Us vs. Them: For Whom is the Feedback, Anyway?
By Jennifer Zizzo, World Languages
Would you be willing to sacrifice a bit of instructional time if it allowed for students to take part in a powerful learning process of giving and receiving meaningful and timely feedback? If we want our teacher feedback to have an impact on student growth, then we really ought to consider making our students a part of the process. When a learner can identify on his own what he is doing well, areas where he needs to improve and provide evidence of both in his own work, he has developed skills that will take him well beyond our classroom walls. I have learned over the years that students do very little with my written feedback. I believe this was the case for several reasons: the feedback was not always timely, the feedback loop ended with me, there was not an opportunity to re-perform and finally, my students were not a part of the process. Transitioning to evidence-based reporting has convinced me that assessment is learning, and a tremendous amount of learning is happening during the co-constructive feedback process.
Imagine a process in which the students bring the feedback to you. Co-construction happens after a learner performs a task, self-assesses and reflects, then sits down to conference with you, his teacher. This can be done only after the learner has had opportunities to interact with the language of the learning targets and rubrics. Through that interaction, the learner develops the tools to self-assess the current state of his own work before you even do. The learner classifies (rates) the product and then communicates evidence that supports his self-assessment of that work. He articulates what he believes went well and where and how he can grow. The teacher and student look at the learner’s product or performance together and have a conversation around areas of strength and areas for growth.
The most beautiful part of this process is that the learner, many times, captures most of what his teacher would have shared in terms of feedback. It has become commonplace that I can hardly provide better suggestions for their improvement than they do for themselves. Ultimately, the teacher classifies the student with a rating and communicates his feedback for growth.
As a result of this process the learner is well informed for a future attempt at the next performance. Not only will your students develop excellent self-assessment and reflection skills over time, you will build a relationship with each and every student in your class. That relationship is powerful, as it transfers to their motivation to learn, grow and be successful.
I teach world languages and I have the most experience engaging in the co-constructive feedback process in the interpersonal speaking are of the course. The interpersonal mode of communication is one of the three academic standards in World Languages. This mode is comprised of two targets: interpersonal speaking (on demand, two-way communication, where there is negotiation of meaning) and daily target language use (maintaining the target language in
and beyond the classroom.) Students receive a prompt (task) related to the theme of study and are asked to engage in a 2:30-3:00 minute conversation with a random partner. They then digitally record their conversation. In an effort to highlight what learners can really do with language in the moment, these conversations are un-rehearsed and spontaneous, but do revolve around familiar topics of study.
This is what the process looks like in my room step by step:
As a language teacher, at the end of the day, I want my students to have the confidence to take risks with language and go out into the world with the ability to apply the supporting content and skills I have taught them in their own day-to-day communication. This is my eighteenth year in the teaching profession, and this goal has not changed. What has evolved, however, is the way I look at feedback. It is no longer for me. It is for them.