Monday, November 22, 2010

Feedback for students, feedback for teachers

Yes, American public education can deliver student achievement at higher levels, with smaller achievement gaps, in the years ahead--and it won't depend on a strange visitor from another planet who comes to Earth with powers and abilities far beyond those of mortal men.

For students, what matters most is classrooms where they get frequent, usable feedback on their progress.  They need a solid understanding of the main standards they're trying to reach, a clear picture of the next rung they need to climb on the way toward the standard, and effective tasks that let them build the skills that will get them to that next rung.  In the literature, that goes by many names, from "differentiated instruction" to "assessment for learning.  The most helpful feedback is not a grade or a score, but a concrete description of improvement seen in recent work and manageable improvement targets for the work the student will do next.   That sort of feedback produces a virtuous spiral in which success in each effort builds confidence for the next effort.  That kind of instruction has a powerful record of raising achievement for all students, but it has the biggest impact on students who are the most likely to fall behind in other settings.

For educators working to create that kind of classroom, what matters most is something very similar:  a team of colleagues who provide each other with frequent, usable feedback.  That kind of collaboration creates a "professional learning community" or a "PLC."  In those settings, teachers can analyze students' work, talk through which teaching approaches have produced improved results, and figure out next steps to raise the results even higher.  The most helpful feedback comes steadily, over many weeks and months, as part of the ongoing collaboration of a strong team: formal evaluations matter, but they alone cannot provide the steady, persistent, reliable conditions for all teachers to grow in their craft.

Notably, both the student version (assessment for learning) and the teacher version (PLCs) depend on sustained, local effort.  Whether in neighborhood schools, regional schools, magnet schools, charter schools, large schools, small schools, and even virtual schools, live people have to do the work in small teams.

Crucially,  these approaches cannot work because a legislature, a superintendent, or a principal orders them to happen.  They work only when teachers understand and commit enough to get first results, and then develop further understanding and commitment because the results keep coming.

That is why, like bloggers around the country, I'm not waiting for Superman.

Our children's academic futures will depend on dedicated, able teachers pulling together in teams that provide the feedback they need to find the ways to give students the feedback that they, too, need to achieve at the high levels they will need for adult success.  In that equation, I'm confident that an overwhelming majority of American teachers have both the commitment and the capacity needed to succeed: if they can also receive consistent collegial support, I'm confident that both they and their students can achieve truly great things and deliver results more exciting anything D.C. Comics can dream up.

1 comment:

  1. I agree with the statement that teachers have to get the results and then dig deeper for more results. That is the most important part of student achievement, THE TEACHER!!


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