Are Students Learning? 3 Ways To Get Instant Feedback
Coming up with a decent system of figuring out if your students are learning effectively can take a while. Improving your feedback gathering process is constant work in progress. It truly is ever evolving. Just as all students learn differently, they also communicate their learning differently. This is why we are keep talking about personalization of education. What works for one student is a no go for other. This makes our work interesting, but it also makes teaching hard.
Asking the entire class directly is often ineffective. It's not like students will voluntarily tell you they are dumb. Unfortunately, this is how some perceive themselves when they don't understand. No matter how many times you say There are no dumb questions and We learn a lot from failure, there will be students who will shy away from risking exposure. This is why you have to be creative in getting this crucial feedback without adding to your students' anxiety.
Here are 3 ways I use to embrace these challenges to collect feedback on my students' learning. I believe they can be helpful to any teacher looking to add to their teaching toolbox.
If you've been teaching a subject for a few years, you have a good feel for which concepts tend to give students trouble. This is when you really need to slow down and pay attention. More importantly though, you need to collect feedback on how well your students understand before moving on and find the ones who are struggling so you can help them. Check out these 2 no tech ways to ask your students for feedback that work for me.
Strategy #1: Thumbs Up, Down, and Sideways
Instruct, then ask your students to give you a thumbs up if they get it, thumbs sideways if they kinda' sorta' got it, and thumbs down if they have no idea what just happened. This is pretty nonthreatening as it takes but an instant, is nonverbal, and others don't see who said what.
If you see a lot of thumbs downs and sideways, you may choose to reiterate, use more and different examples, or model solving problems using think alouds. If only a few students indicate lack of understanding, you may choose to note them and work with them individually or in a small group as others problem solve without your help.
Strategy #2: Probe Individually
You can't build solid relationships with your students always hiding behind the teacher desk. This is done by venturing out into the space and talking with individual students. As some students will not make it easy for you to find out if they're learning, you will have to work for it and being in proximity with them is the way.
Ask questions on ideas you're learning such as What do you think this concept is all about? or How would you start solving this particular problem? or How do you interpret this idea? If they stutter, you got work to do. Work with them directly or pair them up with others who can help.
Tech It Up
Technology allows us to collect feedback from large groups in real time. To me, this is one of the best things about using tech in the classroom. There are many apps and ways of collecting instant feedback, but here are the 3 main ones I use.
1. Social: Twitter and Flipgrid are my go to classroom social apps. I often ask a question and have students write an answer to it and post to the hashtag #CymDogChem or I tell them to compare or summarize concepts in a 30 second or less video and tweet that.
Flipgrid allows students to record 30 second videos, which are then put in the same grid based on the code you give them. Anyone with the code can record, view, and respond to others' videos. But whether you use Twitter or Flipgrid, you get feedback you can act on immediately. You can view your students' tweets/videos and respond to them by giving feedback, expanding on concepts, clarifying misconceptions, and asking students to dig deeper.
Use Voxer as an alternative, but beware of multiple long (up to 15 minutes a pop) recordings.
2. Games: Kahoot! is by far the game show style app I use the most. I teach new content with Blind Kahoot! and review with Kahoot! quizzes. For me, instant and anonymous feedback is the best thing about Kahoot!, as each question is followed by a display of how many students got the answer right or wrong. Based on the feedback, I can either move on to the next question or address it by explaining the concept one more time.
Quzizz is a good alternative with a few of its own twists all the while allowing both students and teachers to get feedback.
3. Classroom Blog: Consider using SeeSaw or another blogging platform and ask students to reflect on their learning or life periodically. It has been my goal this year to promote relationship building and encourage social emotional learning using SeeSaw classroom blogs.
I use it for students sharing their thoughts and reflections on school life and learning and for classroom projects such as the community building Who Am I Project.
Short And Sweet Summative Assessment
Multiple choice assessments are easy to grade, but feedback they give is ambiguous. Sometimes students get it. Sometimes they get lucky. The way multiple choice tests are designed dilutes the learning, because instead of concentrating on the big concepts, students are forced to memorize in quantity. Thus, quality suffers.
If you care to find out what your students actually know, simplify and give 3 question short answer quizzes. Pick 3 big ideas and focus on your students' understanding of these ideas.
They take longer to grade, but allow students to use their own words to explain concepts. I found that short written response assessments reduce incorrect responses that result from inaccurate multiple choice answer interpretation. As students are forced to write what they think, misconceptions and misunderstandings they have are easier to uncover and address too. If they bomb the quiz, give them second chances by allowing individual students to explain the concepts to you orally. This can happen in private in class or before or after school.
Bottom line: To get better feedback on student learning, it's better to give a few quick targeted written response quizzes than one long multiple choice test that encourages regurgitation and cramming.
Be Cool And Open The Door To The Unknown
I hope you find these feedback gathering methods useful. The important thing is to collect feedback instantly and constantly, and to use it to improve instruction and help students learn. When you do, you change lives. And that is pretty cool.
You have the power to change the world. Use it often.