Feedback From Afar

“We all need people who will give us feedback. That is how we improve.” Bill Gates

The EEF defines feedback as “information given to the learner or teacher about the learner’s performance relative to learning goals or outcomes.” As teachers, in our classrooms, there is a constant dialogue between students and teachers. We can use questioning, mini-whiteboards, quizzes to check for understanding. We can see whether students are completing their independent work. We can read their written answers. We can discuss their answers with them. They can ask for help.

My first question when I started planning for remote teaching was what was I going to use to replace all that?

There has been a lot of debate since we all started remote teaching in March about the benefits of synchronous teaching (live lessons) and asynchronous teaching (students completing set work any time before a due date) and if you want to consider the strengths and weaknesses of these two approaches then this blog by Zach Groshell (2020) is a great place to start. In terms of feedback there are clearly some advantages to using live lessons. However, my family circumstances mean that this is out of the question so I set myself the challenge of figuring out how to provide feedback from afar.

Feedback is a huge and complicated area so it seemed sensible to break it down into more specific questions, my reflections on which are outlined below. The three questions are:

  1. How will I know if the students are doing the work?
  2. How will I know if the students understand?
  3. How will I provide the students with feedback on their work?
  4. How will I give students the chance to ask questions?

How will I know if the students are doing the work?

I made the decision very early on that I was going to require the students to submit some work from every lesson so that I would be able to monitor completion, but I also didn’t want an inbox full of pages and pages of work. The question, therefore, was what work should students submit and how should they submit it?

Harry Fletcher-Wood (2020) recommends we should ‘identify the activities that matter most to student learning’ and pick 2-3 simple activities which can be applied to multiple topics in a worthwhile way. The first point helped me to pick the activities that students should submit, activities which would allow me to assess and provide feedback on the most important knowledge/skills. The second point encouraged me to keep it simple with two different ways of submitting work. These three ways are compared in the table below.

Comparing feedback

All the three methods have their advantages but my favourite has been using Google Forms. You can use multiple choice questions and free-response questions, allowing responses up to a paragraph in length. An example of one of the forms I used with my year 10 group is shown below and the full form is available here.

Google Forms 1

For those of you who have not used Google Forms before, they are very straightforward and there are lots of video tutorials available, like this one by Simpletivity (2019).  but there are some specific things I have learned in the box below.

I don’t collect email addresses from students but instead the first question always asks them to give their name.  I’ve had very few unnamed responses because, of course, if they don’t give their name then they get reminders instead of rewards for completing the work!  You can share the form with students in a variety of ways by clicking the purple ‘Send’ button when the form is complete.

Google 2

I attach a shortened link (see below) to the form, to our Show My Homework platform.  You can see who has completed the work by clicking on the responses tab and quickly looking through the answers to the ‘Name’ question.

Google Form

Using these methods, I feel very confident I know who is completing the work and this allows me to send out virtual rewards to encourage them to keep up the good work.

How will I know if the students understand?

Knowing whether students understand is all about writing good questions, which is a real art form, and I won’t even attempt to cover everything in this blog. What follows are my recommendations from my vast experience of two weeks remote teaching!

* Think of these questions as an exit ticket. A good exit ticket should focus on the lesson’s crucial ideas (Fletcher-Wood 2019) and those they really need to have understood in order to move on to the next lesson. When I’m planning remote lessons, I’m all too aware that students may be sharing devices with each other so they might not have as long to complete this work as we would be used to in a normal lesson. It’s therefore important to focus on the key ideas.

* Focus on students’ misconceptions. You’re the expert here. Think about when you’ve taught the lesson before. What mistakes do the students normally make? Where do they fall short of perfection in an answer? Can you write a question that gives them the opportunity to make these mistakes?

* Multiple choice questions are more likely to be completed. A multiple choice question consists of a problem, known as the stem, and a list of suggested solutions, known as alternatives. The alternatives consist of one correct or best alternative, which is the answer, and incorrect or inferior alternatives, known as distractors (Brahme 2013). More information about what makes a good stem and what makes good alternatives are given below (Brahme 2013).

MCQ

Writing good multiple-choice questions is surprisingly difficult so it’s wise to use ones already available. Some places to look for Science multiple choice questions:

  • BEST Science resources (link)
  • Diagnostic questions (link)
  • MOSART (link)
  • Past papers containing multiple-choice questions

* Adapt the questions from your typical lessons. There is no need to change all your normal lessons. How can the questions you usually ask students in class be adapted for use remotely?

This is a great opportunity to practise writing multiple choice questions so that is what I am going to be focussing on over the next few weeks.

How will I provide students with feedback on their work?

Before I start talking about feedback itself, it’s very important to say that these are complicated times for many of us. We may still be in school, or we may be balancing home schooling our children with setting work remotely, and there shouldn’t be an expectation of detailed individualised feedback. That said, we do need to give students some recognition of their work if we expect them to keep doing it and here are two ways I have found to provide feedback that is not too time consuming.

Method 1: Use a mark scheme and highlight in a word document

My year 12 students have emailed me a 6-mark question to look at on radical reactions in the atmosphere. I put their picture into a word document with a copy of the mark scheme underneath. I then highlighted the marks they had got, and those they had missed and typed a quick target. It was probably quicker than marking by hand!

Mark scheme

Method 2: Google Forms and mail merge

The second method uses the spreadsheet produced by a Google Form. This is going to be a little less ‘education’ and a little more ‘ICT’ so if you are already familiar with Google Forms and know how to do a mail merge you can skip the next bit!

To get the spreadsheet from the Google Forms web page you select the Reponses tab, click on the three dots above accepting responses and select ‘Download responses (.csv)’.

Google 1

You can see an example of the spreadsheet below, with columns for time completed and answers to each of the questions on the form.

Spreadsheet

To give feedback, I add columns into the spreadsheet and write my feedback in the cells. This sounds incredibly time consuming, but there are only a limited number of comments you will want to make and this is especially true if you have used multiple choice questions. My final spreadsheet looks something like the one below.

Feedback

To create a mail merge of the feedback you need to open a word document. Select the Mailings tab then ‘Select Recipients’ and ‘Use an Existing List’. At this point you should select your spreadsheet and the tab with all the answers and feedback.

I start with a copy of the questions and then under each question I type, ‘your answer’ and ‘your feedback’. Next to each of these you add a link to your spreadsheet. Select the Mailings tab, then ‘Insert Merge Field’. This will give you a list of all the column headings in your spreadsheet so you can choose the correct one. My final document looks like the one below.

Mail merge

You can then generate individual feedback for each student. Select the Mailings tab, then ‘Finish & Merge’ ‘Edit Individual Documents’. I found it easier to put in each number at a time and save it as the student’s name but you can produce them all at once.

You can see an example of the final feedback sheet below. I think I got a bit carried away on my first attempt and gave more feedback than I think students will be able to take in so my aim next time is to think about what would be really useful and consider this when writing the questions.

FInal

How will I give students the chance to ask questions?

As some of you will know, one of my main areas of interest is metacognition and I didn’t want remote teaching to stop me from supporting students to develop their metacognitive skills. In fact, it’s even more important that they develop their ability to assess their performance for themselves. To do this I’ve been asking my year 12 students to complete a Google Form after every lesson (see example here), answering the following questions:

  1. On a scale of 1 to 5, where is not confident and 5 is very confident, how confident are you in your understanding of this lesson?
  2. What are you most confident about from this lesson?
  3. What are you not confident about from this lesson?
  4. Do you have any questions you would like me to answer?

From the responses to these questions I have done a bit of whole class feedback in the form of an FAQ (see below).

FAQ

Conclusion

So what have I learned from two weeks of remote teaching?  Firstly, that it is perfectly possible to find out whether students are completing the work and whether they understand it.  Google Forms is an excellent solution for this.  I have also developed ways of giving feedback that can be detailed and aren’t too time consuming.

References

Brame, C., (2013) Writing good multiple choice test questions. Retrieved [130420] from https://cft.vanderbilt.edu/guides-sub-pages/writing-good-multiple-choice-test-questions/.

Fletcher-Wood H (2019) Exit tickets: Responsive Teaching 2019 update – encapsulating tasks and retention. Retrieved [140420] from https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2019/06/16/exit-tickets-responsive-teaching-2019-update-encapsulating-tasks-and-retention/

Fletcher-Wood H (2020) Learning in the time of coronavirus: planning distance schooling. Retrieved [130420] from https://improvingteaching.co.uk/2020/03/12/learning-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-planning-distance-schooling/

Groshell Z (2020) The Unproductive Debate of Synchronous vs. Asynchronous Learning. Retrieved [130420] from https://educationrickshaw.com/2020/03/30/the-unproductive-debate-of-synchronous-vs-asynchronous-learning/

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