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September 2012 | Volume 70 | Number 1
Feedback for Learning
Jane E. Pollock
The most disengaged students in class are often the ones who receive the least feedback and direction. Three techniques can change that.
Walk into any classroom and within 10 minutes, you'll notice that four or five students disengage. Some students try to hide it, but others simply put their heads down
on the desk. I call them the telltale students. A telltale, like the canary in a coal mine or the piece of cloth tied to a sail, is an indicator of the status of a situation or system. Heads
down in a classroom signal that the instruction isn't working for those students.
Many teachers with whom I work tell me that, without intending to, they ignore telltale students because they're not disruptive. But if there's a way to engage
these unmotivated students, these teachers are willing to give it a try. I often suggest some simple techniques that encourage tuned-out students to seek feedback about their own
understandings and their own learning—and to look for sources of feedback other than the classroom teacher. These techniques are rooted in recent findings from
I've seen them lead to greater engagement in elementary and secondary classrooms.
Previous learning models, influenced by behaviorism, viewed the student's role in the feedback process as passively waiting to receive feedback from a teacher. Newer
neurological research shows that humans biologically anticipate and seek feedback. In a classroom, feedback can be more power-ful when a teacher gives students opportunities to
seek and receive feedback. The students' actions, in turn, provide important feedback to the teacher about how to differentiate instruction (Hattie, 2009).
Many teachers are familiar with research showing that feedback is a high-yield strategy. Research by my colleagues and me (Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001) has
shown that simply setting objectives and providing feedback has a statistically significant effect on student learning (causing a 23 percentile point gain in learning). Many teachers
say that they can't provide more feedback than they already do, however, because of large class sizes and because they're taxed for time to cover the
Many teachers also believe that they already give lots of feedback. But researcher John Hattie (2009) found in his meta-analysis of feedback studies that "at best,
students receive 'moments' of feedback in a single day" (p. 174). Observations bear this out. When I observe a teacher in action, it may look like
she's providing lots of feedback to students. But when I observe individual students, it's clear that many spend whole class periods without receiving any specific
academic guidance or suggestions from a teacher.
Traditionally, feedback has been directed from the teacher to the student, usually as grades or as comments on responses to teacher questions. We can challenge this
prevailing practice by encouraging students to seek feedback—from peers and relevant resources, in addition to the teacher.
There's a clear connection to engagement here. When we teach disengaged students useful ways to request feedback from peers, teachers, or even themselves, they
become more involved in class activities and in their own learning. I've seen classroom teachers transform student disengagement using three simple techniques and
resources as basic as a piece of paper, a spiral notebook, and a clipboard.
The goal-accounting template helps students give themselves feedback about their own understanding of an upcoming lesson. Central to this technique is clarifying a
lesson's learning target, because meaningful feedback has to tie back to a goal. Goal templates help make that goal explicit and give learners an opportunity to gauge their
own performance in approaching it.
Most teachers post a curriculum goal with objectives for the day somewhere in the classroom, but not prominently enough to attract students' attention. Often as the
teacher states the goal and objectives, students are arranging their belongings or looking around the room—doing anything but listening intently. With goal sheets, students
themselves write down their goals to self-assess and track their performance.
As students enter class or transition from one subject to the next, each learner takes out his or her personal template to copy down the lesson intention. The student also
scores himself or herself on two criteria: how much effort the student plans to apply to the lesson and how well that student already understands the content connected to the goal.
Some teachers create a rubric for scoring students' understanding, such as (1) I don't understand; (2) I can do this with some help; (3) I can do this by myself; and
(4) I can teach someone else. At the lesson's end, students again take out their goal sheets and reevaluate their understandings; they also mark how much productive
effort they expended.
Through this 2–3-minute routine, three important changes happen for disengaged students. They focus on the topic of the lesson, they interact personally with the
(actively determining what they know or don't know), and they communicate their learning status to the teacher (who is walking around the room glancing over
students' shoulders at their scores). It may be the first time these students have communicated to a teacher where they stand cognitively.
Figure 1 shows the goal template that Trevor Collins, a high school history teacher in Grainger County, Tennessee, uses. Every day, each student fills in the date and the
learning objectives Trevor provides. Students score themselves on their understanding of the topic—and their level of effort—both before and after the class. Trevor found
students didn't pay attention when he simply wrote the day's goals on the board, but with the templates, they truly know their learning objective.
Name: ____________________________ Period: _______________
Project for Unit: __________________________________________
Objective/Goal for the Day
Effort Rating (0-5)
Understanding Before lesson (0-5)
After Lesson (0-5)
Source: From Improving Student Learning One Teacher at a Time, by Jane Pollock, 2007,
Alexandria, VA: ASCD. Copyright © 2007 by ASCD.
Teachers sometimes worry that students won't accurately assess themselves. At first, students may inflate their scores, but they usually adjust their scoring when
they realize the numbers are used to track their progress and signal their improvement. Comments like, "Everyone should be a 1 or a 2 today because I'm just
introducing the topic" help.
I think of such goal sheets as a "neuronal courtesy" that enables learners to ease into the lesson. Teachers are often pleasantly surprised by how quickly
students get used to the routine of scoring themselves and how much more focused they become.
Learning to use interactive notebooks overcomes two drawbacks of traditional note taking: Students receive little feedback on whether they understand the information
they're copying down, and struggling students often don't know how to organize notebooks and take good notes.
Have students designate the left-hand pages in a regular spiral notebook as "student" pages and the right-hand pages as the "teacher" side.
During class time, notebooks should be open so both sides show. After students note the goal of the day's lesson on their goal-accounting templates, the teacher should
provide an evocative cue related to the lesson's content—an anticipatory question, a statement, or a video. For example, 5th grade teacher Jenny Humble showed a
clip of a video she found on YouTube called "Birth to 10 Years" before teaching about how people's characters change over time.
In pairs, students briefly share their thoughts about the cue and the topic, including questions or background knowledge they each have. Each then individually writes a short
phrase or draws a sketch about the topic on the student side of the notebook. This brief thought-mining hooks into students' prior knowledge and gives them time for peer
feedback and reflection. Every student becomes engaged.
As the teacher segues into the presentation of new material, students take notes more formally on the right side of the notebook. (This is the "teacher" side
because the student is recording material the teacher presents.) Some teachers provide partial notes or advance organizers for students. Periodically, the teacher pauses; students
then stop taking formal notes and process what they've just heard on the notebook's student side—drawing a diagram, answering a hypothetical question, or
summarizing the topic in their own words. They then share what they've written with a partner; exchange ideas and clarifying feedback with that partner (or as a whole
class); and resume taking notes on the right side as the teacher continues the instruction.
When note taking was optional in 7th grade English teacher Becky Wegner's class, her telltale students simply didn't take notes—and performed poorly on
tests. Once Becky taught students to keep interactive notebooks that they shared with peers and with her, she saw these students transform. Sharing notes with peers increased
the overall amount of feedback each student received and the overall productivity of her class. Learners who previously gave up when required to copy notes became engaged.
Students' notes became works in progress that deepened their understandings (Pollock, 2011).
The third technique increases teacher-to-student feedback and student-to-teacher feedback. A teacher creates a matrix with a student roster down the left side and the
curriculum goals at the top (see fig. 2). During class, as students collaborate on a topic or work independently, the teacher walks around with this roster on a clipboard. The teacher
listens, observes, or views work in students' notebooks and jots down a score reflecting how well each student seems to be mastering the standard or goal for that
Week of: ____________________________________________________________
Rubric: 1 – Basic 2 – Minimal 3 – Proficient 4 – Advanced (use + and
Source: Adapted from Feedback: The Hinge That Joins Teaching and
Learning (p. 70), by J. E. Pollock, 2012, Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin. Copyright © 2012 by Corwin Press. Reprinted with permission.
The teacher might pause to correct student work or to positively acknowledge a student's or group's progress as this "live scoring" unfolds.
Because the instructor is walking around and is easily accessible, a disengaged or unsure student may be more likely to ask for attention or help—and thus stay engaged.
teacher documents how students are doing with this quick scoring formative assessment technique, he or she begins to see patterns in understandings among students, which
helps with differentiating lessons.
I once worked with an elementary teacher, Adrienne Braxton, who was great at patiently giving struggling students help but who couldn't learn from the patterns in her
feedback because she never recorded any data during class—she only responded to questions and confusions that kept popping up. Once Adrienne started using a scoring
class, she began to understand how well every student knew the lesson's goal. She realized what she needed to adjust for the next lesson or for some students.
Through guiding many teachers like Adrienne through the scoring roster technique, I've found the following actions make it successful:
Using these strategies, teachers in all subject areas, including English as a second language and special education, have increased student achievement. A positive cycle sets
in. As students receive more feedback and thus become more engaged in learning activities, their actions and self-assessments provide more feedback to teachers, who, in turn,
make better decisions about instruction.
As we usher in a new set of standards, let's remember that a new curriculum alone won't change instruction or increase achievement. It's true that
the learning goals we choose are important. As a teacher I worked with once noted, there's no such thing as good feedback to a bad set of goals. But an improved set of
learning targets won't bring change unless teachers set up conditions that transform disengaged learners into learners motivated to work toward those targets, such as by
using these three tools.
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. London: Routledge.
Marzano, R. J., Pickering, D., Pollock, J. E. (2001). Classroom instruction that works. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
Pollock, J. E. (2011). Feedback: The hinge factor that joins teaching and learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin.
Jane E. Pollock, president of Learning Horizon, consults with schools worldwide to improve student learning and teaching practices.
She is coauthor, with Robert J. Marzano and Debra J. Pickering, of Classroom Instruction That Works (ASCD, 2001).
Copyright © 2012 by ASCD
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