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April 1, 2016
Vol. 73
No. 7

Perspectives / Reviewer, Critic, Teacher

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      All of us are reviewers these days—ready to give thumbs up or thumbs down to any movie, song, restaurant, political candidate, or cat video we like or hate. And now Facebook allows us to indicate "Wow!" "Ha Ha" and "Too bad"—all without writing a word. Judgment is so easy to express these days.
      It is more time-consuming to give reasons for our thinking. If we want to be a convincing critic, we might need to gather evidence and examples and attempt to write entertainingly. But how about if we want to be a teacher and entice someone to improve his or her own work and/or submit something better the next time around? Now, that's a tough job.
      Often teachers try to act as reviewer, critic, and corrector all at once when they give feedback to students about their work, whether it is an essay, math problem, exit slip, or project. And because they often have 30 or more students—some of whom will wad up their graded papers before they leave the classroom—"looking at student work" can be a thankless and time-consuming task.
      This issue is dedicated to exploring the art and science of responding to student work. Our authors examine the varied purposes for reviewing student work and present what research and best practice say about improving the effectiveness and efficiency of the feedback process. There are some surprising findings.
      It is fine to use different review processes for different assignments. Some assignments can be designed to help you find out where students are in their learning and may not need to be graded. Just looking for patterns of error or understanding will be helpful to you. Other assignments should be planned so that your students do the work of giving themselves feedback. In fact, as researcher Dylan Wiliam tells us, it's sometimes good to let students consider error-finding as detective work. If they know they won't have to correct all the mistakes they find, they may even find more potential improvements. An important consideration, he notes, is thinking about how to couch your feedback not only so students see how to improve but also so they want to do so. "The most important thing about feedback is what students do with it," he notes.
      It is not about how hard you work. Experienced teachers Cris Tovani and Catlin Tucker both had epiphanies about how many comments they wrote on students' papers. Each flipped the process, so that they were helping students edit before they handed in their assignments. Rob Traver added a peer critique to his process and found that students who gave criticism to others applied it to their own work. Paul Bambrick-Santoyo describes how "writing first, talking afterwards" improved not only students' literature discussions, but also their ability to read deeply.
      Identifying learning progressions leads to insights. Jennifer Kobrin and Nicole Panorkou detail the relatively little known incremental steps that students take as they learn math skills. Knowing where the students are in specific stages of thinking can help you make targeted decisions to advance students to the next stage. Gaining this expert pedagogical knowledge seems worthy professional development.
      Description and prescription work best. Heidi Kroog and colleagues found that many teachers made repetitive comments on papers. They also found that too many comments were evaluative or corrective. The best comments let students know why something is not correct and how to improve it.
      Your professional judgment outwits technology. In our special section, scholars Thomas Guskey and Jay McTighe, W. James Popham, and Thomas Guskey and Lee Ann Jung consider three current assessment practices that every educator needs to know more about: preassessment, standardized testing, and computerized grading systems. Before you give any of these processes a total thumbs up or down, be sure to read our authors' counsel about how to use them well.
      It's not about the product; it's about the student. And the final word of advice comes from Dylan Wiliam: Ask kids for feedback on your feedback. Ask, How are you using my feedback? and What kind of feedback helps you most? When kids know how seriously you take their learning, they act on your advice. Essentially, feedback depends on being a good teacher, not a reviewer or judge.

      Marge Scherer has contributed to Educational Leadership.

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