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Creating a climate for student collaboration and feedback

Every year in Virginia, teachers must submit professional goals. During an evaluative year, the goals must be tied to student achievement. During non-evaluative years, they do not. My goal for this year is to research and implement effective feedback strategies. John Hattie is recognized as one of the foremost experts on feedback. The Visible Learning website lists it “as one of the most

powerful influences on learning and achievement.” (Visible Learning Glossary)  

During my research, I found a list that clarifies some of his writings. Three items caught my attention:  

  • The culture of the student can influence the feedback effects: Feedback is not only differentially given, but also differentially received.
  • Errors need to be welcomed: The exposure to errors in a safe environment can lead to higher performance.
  • The power of peers: Interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback are needed. (Feedback)

My vision for my classroom is to foster an environment where students are comfortable making mistakes and sharing work with peers. What spoke to me about these three quotes was the fact that they all seemed to deal with creating this type of classroom culture. The question then becomes, how do I do this? How do I shift from researching and implementing effective feedback strategies to using them to transform my classroom? 

How do I provide effective feedback and encourage student collaboration?

For me, the answer is to walk the talk. I model everything that I expect from my students. I am human and I make mistakes. When I do, I don’t hide from it; I showcase it, talk about it, and then fix it. I want my students to know that mistakes are natural and part of the learning process. The key is to own the mistake and then to fix it.  

The feedback that I provide to students is specific and shows what they did well and what they need to improve on. Recently, I asked students to rate aspects of Athenian and Spartan society and then justify their ratings. This is an example of the feedback given to a student:

“Decent explanation of why you rated each city-state the way you did.  I like how you used specific examples from the reading. Start looking at using examples from other sources like notes, videos etc. to go further in justifying your answers.”  

When we begin the second semester, I will have students use a checklist for items to consider. I will also include some examples of how to frame their comments effectively.

Two things made this process easier for me, Hapara Workspace and the comment feature on Google Docs. I use Workspace to begin the process of student collaboration. The Google Docs comment feature allows me to give specific, actionable feedback on student work.

When an evidence card is created in Workspace, the creator has the ability to decide whether it will be for an individual or a group to provide. The real power, though, comes when specific evidence cards are targeted to specific groups. This way, you control who is collaborating together and provide a framework for them to do so. In years past, I would put students in a group, give them a chart, and have them work. Now, with Workspace, I have better control over the digital conversations. Consequently, my students’ work becomes more focused.

The comment feature of Google Docs has allowed me to provide feedback that is timely. I can make suggestions, comment, and provide feedback geared to the whole document or to specific sections. I enjoy the fact that I can highlight portions of text and then tie in comments to the areas that I have highlighted. This lets my students know what areas my comments are focused on.

What’s next:

My goal for the second semester is to take this to the next stage. I have created a classroom climate that hopefully is conducive to fostering feedback. I have modeled my expectations. Now it is time for students to collaborate and begin the process of providing effective feedback to each other. If you want to check in on my progress in regards to feedback, follow me on Twitter @MHSLewisHistory.

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