Learning Targets- Chapter 4 (part 4 of a series summarizing the book Learning Targets by Connie Moss and Susan Brookhart)
A popular book for principals several years ago, was Neila Conner’s “If You Don’t Feed the Teachers, They Eat the Students”. It is a humorous book filled with ideas to improve staff morale and encourage improvement. A helpful tool for any principal. In Chapter 4 of Learning Targets, Moss and Brookhart tackle the topic of “feeding” students through feedback. I especially like the way they intentionally stress that feedback needs to connect with student goals and that it must happen in “real time” to have the optimal effect.
“Feedback” has become a popular buzz word in education over the last couple of years (with good reason) as more and more research and literature has become available about effective feedback consistently raises student achievement more than any other factor (p. 63). However, simply giving students feedback isn’t enough. As Moss and Brookhart point out, feedback must answer three central questions of the formative assessment process from the student’s point of view:
1. What knowledge or skills form my learning target for this lesson?
2. How close am I to mastering them?
3. What do I need to do next to close the gap?
Feedback has to truly “feed” the student. The authors compare it to nutritional value…items such as stickers, checkmarks, happy faces, and even grades have “no nutritional value”. They do not help a student grow and improve because they do not relate to the actual lesson, nor do they give a student anything they can use moving forward. The feedback that does move students forward shares five specific characteristics (p. 64):
1. It focuses on success criteria from the learning target from today’s lesson. (Specifically, what did they have to do today that builds upon what they already know and creates a foundation for what they will learn tomorrow?)
2. It describes exactly where the student is in relationship to the criteria. (We often overlook this step and move straight to #3, but students need to know where they currently stand.)
3. It provides a next-step strategy that the student should use to improve or learn more (Does your feedback offer suggestions toward accomplishing the success criteria? Describing how they did is not enough.)
4. It arrives when the student has the opportunity to use it. (Three days later in the grade book doesn’t improve learning. Students need real time information to assess their own learning.)
5. It is delivered in just the right amount- not so much that is overwhelms, but not so little that it stops short of a useful explanation or suggestion. (Expert teachers can balance their feedback to help students without giving them the answers.)
Most of us give feedback to students based on activity or task completion rather than connecting the learning to specific curriculum standards or learning targets. However if we want to use our feedback as effectively as possible, it needs to feed our students forward and connect directly to their own goals. In the book “Feedback”, author Jane Pollock mentions two distinct factors that complicate the connection of learning targets, goal setting, and feedback. First, many teachers write curriculum standards on the board, but do little to expect students to actually interact with the standard as a performance goal. Second, students themselves do not expect to self-regulate or self-assess on a regular basis. (p. 21)
When learning targets are connected to student goal setting and provided effective feedback you can truly see the effects of feeding students forward and making them confident independent learners.
Questions to consider:
· What feedback strategies do you currently use? How effective are they, and how do you know?
· Have you ever worked really hard to provide feedback that students didn’t seem to appreciate or use? What part of the formative learning cycle mentioned in chapter four may have been missing?
· Halfway through the book, what has been the most useful idea you have found so far?