Sunday, May 3, 2020

The Value of Feedback for Students & Families in This Remote Learning Environment

The internet is replete with images of kids being ever so gently pushed onto school buses and parents practically throwing their kids out of cars in front of school buildings.  There are snappy captions about how parents will be gleeful when school resumes.  In fact, I have seen long rants about how grateful parents are for the instruction their children were getting when physically in the school building and how much harder it now is for parents to tackle remote learning because the burden of daily classroom management has largely shifted now from school to parent. 

Then, and I am sure you've seen this too, I have seen the memes about needing to get teachers a gift to show their appreciation.  The meme is usually sarcastic and instead of referring to a child's actual teacher, they are now referring to themselves.  It ends with the parent shopping for him or herself.  I get it.  In many ways, parents/ caregivers are stepping up big time.  They really are partnering with us to help their children learn in ways that they have not had to do ever before.  Sometimes, this can be really illuminating.  Parents/caregivers can learn more about their children, how they learn.  Parents/caregivers can see how their child has functioned when acquiring new information in a whole group and small group setting (they can peer into the room while their child is on a Zoom).  They can see what a child retains from a teacher's lesson to do independent work that first time afterward.  They can provide one-on-one instruction and support.

However, for many parents/caregivers, they already have jobs outside of the home and simply do not have the ability to provide such hands-on support.  Others, do not have the background or ability to help because of limited proficiency in the subject matter (especially high school subjects), limited technical abilities (maybe they aren't as seasoned in Flipgrid, Glogster, Google classroom, or using library databases), etc...  Some people able to try and help, but have limited success in doing so.

All parents/caregivers are now playing a new role in their child's lives. 

So, the issue then shifts to how schools can meaningfully interpret what a student understands from what is being taught.  A student simply submitting a google form for math that is scored as 10/10 tells a teacher little about what it took to get that student that score.  Is it that the student had to watch a video of a teacher (or another person) explaining how to do that set of problems once or several times?  Did that student ask his or her parent/caregiver to help him or her?  Did that student guess?  There are so many ways that students could have derived at the answers he or she did.

Hence, it is so much more valuable for teachers to ask students how they are completing their work.  It is super valuable for a teacher to track areas students are getting right and areas they have not yet gained consistent proficiency in.  By doing so, teachers can get a window into the world of the student right now.  Hence, rather than looking to grade a research paper, I would want to give suggestions (on a google doc) on how to improve it and ask questions about what a student was thinking when focusing on or writing something.  I would want to digitally do this as a "conference" with that student.  It's the feedback that is going to move the learning forward, not grades.

When we talk about equity, this is the fairest way to help students grow regardless of whatever situation they are in.  Otherwise, we risk seriously penalizing students who do not have the privilege of a support network in their homes that can help them maintain high grades.

By grading, we are also rewarding students who might not have done work independently with grades that do not actually reflect their proficiency.  This will not help them long term when they "return" to whatever school may look like in the fall without those skills solidified.  If our goal is student learning (which I believe it is for everyone), then feedback ensures growth.  Recognizing the process of learning and helping students get to proficiency needs to be done in a way that is effective, empathetic, and equitable.  Feedback does just that.