School Leader Chat, Part 2: Feedback PD

I chatted with Martin Moran about shifting mindsets around grades and what this means for teacher PD. Martin is a Lead Designer and Director of the Upper School at the Bennett Day School in Chicago, IL and will be opening their new high school. Previously, he taught high school for over 10 years.

This is Part 2 of our conversation where we talk about how to train teachers in effective feedback. Part 1 is where we talked about grades.

As a school leader, how do you help teachers shift their mindsets around grades?

With our new school, we’re coming up with a way to use narratives and portfolios instead of grades. There is an assumption with teachers on the summative nature of assessments. We are working to change mindsets around formative work and assessing for growth instead of just for evaluation.

As we write out our syllabus for PD, we are embedding conversations around mindsets. What I’m struggling with now is how do we live at a level between philosophy and day-to-day practice.

The questions we’ll be asking teachers are things like: What does it mean to create formative assessments? What is the goal of the assessment? Who is the assessment for – me (the teacher) or them (the students)?

Then, how do we design learning environments that embed assessment every day? We need to help teachers see assessments not as a series of performative events but as a continual practice of diagnosis where teachers identify students’ strengths and weaknesses.

We are also asking questions around how much time is spent in planning lessons versus thinking about where students are. We should spend more time assessing where students are in the day-to-day. I know teachers are always strapped for time, but it’s about allocating that time and prioritizing that time. I bet that if we were to ask that question right now about planning versus assessing, more teachers are spending more time planning.

Once teachers assess (regardless of whether it feels like an “event” or not), what should teachers do with the results of this assessment?

There are two main steps to how help teachers manage assessment results:

  1. Norming Assessment

A lot of work goes into the norming the process of assessment. We look at student work from the previous year. Then, as a group of teachers, we walk through the strengths and weaknesses of that student’s work.

  1. Creating Plans

The next step is creating plans. We have teachers do this in small groups first. With exemplar student work, each team looks at a different student’s work. Teacher teams determine for the individual kid what the plan is moving forward. From there, the small groups share the individual learning needs with the whole group.

As a whole group, we analyze the results of the individual students and then develop a collective plan for the class. This is to model what would need to happen in the classroom. Teachers need to consider students at the individual level, but they also need to balance this with the needs of the 25 other students in the room and come up with a collective plan.

What are other ways that you train teachers in effective feedback?

We identify the best way to create formative assessments. There are two parts to assessment:

  1. Diagnosis – Here’s what I think is happening, and
  2. Prescription – Here’s what to do about it.

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We also talk about how to write good, actionable feedback. What is actionable? How do you write a piece of feedback that’s actionable to the student?

It’s important that the student can take action on feedback, and at the high school level, we talk a lot about the concept of revision. Why even give feedback on an assignment if the student can’t revise it? What is the action that the student can take?

I will be following up with Martin in a few months to see how his professional development plan evolves. In the meantime, what do you think of his PD strategies? What ideas or strategies do you have for teaching effective feedback? Have you considered your own feedback systems?

Keep us in the F(eedback)loop!


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