan Wilson-Golab joined Oakland Schools in 2010 following 22 years of in the field 6-12 experience across two different states and rural, suburban, and urban contexts. Her research and practice focus heavily on the evolving definition of literacy, developmental learning progressions, and formative assessment. At the district level, Susan has served as classroom teacher, Literacy Specialist, and ELA Curriculum Coordinator. These experiences and study helped Susan in her role as Project Leader for developing a model 6-12 ELA curriculum for the Michigan Association of Intermediate School Administrators (MAISA)— a curriculum resource now globally available. More recently, Susan launched Michigan Teachers as Researchers Collaborative (MiTRC). The mission: to build collaborative participatory research between university and secondary teachers from around the state interested in exploring and developing the teaching and assessing of writing. In 2000, she joined the National Writing Project through the satellite Oakland Writing Project site based out of University of Michigan. She now serves as Site Director for the Oakland Writing Project.
by Lauren Childs
Originally posted December 17, 2016
Job-embedded Professional Learning (JEPL)
I drove to the second fall gathering of the JEPL network with an eagerness for the day’s conversations and with a sense of impatience to see the next steps for strengthening the efforts of this committed, proactive, and thoughtful group of school leaders. My excitement this crisp morning was heightened by knowing the team facilitating today’s agenda had planned for a rich day of panel reflections, new information, and lots of time for the leaders to think and talk together.
The Job-embedded Professional Learning Network, based in Oakland County, has been meeting for the past decade to support teacher leaders’ learning and leadership development as they strive to create and support meaningful professional learning experiences as part of the everyday engagement of practicing teachers.
As lead for this network and mentor for this year’s new leadership team, I kept thinking about the goals the team identified during a late summer design session. I was struck by the questions they raised, questions well beyond the scope of supporting one another’s understanding of adult learning design or facilitation skill development. They had identified a set of driving questions that reflected a maturing of their collective commitment and their aspirations for JEPL to have longer term impacts. I wanted to be sure they kept these questions in mind as their year unfolded. In August they had wondered:
- How might we advocate/educate for the importance of prioritizing JEPL; make advocacy an activity of the network members?
- How might we learn about ways reflection is being embedded into teachers’ practices, work lives?
- Can we articulate the non-negotiables of JEPL so that we can strongly advocate for the prioritizing of resources; what are the tables the advocates need to have a seat?
- How might we help the network use the Standards for Professional Learning to map to their specific district PL plans?
- How do we help districts become more informed about the JEPL options that might work in different contexts (labs, walks, book study, online, video club, lesson study, etc)?
- How might we build the next volume of JEPL guidebook to help with above goals? What platform should we use?
- What if we dedicate one session to inviting administrators to think together about JEPL?
- How do we keep the practical support as well as systems change provided to members of the network?
- What does a “JEPL Network” look like in other states?
At the end of the day, the leadership team was indeed moving these questions forward. Marcia Hudson, Elementary Literacy Consultant and Teacher Leader for Avondale Schools, also the hosting network member, had invited a panel of Avondale administrators to reflect aloud on the connection between job-embedded professional learning and student achievement. The panel included: Dr. James Schwarz – Superintendent of Schools, Carmen Kennedy – Asst. Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, Kimberly Hempton – Principal, Auburn Elementary School, and Dr. Cynthia Carver – Asst. Professor Oakland University (Teacher Leadership) and Scholar in Residence at Auburn Elementary. Marcia asked them to begin by focusing on the theory of change that accompanies the Standards for Professional Learning in the Standards Quick Reference Guide. They made numerous points:
- We keep our focus on professional learning and know that it is deeper and richer than “training”. Professional learning is an explicit part of our school and district plans.
- We see professional learning as a kind of continuous feedback loop that helps us keep getting better. This approach to professional learning must be engaged regularly, frequently; it is the most important element in driving good instruction.
- And, teachers are best situated to be the architects of the professional learning needed in this paradigm.
- A decade ago, as a profession, we were working from an assumption that teachers would know what to do with the changing needs of students. We now know we must engage in continuous professional learning to create teaching practices that are responsive to student needs.
- It is a connect-the-dots problem—moving theory to practice. We cannot rely on the former approach of new understandings of teaching and learning being presented at the front of a ballroom and expect it to show up in teaching practices, much less impact student outcomes. The student results needed today demand we attend to the theory of change and the standards for professional learning.
When Marcia opened the floor for network members to press the panel with new questions, two stood out: First, “How have you seen Avondale grow into this model, this theory of change?” Second, “How do you suggest we advocate for time with our colleagues to engage in more meaningful professional learning?” Kennedy described an exemplar of how the JEPL model has emerged at their high school through one teacher leader focusing on design thinking. By engaging the administrators in this focus, this teacher helped create and now leads professional learning with and for six other teachers. He leads their pursuit of field trips to explore design thinking in varied contexts.
“When advocating for more time,” advised Schwarz, “you need to come with a plan. Come to the table with a plan—advocate for that plan.” And, chimed in Carver, “use the data to support the plan.”
Carver also commented that she observed and has often puzzled about the districts’ stance of a voluntary approach to participating in some of the PL opportunities, in Teacher Lab Learning specifically. Wouldn’t we want it to be required for all? And, yet, we have all witnessed the voluntary growth of the teacher lab in this one district led to, not a mandate or requirement of all, but a cultural shift that includes all. The take-away for me was this:
After all the conversations we have had about the voluntary versus required participation dilemma inside job-embedded professional learning, it really is culture shifting! We must shape and sustain a culture where educators’ professional learning—at all levels—is valued and pursued with intention.
As I drove away from the school, I smiled, knowing it had been a very good networking day for the group. I later texted my personal reflection back to the leadership team. I felt grounded in the work because of the space for thinking and dialogue they had created for all of us. The day renewed my sense of eagerness—urgency, even—to pursue our Learning Forward Michigan’s aim to pursue a statewide professional learning network that asks big questions—and goes after them. Perhaps you will join us!
Author: Judy Walton, Chief Innovation Officer, Forest Hills Public Schools
Originally posted October 19, 2016.
Background: During a two week trip to Australia, Judy visited several schools as a part of her interest and study on the topic of student voice. This particular post is of interest because of how student voice influences the professional learning for the teachers.
Students Leading the Way
In the midst of a two-week trip to Melbourne, I had the great fortune to visit two state schools, both Years 9-12. My first visit was to Mt. Waverley Secondary College, a large co-ed school in a middle class suburb. The following day, I spent time at Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School, somewhat smaller, and just a short tram ride from the Central Business District. Unlike Mt. Waverley, Mac.Rob is a magnet school with an application process.
I went to the schools through the generous invitation of Roger Holdsworth, a man of many talents and an educator who truly believes in the democratic agency of all students.I met Roger online in a group dedicated to student voice while researching my dissertation. Sight unseen, he set up the school visits and made the rounds with me. My conversations with him were thought-provoking and have helped me grow my thinking.
Both of the schools I visited participate with the Victorian Student Representative Council – “VicSRC” – a state-funded body representing students. Through support from that agency, both schools engage in their own versions of Teach the Teacher, where students lead professional learning for educators in an atmosphere of open, honest, and nonjudgmental communication. I had the privilege to meet with students from both schools who are working with teachers to improve the learning in their schools.
Like many in education, the students are anxious for change. They recognize that their time at the school is limited, and they desire systems for sustainable change. They recognize the external and internal pressures on teachers stemming from economics and accountability, and they are willing to work shoulder-to-shoulder with them to make positive change. They recognize that not every educator is welcoming student voice with open ears, and they continue to believe in what they are doing. They recognize that in some ways their input is still at the tokenism level, and they persist in advocating for equality.
At Mt. Waverley, the Teach the Teacher program is currently centered around a shared belief among teachers and students that strong relationships are important to creating a healthy learning environment.Students led learning for staff and students around the perception data gathered in the school and worked together to draft a survey for teachers to use to gain feedback from students in individual classrooms.The teachers used the feedback to improve relationships, and thereby improve learning. To read more in-depth on this project, click here and forward to page 8. Another project the students are interested in is re-purposing the first 15-20 minutes of school so that teachers and students become more of a community of learners.
At Mac.Rob, the students and staff are engaged in a four-year strategic plan that includes their version of Teach the Teacher, known as Creating Conversations. Students take part in four different areas of the school: curriculum, building and logistics, e-learning, and wellbeing. On the day I was there, the students were holding an open forum on the Year 10 English curriculum, which had been reconfigured within the last few years. The students are seeking to understand the impact the curriculum change has had on students as they move up into Years 11 and 12, and on the teachers who are implementing the new curriculum. Like many schools in the U.S., the Mac.Rob students sometimes have a day off while their teachers engage in professional learning. The students also have an interest in measuring the impact that professional learning has on classroom learning.
What might we achieve in our schools if we not only engage student voice, but welcome students as leaders of learning? We talk to students all the time; what might happen if we talk with them? More importantly, what is possible if we listen as well? Why not learn from those most impacted by policies and decisions? Why not let them lead the way?
Judy regularly blogs on a variety of topics related to teaching and learning.