Tag Archives: feedback

A Model of Distributed Feedback..?

An interesting idea was discussed at my principal PLG today related to giving feedback. As the conversation developed the notion of feedback, and how it is delivered and received, could be used as a measure for a truly distributed leadership model. It certainly got me thinking. Not sure what I mean? An explanation is required…

The conversation started after a reflective exercise related to our shared text, Thanks for the Feedback. Using a PAGE template to respond to the text it reinforced what I know already – that giving feedback to staff is not a strength of mine and an area that I need to improve.

I unpacked this further, suggesting that my personality was not naturally tuned in to feedback giving and it was something that felt unnatural and was very hard to do -especially the warm fuzzy type. For me this relates more to the ongoing, informal, just in time feedback as more formalised feedback through observations, and coaching sessions for example, sit more comfortably with me. I know other people are much more natural at providing feedback and it seems to be just part of their how they roll.

There were a general agreement of this and round the table and we could identify with one type or the other, or somewhere in-between.

Then the question was asked, do I need to be? In the situation where I am part of the senior leadership team – do I need to be good at the ongoing, informal, just in time feedback, as well as all other types of feedback?

If someone in the leadership team assumes this role instead (i.e. they are good at the warm fuzzies) – is that OK?

The first question that arose from that was this; Is feedback perceived, either intentionally or not, that it is more important if it comes from the principal? Perhaps that it simply an assumption that I have made.

So, let’s take the scenario where their are 3 people who make up a school’s leadership team. Two of these are great at coaching other teachers and get them to thinking deeply about their practice. They function best in a 1-1 context, listening, prompting and helping to identify next steps. This is their strength – unlike the third member of the team who finds this challenging. However, the third person is great at the ongoing, informal, just in time feedback. They fill the gap the other two leaders leave, giving staff that feel-good factor and acknowledgement. In other words, the giving of feedback is distributed among the leaders, working to their strengths and personalities.

So what would need to be in place in order for this to happen

Firstly, I think you need to know your teachers well. What presses their buttons, how, where and when they like to receive feedback. Perhaps undertaking some kind of personality test or analysis (like the DiSC model I have previously used) to enable everyone to better understand themselves and to adapt their behaviours to others and vice versa, is a must.

Secondly, going back to the question; Is feedback perceived, either intentionally or not, that it is more important if it comes from the principal? If this is true, then this will be required to change to a culture where feedback from anyone is sort out and valued. I think this would be a great discussion point with staff – maybe it is just an assumption I have made.

This brings us all back round to the notion of feedback, and how it is delivered and received, could be used as a measure for a truly distributed leadership model. The suggestion is that if you have a truly distributed model of leadership, then feedback given by the leadership team, for whatever purpose, has equal weighting no matter who it is from.

Student Agency

Our writing PLD for this year is based on the underlying principal of student agency driving an improvement in student achievement. At the beginning of this development when Brian Annan was discussing the approach I was familiar with the term but not conversant nor had a deep understanding. So I needed to connect some of the dots and clarify what it was all about.

Isn’t it funny too that when an idea is emphasised like student agency, that it seems to appear everywhere now that your awareness of it is heightened. e.g.

So what is student agency? Some quick definitions:

Russell Burt:

Agency – the power to act – informed/empowered/enabled learners

Mark Osbourne refers to the Quality Teaching for Diverse Students in Schooling: Best Evidence Synthesis Iteration (BES):

In summary, sustained higher achievement is possible when teachers use pedagogical approaches that enable students to take charge of their own learning. Such approaches do not leave the students ‘to discover’ in an unstructured environment. Rather, they are highly structured in supporting student agency and sustained and thoughtful engagement. For example, they foster students’ abilities to define their own learning goals, ask questions, anticipate the structure of curriculum experiences, use metacognitive strategies when engaging with curriculum, and self-monitor. Pedagogies that emphasise, embed and enable metacognitive strategy-use throughout curriculum engagement for class groupings, are associated with much higher achievement and enable marked improvements for low achievers.

Raikes Foundation:

Student agency is a cluster of academic mindsets and learning strategies that have been demonstrated to advance learning and achievement. Academic mindsets are more evident in students who feel a sense of belonging in a certain subject, class or school; believe that they have the capacity to learn, and see value in their participation. Learning strategies include study skills, meta-cognition and goal-setting, competencies that help individuals persist when learning becomes challenging.

Values Centered Schools:

Student agency refers to empowering students through curriculum approaches that; engage them, are respectful of and seek their opinions, give them opportunities to feel connected to school life, promote positive and caring relationships between all members of the school community, promote wellbeing and focus on the whole student, relate to real-life experiences, are safe and supportive.

These definitions illustrate to me that agency is about student learning and teacher teaching. It is about the teacher providing the right environment, support and approaches to learning that enable learners to develop the skills and attitudes for agency to occur, and about the student being engaged in, and empowered by assuming responsibility of their learning through reflection, goal setting and a range of other self-monitoring behaviours.

Some of the key words that describe student agency for me are therefore; enabling, empowering, self-monitoring, goals, feedback, meta-cognition, active, responsive, self-directed and meaningful.

A further look at some student agency research unpacked the following Approaches to Learning Model. You can clearly see the relationship between the approaches and agency. These are further supported by additional definitions of student agency:

  • the satisfying power to take meaningful action and see the results of our decisions and choices
  • since meaning-based tasks fail to proscribe the use of particular structures, learners have to take an active role in sorting out exactly what they are learning
Student Agency and Language-Learning Processes and Outcomes in International Online Environments Olga Basharina University of New Mexico

What strikes me about this model though is that it does not take in the role of the teacher in to the equation (or maybe it does… I would need to read the full explanation from Entwistle himself). As I have stated above student agency isn’t just the responsibility of the student, the teacher and school must provide the conditions and support/model/teach in an way that provides all students with the ability to learn and demonstrate agency.

So bringing it back to where this post started, with our writing PLD. Our facilitator Rita Plamer has introduced us to Ralph Fletcher’s work and she dug out this reference to agency from the text  A Writer’s Notebook – Unlocking the Writer Within You. Being in control of their own development, i.e. their own learning – great! This surely is the core of what student agency is.

agency

 So what does all this mean? A couple of reflective wonderings…

  1. Deliberate vs accidental… A few of you may be saying that this is what happens in your classroom all the time. Yes my students set goals, yes they are reflective. But how much of that agency is a deliberate approach i.e. If I looked at your planning and a see how you have deliberately structured your teaching to ensure the conditions and strategies are student agency productive?
  2. If student agency is a way of empowering our students, then teacher agency is just as important (through the principal leading and providing the support/conditions/opportunities) which makes principal agency equally as important (with the Board providing the support/conditions/opportunities). Is this being overly simplistic? Seems to make sense to me.
  3. One aspect that has surprised me was that there was little to no reference to student voice in the information read to date. I would have thought they go hand in hand.
  4. Most of the definitions/examples are about the individual learners, but like the excerpt above from Ralph Fletcher’s book, the social learning aspect is really important. Meaningful action could just as well be the outcome of collaboration and teamwork. If the action is a result of feedback, then that is a partnership in learning too, or does agency count when the thinking and action is done as an individual – not the process leading up to it?

Much to ponder… and more reading required.

ePortfolios: Student Feedback on Learning

My formal teacher inquiry for the year is continuing to develop, not a fast as I would have liked but none the less there is progress. The broad goal of the inquiry is to increase quality feedback from parents in the students’ portfolios, and therefore contributing to improved student achievement. We know that feedback has a huge impact on improving student learning through the research from such people as Hattie, Black and Wiliam and Clarke. Our AP at school has also blogged about it here highlighting our school’s belief on the importance of feedback.

Last term focused on getting the students involved in giving each other quality feedback on their peers learning. This was structured, modeled and discussed with the students and success criteria co-constructed.

The students suggested and agreed that quality feedback would:

  • tell them how to get better
  • give positive comments as well as advice on how to get better
  • use the success criteria to guide your comments
  • make the comments easily understood

A great start to providing quality feedback! Time was specifically set aside for the feedback to take place. It was planned for and valued rather than a last minute or accidental.

Here are some examples of what it looked like in practice:

I think that your art is great!!!! I really like your quote. You didn’t have any dead space and it doesn’t look like you have rushed it. You also have the same style writing as Colin McCahon. Next time you should blend your colours more. :-)

I really like your Colin McCahon art work. I like how you put your picture into three different segments but you could have used a thinner brush and made it a bit more smooth.

I think that you kept it really simple, you used a great range of colours!
Next time I think you could blend your colours a bit better.

Hi, I think that your Colin McCahon art work is really good but I think that you could have blended a bit more and use more colours. I like it how you used lots of sections and I like your colours.

Your crossword was a bit challenging some of the clues I didn’t really get but I figured it out in the end. I think you need to make your clues a bit more easier next time.

I think that it was great because it was hard but not to hard. Next time I think that you should have photo of a snake as well.

Wow that was hard. Your colours where good and you had interesting words and great synonyms. You needed to have picture that were related more to the thing you were talking about.

These are just a selection of some really great examples of student feedback.

So where to now?

The inquiry focus in the classroom context will be to make seeking and receiving peer feedback a natural part of the learning process. At the moment this is very much a teacher directed part of their learning. The second focus of the inquiry leading into the term is with the students themselves taking their understanding of how to give quality feedback home to their parents and involving them in giving quality feedback on learning.

I look forward to the students taking on board the role of the teacher in engaging their parents in this process.

Google Docs, Student Writing & Feedback

Our Education Edition of Google Apps allows access to the suite of apps not only for the staff at school but also the students. All students in my class have their own account allowing them to use Gmail, Chat, Docs, Video, Sites and Calendar within our domain.

Students exclusively use Docs for their formal written language. While the initial planning or brainstorming phase may or may not be completed digitally, the complete draft-share-feedback-improve-publish-share process is completed within the Google Apps environment.

We have a school-wide approach to giving feedback on written work, where highlighters are used to indicate where or how a student has met the success criteria (gold) or areas that can be improved (pink). We use the phrases Gold for Goal and Pink for Think to reinforce this process.

Due to the process being completed digitally and the availability of colours in the Docs highlighting palette, I have extended upon the use of gold and pink highlights to include blue and red for the students to use in their self-assessment reflection cycle. These are shown below in the image I generated for use as a poster around the classroom.

highlighter

The whole process is made manageable and possible by the sharing function built in to Docs. The simplified process looks like this with examples below:

  1. Student writes 1st draft of writing and checks independently against the success criteria. Improvements made.
  2. Student shares writing with teacher (or another student).
  3. Teacher/student highlights text as required in pink or gold and provides additional written prompts to improve writing.
  4. Posted to eportfolio.
  5. Student improves writing as per teacher/student feedback.
  6. Student completes own assessment with blue and red highlights.
  7. Posted to eportfolio.

Writing with teacher highlights:

Writing with student highlights:

The process works extremely well in terms of a reflective learning cycle. I will stress however that this process does not replace face to face feedback and conferencing. It is perhaps best viewed as a checkpoint in the learning to formalise some of the ongoing learning conversations. The process also clearly indicates how a student responds to feedback and guidance on how to improve their learning.

I think this is a really good example of how Web 2.0 tools, when grounded in sound pedagogy, really do help facilitate improved learning. I would recommend you give it a go even if you only trial it with a small group of children!

ePortfolios: Parent Engagement 2

As I see it, trying to get more parents on board and participating in commenting and providing feedback in their child’s eportfolio has two distinct parts.

Firstly, and certainly a prerequisite to anything else, is getting parents online. Once they are online and viewing learning, then leaving any kind of comment is the first step. Then and only then can we begin to work on developing quality comments that provide feedback for improving learning.

Developing quality feedback in parents is the second part of the equation. Is it realistic? Achievable? Involving parents in elearning to support achievement has certainly been discussed in many reports and publications including Enabling the 21st Century Learner: An e-Learning Action Plans for Schools (PDF);

Research shows that parents who are involved in their children’s learning, and encourage their children to be the best they can be, make a real and positive difference to how their children learn.  The influence and involvement of parents and whanau, in addition to effective teachers, has a significant positive impact on how well students achieve.

It goes on to stay;

Schools need to work with families, whanau, and their communities to foster understanding of how to use ICT effectively in learning. ICT provides new possibilities for following students’ progress and engagement…

So the justification is there, and it perfectly compliments the principles of formative teaching and learning which is alive and strong in our school.

So where now? My first approach will be to use the students as teachers. By utilising their technical know-how, their understanding of the purpose behind the learning and the crucial component of them being their to sharing their learning with their parents, they are in the prime position for facilitating the change and making a difference. Here’s some of what I plan to do to make it happen.

  • Specifically plan for increased peer/buddy/critical friend written feedback in eportfolios. These strategies are well used in class already but making a conscious effort to plan for and make time for it to take place is necessary. Students (and teachers!) need plenty of practice in writing and giving quality feedback. If the students are going to guide their parents with this they need to be giving prompts, asking questions and other feedback strategies.
  • Continue to model effective teacher feedback on learning in class and through eportfolios. My role is ever important and as I model commenting and giving quality feedback this will set an example for both parents and students to follow and use when constructing their own feedback. Just as we use quality exemplars of learning to guide students to success in their learning, effective modeling will set the expectations for others to follow.
  • Facilitate/build capacity for students as teachers/guides in process. This is where I am aiming and the two previous points contribute to this. However I think more deliberate discussions around feedback, parent involvement, knowing how to get better at what you are doing, and students becoming teachers themselves will really build capacity in this area.

That’s what rolls off the top of my mind at the moment. Hopefully no glaring gaps in my thinking…

One thing I have failed to mention so far is that last year while I was completing my research, an honours student was simultaneously carry out a research project around our eportfolios and how they were involving parents in the learning of their children. This research may well answer some of the why questions relating to parents engagement. I have not read the final copy of this research but will hopefully grab a copy of it in the next week and post some of the results. Should be interesting reading.

Photo: http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/

ePortfolios: Parent Engagement

If we wind the clock back to last year, I discussed parent involvement through commenting in eportfolios in my research report

Having parents comment and provide feedback is one of the main benefits described by the teachers … they expressed their disappointment in the lack of comments from some families. In particular the parental involvement from the year 5 and 6 parents was on the whole significantly lower than the year 3 and 4 parents. As of the end of the second term of using the web based eportfolios, the year 3 and 4 parents commented a total of 100 times contrasting to the year 5 and 6 parents who commented only 55 times.

What is most significant is that 34 of 55 year 5 and 6 parent comments were for 3 students only and 14 students had no comments at all. In the year 3 and 4 class, 6 students had received no parental comments.

Jumping forward to 2009, little has changed. As of today, only five out of my 30 students have received comments about their learning from their parents. While I will be the first to admit that I have not actively facilitated this so far, I was hoping for a natural increase from last year due to the an increased awareness and familiarity now with the online portfolios. We have sent home a letter, outlining the student’s URLs and login details but it seems that this had little impact.

Why is this? The authenticity and immediacy of sharing learning as it is created and receiving feedback from the stakeholders in the student’s learning has often been discussed at our school as one of the main benefits of online eportfolios. But if it is not happening, what are the possible reasons?

  • Do parents have the time to sit down and view the shared learning? Having access 24/7 from anywhere only contributes to more time and flexibility. One would think this is increased due to learning being uploaded as it happens rather than all at once at the end of the term when traditional portfolios are ‘sent’ home.
  • Do parents have the technical knowledge to leave a comment? My belief is that the parent should always view the portfolio with their child. While parents can and do look at the learning independently of their children, the true value comes from it being a social experience. Asking questions, probing for deeper understanding, praise etc and give some constructive feedback in the form of a comment. The student can act as a teacher and guide their parents through the process of leaving comments removing this possible barrier.
  • Do parents know how to give quality feedback? Parents are great at praising their child’s learning but are they knowledgeable about how to give feedback that leads to improved learning? The comments received to date, including last year, support the idea that parents do not or don’t know how to feed forward. Do they understand the purpose of the learning that is being demonstrated?
  • Are parents of Year 3/4 students generally more involved in the learning of their children than Year 5/6? The data would support this claim but perhaps it is a bit early to make a definitive call. Will closely monitor this data but always mindful of the quantity vs. quality of comments.
  • Is access to computers and broadband inhibiting parents ability to fully view and leave comments? I know this is the case for a few families but not all.
  • Are parents just not as excited as I am in the potential of these online environments to enhance learning? Quite possibly! But I believe strongly in this so I will persevere!

The good news is that this issue forms the basis of my teacher inquiry for the year and already a few strategies are planned for Term 2. I will post more thoughts in the next day or two.

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/torres21/

PEN Forum on ePortfolios

This month the PEN (Principal’s Electronic Network) is hosting a forum on ePortfolios. I have been invited to join in this discussion and initiate the forum discussion.

It is always difficult to write an initial forum post that leads on to effective discussion about the topic. How long should it be? Should you play the devil’s advocate? Do you just state the facts as we know them now? How much crystal balling should you do?

If you have any answers, let me know. Otherwise here is my initial post designed to be the starting point for an ongoing discussion about eportfolios.

The NZ Curriculum “…gives schools the flexibility to design and deliver programmes that will engage all students and offer them appropriate learning pathways.”

The document further describes effective pedagogy and assessment, recognises parents as key partners, encourages elearning to open up new opportunities, and promotes student engagement in their learning.

My suggestion is that the eportfolio is able to provide the container that will capture the essence of a learning programme that caters for all of these features.

While the traditional portfolio focused on best examples of work to be showcased, the modern eportfolio, with its ability to network learners, integrate the best of Web 2.0 and show the process of learning, focuses more on supporting learners by being an integral component in the learning process.

How are you connecting learners, parents and teachers? How are you capturing feedback before, during and after learning? How are you facilitating learners in reflecting on and sharing learning through multimedia? How are you allowing learners to collect examples of their learning in an environment similar to what they use as part of their out of school networking?

The eportfolio makes this possible. It supports effective learning, assessment and elearning as described in the NZ Curriculum. It involves parents in the learning process and most importantly, engages students. Far from being a current buzzword in education, the eportfolio is an essential component that links the essential strands of learning together.

Using utterli.com for eportfolio comments and feedback

Thanks to Toni, another of the 2008 eFellows, for prompting me to think about how utterli.com can potentially add an exciting dimension to our web based eportfolios.

Utterli is an online social networking site centered around creating and following discussions using a mobile phone or a computer. Utters can be audio, video, pictures or text.

By registering your mobile phone number, you can use your phone (NZ number 09 4427356) to access, initiate or participate in a discussion. Within a 10 minute time frame, you can also email in text, video or images to accompany your utter.

The really great thing is the ability to cross-post your utters to other web sites. For example, my utters will automatically be posted to this blog.

So here is how I can see this working in the context of a students’ eportfolio. For the age of the students we are working with, one of their parent’s mobile numbers would be registered.

The child would post learning and thoughts to their eportfolio as per usual, but now the ability to comment and feedback by the child or their parent is made more accessible. Learning can be shared and a quick phone call will enable a voice comment or feedback to automatically be posted into the child’s blog. Cool.

Not only that, but utters can be posted about the students even when there is no deliberate sharing of learning intended. If a student took home a reader to share with their parents, after reading and discussing the story the parents could just phone in a comment about how well the student read and what they needed help with. Doubly cool.

This would be especially great for those who prefer the ease of a quick spoken comment to that of sitting down and typing. It is also familiar technology, everybody knows how to make a phone call, whereas the blogging eportfolio software we use could in itself be a barrier to the technology reluctant parent.

So my next post will need to be an utter. Coming soon…

Photo courtesy of: http://www.flickr.com/photos/paulsynnott/