When we think about the essential aspects of proficiency-based learning, or how people learn in general, one thing that comes to mind is feedback. We know that regular, meaningful feedback is important to learning. At it’s simplest, feedback is being able to see where you are in relation to a goal of some kind and seeing what comes next in order to get closer to that goal. We can’t get better at something if we don’t know how we are Meaningful feedback can take many forms, and it all has the same characteristics:.
The last two characteristics, being timely and ongoing, can present challenges in the classroom. They don’t have to, if we shift some of our thinking about how the feedback happens. Before we look at a how to make it work in a classroom, let’s look at a feedback loop many of us have experience with: the Fitbit™.
The point of this device is to keep track of steps. As the user, I set a goal. I get to decide what that goal is. The device, and associated programs, gives me suggestions based on statistics and sound research to help me set that goal. Let’s say my goal is to walk 10,000 steps a day. From that point at which I set my goal on, I am given or can access a wealth of information about my progress in relation to that goal in a variety of ways. On my device I can see a flower graphic representing my progress, or I can get the actual number. I can go to a dashboard online and see a different graphic about my day. I get notifications when I am close to my goal. The dashboard keeps all of my device data, so I can look at short term and long term step data. I even get awards for hitting certain milestones.
What makes the Fitbit feedback so powerful is not only that it has all four of the characteristics of meaningful feedback I mentioned above, it is that I had a significant amount of the control in managing the feedback loop. This, shifting the management control of the feedback loop, is the key to making meaningful feedback work in a learner-centered proficiency based system. Doing so empowers students by transferring the ownership of the learning. This shift also eases up what could be a huge burden on the teacher. I am a firm advocate of fidelity to learner-centered philosophy, not insanity.
Here are some ways to empower students to take control of the feedback loop, and keep the insanity level for educators down.
Instead of taking home writing notebooks and papers to mark up with “feedback” every night, try providing students with checklists and teaching them how to use them to self monitor and assess
Instead of expecting students to turn in every piece of work, try teaching students to use a capacity matrix to track their progress towards a target
Instead of taking home piles of work every day, try scheduling periodic check in sessions during which student talk with you about their learning and evidence towards targets
Instead of calling students up to see their “grade” once a marking period, try teach students to keep track of evidence towards targets on their own
Instead of assigning the same work to all students, try setting learning goals with students based on targets and giving them options for how to reach that goal
Also, check out some of these resources and share others if you have them!
5 Research Tips, Edutopia
Seven Keys To Effective Feedback
Capacity Matrices: Examples and Overview
When Students Track Their Own Progress
Courtney is the Instructional Coach for KIDS RSU #2 in Maine. She also hosts a podcast about personalized learning, and is available for independent consulting work.
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