Figuring out feedback: Part 1

Every educator understands that one of the most important keys to student learning and growth is effective feedback. It can be a formative or summative assessment, in real-time or after a certain period of time, synchronously or asynchronously.

I recently explored various ways to give feedback to my students. This is the first of two posts where I test out two different (and hopefully) effective methods.

Back in the day…

When I taught band, it seemed to be easier to give on-the-spot feedback. If a student played a wrong note, I could verbally correct them, pick up an instrument and show them the fingering, or just model and play it. Similarly, I could sing or play a particular passage to them, then have them play it back to me, and immediately give them feedback on their performance.  While I quickly worked with one section in the band, the others were silently practicing their part or a passage that they needed extra work on.

When I switched to English, it was suddenly difficult for me to give effective and timely feedback. I couldn’t grade their assignments fast enough, partly because I was trying to grade EVERYTHING on the page. While I could identify problems,  I couldn’t figure out how to give feedback that would lead to improvement in that area. I was hoping that when we switched to a 1:1 environment with the iPad, it would make grading easier. It did in some ways, but I still was taking weeks to grade 177 5-paragraph essays.

My constant quest for improvement

I’ve always been on hunt for an effective and efficient way to give feedback. If I had to choose between the two, I would prefer effective over efficient because I want my students to improve in their writing. I eventually realized that I was spending hours writing comments on my students’ papers, and they weren’t even paying attention to them at all.  My students only cared about their score and whether or not they could rewrite it for a better grade. It turns out those hours spent laboring over their comments and trying to be as thorough with my comments seemed to be wasted. I was being neither effective nor efficient!

Fast forward to this past month, when my students completed their first full essay for the year: a district performance task on the cost of attending college. In my constant pursuit of self-improvement, I wanted to shake things up when grading these essays.

The epiphany

I decided that this time I would find a way to give them specific and helpful feedback that would help them grow as writers. I would first seek effectiveness over efficiency, and then find a way to do both. As much as I didn’t want to admit it, I realized that the best feedback was personalized and one-on-one, similar to a conference. However I just couldn’t figure out how to schedule 177 conferences while keeping all of the other students busy during class time.

So the techy in me kicked in, and I realized that I could videotape or screencast my comments and feedback! It would be like having a conference with them, where I would comment on different aspects of their paper, praise them for what they did well, and offer suggestions for next time. They could in turn watch their personal video for homework, and rewrite their essay for a better grade.

Screencasting

Here are the steps I had to take to make this happen:

  1. I took a clear photo of each page of their essay. I used the free Doc Scan HD app since I can take a clear picture of it and put it into one file. Here’s a student sample: Sample Essay
  2. I opened the document in Notability for Mac. I wanted the ability to annotate and write comment directly on the essay.
  3. I used the free Screencast-O-Matic program to record my comments. This is honestly the simplest program for screencasting, and I use it for all of my videos. You just download the program to your computer, launch it, and go. Here’s a good tutorial on how to use it, as well as their help page.

This is one of my final products:

The results…

It took me, on average, 20 minutes per video. That includes taking the picture, recording the video, saving it to Google Drive, and then posting the link to the video in Jupitergrades. That would mean I would need 59 hours to grade all of them!

For that reason, I only did this with one class to test it out. I wanted to make sure that all of that work was worth it, and didn’t end up being ignored like my comments on their papers. When I finished with that class, I had them watch their videos for homework, and then complete a Google Form. Here are the results:

Results for: was this video useful Results for: I understand my strengths and weaknesses Results for: I can apply this to future essays Results for: the video was too long Results for: I prefer video feedback Results for: I feel confident in applying this information Results for: I want to rewrite my essay
Click on the pictures below so you can clearly read the comments:Results for: Other comments

Results for: Other comments

Sigh.

I guess the students really found it useful! I have a mix of joy and dread, mainly because I’m so delighted that they CLEARLY found it helpful and want me to continue to use this method, but it takes SO LONG to do just one class!

I think that I can shorten this task by having them submit their essays online so that I don’t have to take pictures of it. I could also have them type it in a Google Doc that they share with me and give them feedback while they’re writing (although this doesn’t really emulate a standardized test situation).

For next week, I will discuss another similar but less labor-intensive method that I discovered and personalized. We’ll see if the students find it as effective as this one!



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