Friday, July 3, 2009

Never work harder than your students, Cha. 5

Use Feedback Effectively

Jackson starts off with an all-too-familiar scenario about her time in the classroom: as a new teacher she would give grades; she would spend hours upon hours leaving unique comments on students work; she would pass work back, watch students flip to the grade at the end, and dump the work into the recycling bin; the next week, students would repeat the same mistakes. Every day, some enterprising students would ask her what their grades were; every parent-teacher conference, she would explain what a student's grade meant to engaged, but confused, parents.

The theme of her "Common Practice" section for this chapter is the disconnect between grades and learning. We use grading systems for everything BUT how well a student knows the required material. Grades can reflect the timely completion of work, test-taking abilities, work ethic, even new and clever ways of cheating. The way to bridge this disconnect, she proposes, is (unsurprisingly) to use feedback effectively. It's not just enough to spend hours on comments about THIS assignment; how to do better next time seems to be a key element. She also makes it clear that assessments are not the same thing as tests, and there needs to be a lot more non-paper-and-pencil tests. Not that those things aren't important--state tests and AP exams are paper-and-pencil tests--but effective teaching of the concepts on the tests trumps the test format every time. And alternative forms of tests frequently give teachers and learners a better grasp of what they're learning, and how well they're learning it.

How this will help my students

Jackson's practical suggestions for using feedback effectively are no different from Marzano's--or, for that matter, my principal's. There aren't a lot of new concepts in here that I'd never heard before. There's one major difference between my exposure to those other sources of information, and this: here, now, in the middle of the summer, with Jackson's book on one side and Marzano's Art and Science of Teaching on the other, I have time to work out what this means for my practices, and what that will mean for my students. In other words, instead of just talking the talk, I can work on walking the walk.

On the grounds of feedback, I think I'm more in the "give comments and watch them go unheeded" category than in the "master teacher" stage. Jackson gives a specific system for helping students collecting their own learning data that I may try implementing. I've already decided that my students will have portfolios next year, and I'm looking into making them e-folios. This should help students have a better idea of where they stand. Also, she talked about a consistent set of rubrics--I'm not sure how well this will translate to world language classes, because the subject isn't "writing." It's writing, and reading, and speaking, and listening, and doing all of these things in combination, plus culture, comparisons, connections, and communities. But the shape of the idea will be about the same, I think: a rubric for conversation activities, one for presentations, and one for comprehension activities, with culture elements involved in all of them. More on this later, I suspect.


hidie said...

I found your blog through a google search of "unpacking standards," which lead me to your "Never work harder than your students, Cha. 2." I read through your chapters 2 through 5 (couldn't find #1). I just participated in an institute for PE/Health educators in CA and had my very first introduction to unpacking standards. I had learned about backwards planning many years ago, and can see how it fits together. I'm curious about this "Jackson" you refer to. What is her book called?

I admire your commitment to writing about your professional life.

Thanks, Hidie

JohnCosby said...


The book is called "Never work harder than your students" by Robyn R. Jackson (ASCD); more info about it here:

(It even looks like you can read parts of it online.)

My comments on the introduction to the book are here:

and Chapter 1 is here:

My poor comments are obviously no match for reading the book itself: Ms. Jackson has had almost every position in the teaching world except "guy who fixes lockers with pliers." She illustrates what she's talking about with personal examples. Sympathizing with her and the teachers she's worked with makes it easier for me to reflect critically, but not judgmentally, on what I do as a teacher.

And because this sounds like an ad, I should mention that I have no affiliation with ASCD or Robyn Jackson. I am not even a member of ASCD, although I probably should be.

Thanks for the kind words!

hidie said...

Thanks, John, for the link to the book. Maybe I can ask around at school in the fall and see if anyone has it so I can borrow it for free. Or maybe I'll just keep following your blog and get the sweet'n'condensed version. Have a great start to the school year, and please do keep writing. H