This post originally appeared on Courtney Belolan’s website on May 12, 2016. Belolan is the instructional coach for RSU2 in Maine.
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:
- It is goal referenced
- It is actionable
- It is timely
- It is ongoing
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!
- Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Refurbishing for Personalized Learning
- Culture Comes First
- Learner-Centered Tip of the Week: Measurement Topics, Not Targets
Courtney Belolan works at RSU 2 in Maine where she supports K-12 teachers with performance-based, individualized learning. Courtney works closely with teams and teachers as a coach, and with the school and district leadership teams as an instructional strategist. Courtney has worked as a 6-12 literacy and instructional coach, a middle level ELA teacher, an environmental educator, and a digital literacy coach. Her core beliefs include the idea that the best education is one centered on student passions and rooted in interdisciplinary applications, and that enjoying learning is just as important as the learning itself.