5 Levels of Better Feedback With GAFE

“The hinge factor to improve student learning in schools is feedback…” -Jane E. Pollock

In her book, Feedback, the Hinge That Joins Teaching & Learning, Jane E. Pollock establishes the importance of instructive feedback in student learning, and lays out small changes that teachers can incorporate into their classroom that yields meaningful and substantial student learning. With keeping her work in mind of the importance of “goal-based feedback” and combining it with the technology and power of Google Apps for Educators, here are 5 levels of better feedback with GAFE.

Level 1: Suggesting Mode in Google Docs

Switch your student’s Google Doc from Editing Mode to Suggesting Mode and get your digital “red pen” ready. Suggesting Mode allows you to make editing and revising suggestions to your students’ work in the same manner teachers would have traditionally done with a red pen. The changes are not directly made to the work, instead the students will see your suggested feedback and make the changes themselves. I find this feedback to be most effective during one-on-one conferences with students. I will go over the students work with them, focusing on the goal of the activity, and write in suggestions as I go. This way the students have a record of the feedback and can go back to work on it on their own.

Suggesting Mode is also great for peer-to-peer feedback. Like traditional peer revising and editing that is done by hand, this Google tool lets students make suggestions to their classmate’s answers without making actual edits. Students can ignore the suggestions or make the changes, and they can also go back after they have made the revisions to revisit what feedback was given to them.

Level 2: Add Comments for All Google Apps

I think using Comments in Google Apps is easier and more intuitive than Suggestion Mode, however I labeled it a level 2 feedback because I find it more conducive to deeper and more meaningful learning. Comments can be made on any Google App by simply highlighting a portion of work, clicking Comments in the upper right-hand corner of the screen, and then writing away. I find myself asking a lot of questions when I use this feature. Instead of making suggestions, I use comments as a way to probe into a students’ work as a way to give them feedback on their ideas. Similar to how I would ask questions in class or give verbal feedback as I work with students in person, I use comments much the same way.

“What makes you think that?”

“How are those ideas connected to…?”

“Please give some supporting examples.”

“Make sure to support your ideas with evidence.”

Like Suggesing ModeComments is a great tool for peer feedback. I find it especially helpful when students are collaborating on a project together – Comments allow them to support and check each other’s work.

Level 3: Leaving Comments with a Comment Key

One way to enhance the level of feedback with Google Apps’ Comment feature is to support it with a comment key. Using a comment key is great because it allows you to give specific and goal-oriented feedback a lot faster. One of the things that always holds me back in delivering quality feedback for my students is time – it can take hours to go through student written work and respond in detail to each one. I find using a comment key allows for targeted feedback for each student in a lot less time, allowing me to do more than I would have without the key.

Comment Keys can have general components that cover overall skills, like grammar or transition words, and can also contain specific and targeted feedback based on your particular focus. What can be very effective is anticipating common mistakes students will make and then preparing feedback accordingly. At its best, a comment key can also contain links to videos or sites that support student learning or have written explanations or examples that students can use to make the necessary changes to their work. This turns submitted work into a learning activity by giving feedback to students in a way that allows them to learn from their mistakes.

Here is a great example of a comment key created by my colleague June Dutro, a high school English teacher. The key is a general grammar key, set up to help students “learn to investigate these rules [of grammar] on their own.” It has a long list of links students can follow to help them learn the grammar rules – please feel free to make a copy of the key for your own use!

Level 4: Students Must Reply to Feedback

Having students make changes is not always enough to make lasting learning happen. To help your students make their learning more meaningful, have them reflect and analyze on the feedback by explaining the changes they are making. Google Apps make this process simple and straightforward. Use the Comment feature as discussed before, with or without a comment key, and then have students Reply to the comment, explaining what changes they are making.

For fixing grammar mistakes a student’s reply might be as simple as “I added a comma before and to make it a compound sentence”. Or you can have students explain why their thinking was off and how they changed it. Here is an actual student response to why Medina was an important city to Muhammad and his followers: “At first I thought Muhammad gave his last sermon in Medina, and that would’ve been really important. He delivered his last sermon in Mount Arafat. He lived there while he drew more people to Islam. This was important for his followers because they wanted to spread the religion.” Both student responses demonstrate that after the feedback and reflecting on their original work, they now have a better understanding of the skill and the content.

The secondary benefit of having students Reply to feedback using Google’s Comment feature, is it makes rechecking work faster and easier. Instead of having to go back into the student’s work, and finding their changes, you can simply look at the Reply to quickly assess whether the student has now demonstrated a mastery of the skill or content. In the end using this Level 4 feedback makes students take the time to reflect and explain their learning, which will make it long-lasting and more meaningful, and makes it easier for us teachers to check.

Level 5: Using Kaizena to Record Verbal Feedback and More

I was introduced to Kaizena last year by a colleague, as an Add-on feature for Google Docs that would allow a teacher to record verbal feedback for student work. This simple idea, at the time, was eye-awakening for the possibilities it opened up. How much easier and faster would it be to be able to “talk” to your students using this tool! Little did I know, Kaizena has turned into so much more, and therefore for me is a Level 5 form of feedback.

Kaizena can be found as an Add-on for Google Docs, but is now also a self-contained site to house student work and teacher and peer feedback. Kaizena still offers easy to use voice recording that allows you to highlight portions of text and record your verbal feedback. You can type feedback as well. Kaizena also allows you attach linked lessons to help support student learning. For example, you might link to a site offering tips for strong verbs or link to your own screencast video about using evidence to cite sources. Kaizena has a function where you can create your own skills, with descriptions, that acts as a targeted rubric used to grade student work. Finally, students can also upload their own voice or text comments that can facilitate a digital conversation between you and them or between themselves.

Kaizena is easy to use and at this moment offers a comprehensive set of feedback tools. Kaizena also has fast response support if you have technical trouble or questions. However, what impresses me most about Kaizena is based on a quote from my friend, and Chief Digital Evangelist at Looker, Daniel Mintz, when he writes about how to choose quality technology. He says “…buying software isn’t about buying the current version, but about where the software is going.” Although Kaizena is free, I am “buying” into their program now based on the changes they have rolled out in the last year, and their trajectory of where they are heading in the future.  Kaizena is a great a way to better student learning through feedback and is an effective digital “hinge” between teaching and learning.

How do you leverage technology to improve feedback? I love learning from fellow educators – please leave a comment below.

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