Sunday, June 17, 2018

Using Feedback Logs to Empower Learners

The most successful companies are successful because they are always looking for ways to improve.  When it comes to their employees, there is no ceiling as they are continually pursuing pathways and allocating resources to help the best get even better. The same philosophy can be applied to our schools. Continuous feedback for all learners, regardless of their abilities or where they are at, is pivotal if the goal is to help them evolve into their best. The research fully supports this proclamation.  Goodwin & Miller (2012) provided this summary:
In Marzano, Pickering, and Pollock's 2001 meta-analysis, McREL researchers found an effect size for feedback of 0.76, which translates roughly into a 28-percentile point difference in average achievement (Beesley & Apthorp, 2010; Dean, Pitler, Hubbell, & Stone, 2012). John Hattie (2009) found a similar effect size of 0.73 for feedback in his synthesis of 800 meta-analyses of education research studies; in fact, feedback ranked among the highest of hundreds of education practices he studied.
The bottom line here is that feedback matters in the context of learning. It should also be noted how it differs from assessment. Feedback justifies a grade, establishes criteria for improvement, provides motivation for the next assessment, reinforces good work, and serves as a catalyst for reflection. The assessment determines whether learning occurred, what learning occurred, and if the learning relates to stated targets, standards, and objectives. In reality, formative assessment is an advanced form of feedback. 

In my opinion, you can never provide learners with too much feedback. However, the way in which it is delivered matters significantly.  Nicol (2010) found that feedback is valuable when it is received, understood and acted on. How students analyze, discuss and act on feedback is as important as the quality of the feedback itself. I couldn’t agree more.  In a recent post I identified the following five components of good feedback:

  1. Positive delivery
  2. Practical and specific
  3. Timely
  4. Consistency
  5. Using the right medium

For some more research-based tips on providing students meaningful feedback check out this Edutopia article by Marianne Stenger and the excellent image below.



Knowing what the research has found, how can educators realistically provide learners with quality feedback during every lesson? The answer lies in placing the responsibility on them. During my work as an instructional and leadership coach, I typically see teachers monitoring students during cooperative learning activities or working with specific groups face-to-face in blended learning station rotations.  During debriefs, I often ask how feedback is given.  The response is that it is presented verbally. Now I am not saying that this is an ineffective strategy at all, but something was missing. This is where I came up with the idea of feedback logs.

Think about all the conversations that educators have with learners on a daily basis. The valuable information in many cases aligns with what the research has said constitutes good feedback. The problem though is the reasonable possibility that learners forget what they have been told regarding progress or improvement and they don’t have the ability to later reflect on the feedback that was given. You know how the saying goes, out of sight out of mind. Having students create a feedback log solves this issue by helping them remember, retain, reflect upon, and chart their progress of improvement. Best of all it requires no extra time on the part of the teacher.

A feedback log can be created in many ways and aligned to skills, concepts, or standards.  Students can then use this as a means to track their progress and growth over time as more feedback is provided over the course of the year. If students genuinely own their learning, then they must be put in a position to reflect and then act on the feedback they are given. The use of a log can also strengthen partnerships with parents. By making them aware of the log, parents have an opportunity to be more involved in their child’s learning each day. 

Implementing feedback logs as a part of consistent professional practice saves precious time, can be seamlessly aligned with research-based strategies, will help students monitor their understanding of essential learnings, and can be used to provide more targeted support to those students who don’t show reasonable growth over time. Best of all they can serve as an empowerment tool to help kids exert more ownership over their learning. 

Nicol, D. (2010). From monologue to dialogue: improving written feedback processes in mass higher education. Assessment & Evaluation in 
     Higher Education, 35(5), 501-517. 

Sunday, June 10, 2018

Reflective Learning as the New Normal

The quest to improve pedagogy, and in turn learner outcomes, is a focus of many schools.  We toil away at chasing the next big innovative idea, trend, or tool as a path to improvement yet little changes. Maybe success lies in taking a more detailed look at daily practice. The key to future-proofing education is to empower students to not only think, but to apply their thinking in relevant ways to demonstrate what has been learned.  Whether you call this rigorous, deeper, personalized, or just plain learning is of no concern to me.  Semantics aside, the goal of all schools should be to equip students with the appropriate knowledge, skills, mindset, and behaviors to help them develop into competent learners.  Getting better at this seems to be a potential rallying cry. 

We can have students learn to do or flip the experience and have them do to learn.  The question then becomes not a conversation as to what pathway is better, but whether or not learning has occurred. Sure, we can slap a grade on it and in many cases that become the evidence that learning did or did not happen. There are flaws inherent here. As many grading practices still are entirely arbitrary and do not provide an accurate indication of learning, we need to re-think our practice. Now I am not saying to do away with grades or tests, as that is just not realistic right now, although it might be at some point in the future. The question then becomes what can be integrated into daily practice to help students learn? 

To get to where you want to be, you need to be honest about where you are right now. This leads me to ask the following question: Are your students provided an opportunity during every lesson to reflect on what he or she has learned? As John Dewey stated, “We do not learn from experience... we learn from reflecting on experience.” It is not a hard ask at all to ensure that students are provided with an opportunity to reflect on the learning target for the day. As I work with schools and districts as a job-embedded coach, one of my main focus areas is to help improve pedagogy both with and without the use of technology. More often than not I do not see opportunities for student reflections through countless walk-throughs, lesson plan reviews, or audits of how digital tools are being used. This is an easy fix if an approach is taken where there is a combination of self-efficacy and commitment to a school-wide goal.  



Something so simple can have a significant impact on learning.  The University of Sheffield provides the following synopsis that validates the importance of this pedagogical strategy:
Reflective learning is a way of allowing students to step back from their learning experience to help them develop critical thinking skills and improve future performance by analyzing their experience. This type of learning helps move the student from surface to deep learning.
Daily reflection provides students with an opportunity to exert more ownership over their learning. Below are some simple strategies that can be used to integrate reflection into any lesson:

  • Writing - A daily journal, blog, and LMS (i.e., Google Classroom) can be added as a means to not just review, but also reflect on prior learning.  It can also be used as a form of closure. Simple reflective prompts can also be used.  During a coaching visit I observed Zaina Hussein, a 4th-grade teacher at Wells Elementary, use this with her students (see image below). A great deal of research reviewed by Lew & Schmidt (2011) in their study suggests the positive impact of reflective writing on cognitive development. 




  • Video – Flipgrid fever has overtaken many schools. This tool can allow students to use video to reflect on their learning. They can be guided with simple prompts like the ones used by Ms. Hussein. All of the videos are then easily accessible for review on a grid. Think about the value of having students see and hear from their peers about what they either learned or struggled with during the lesson. In their research, Rose et al. (2016) found that video made the reflection experience more authentic and meaningful for both student and teacher.
  • Peer interaction – Research by Hatton & Smith (1995) indicated that engaging with another person in a way that encourages talking with, questioning, or confronting, helps the reflective process by placing the learner in a safe environment so that self-revelation may take place.  Consider implementing the critical friends’ strategy or more opportunities for discussion as a means to reflect.

For more strategies and ideas on how to incorporate reflection into pedagogical practice check out this article. If you are interested in learning more about how technology can be used as a catalyst for reflection the check out this post by Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano HERE. She also created a great summary image, which you can view below. 



Making the time for students to reflect on their learning leads to more ownership of the process, builds essential connections between both present and past experiences, provides teachers with valuable information related to standard attainment or mastery, and compels them to exert a degree of self-management as they become more capable of regulating their own learning. With these positive outcomes, reflective learning should become the new normal.

Hatton, N., & Smith, D. (1995). Reflection in Teacher Education: Towards Definition and Implementation. 
     The University of Sydney: School of Teaching and Curriculum Studies.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

The Pedagogy of Digital Discussion

I wasn’t an overly confident student when it came to engaging in open conversations during class.  If one of my teachers posed a question, I only raised my hand if I was 99.9% sure that I knew the correct answer.  I guess you can chalk this up to the fact that I lacked a certain degree of confidence in my knowledge acquisition or the fact that I was a relatively shy student when it came to class participation. Perhaps it was a combination of both. There were other issues at play that impacted my level of engagement. Not only was I averse to answering questions, but I also rarely directed any to my teachers outside of a one on one conversation.  Discussions with my peers were limited to the rare occasion when a cooperative learning activity was planned.  Such was life in a classroom back in the day.

I often reflect on what my learning experience might have been like had my teachers had access to and used the many interactive tools that are available today to enhance classroom discussion. During every single workshop I facilitate, I have participants in both peer and randomly selected groups engage in face-to-face conversations on numerous question prompts. It is during this time that they get to share their ideas on the topic, discuss implementation strategies, reflect on what others have said, or provide positive reinforcement.  I am always inspired when I eavesdrop on these conversations. There is no substitute for real human interaction as this is the ultimate relationship builder.  After a set amount of time, they are then all asked to share their responses using one of many different digital tools. 

Let me take a step back now and share some insights on why classroom discussion is so meaningful. As I was researching for some solid pedagogical links, I came across this wonderful article that Todd Finley wrote for Edutopia titled Rethinking Whole Class Discussion. It is not only a great read but also what he cites aligns with the strategies that I described previously in this post.  Here is one piece that he shared:
Quality discussion, according to the University of Washington's Center for Instructional Development and Research, involves purposeful questions prepared in advance, assessment, and starting points for further conversations. Teachers are also advised to:
  • Distribute opportunities to talk
  • Allow discussants to see each other physically
  • Ask questions that "may or may not have a known or even a single correct answer.”
  • Foster learners talking to peers
  • Encourage students to justify their responses
  • Vary the types of questions
Below are some strategies to enhance classroom discussion. For even more research-based ideas click HERE


Research supports the importance of discussion when backed by the purposeful use of technology.  Smith et al. (2009) found the following:
When students answer an in-class conceptual question individually using clickers, discuss it with their neighbors, and then revote on the same question, the percentage of correct answers typically increases. Our results indicate that peer discussion enhances understanding, even when none of the students in a discussion group originally knows the right answer.
As a supplement to traditional discussion strategies technology can serve as a catalyst to increase engagement by getting more learners actively involved during lessons.  It can also take conversations to new levels of interactivity and expression.  There are so many great tools to choose from, but we have to be focused first on the improved outcomes that can result from purposeful use.  Digital discussion: 

  • Allows creativity in responses (video, images, online research citations)
  • Provides an avenue for open reflection
  • Affords more learners an opportunity to answer and ask questions
  • Better meets the needs of shy and introverted students
  • Can extend conversations and learning beyond the traditional school day
  • Welcomes participation from others beyond the brick and mortar classroom
  • Can be used to show parents and stakeholders the learning that is taking place
  • Works to create a culture grounded in trust and responsibility

Now that I have covered the many ways digital discussion serves as a sound pedagogical strategy, the next step is to begin implementing various tools into daily lessons and learning activities.  Some of my favorites include Mentimeter, Gsuite, GoSoapBox, Tozzl, and Padlet (check out the backchannel option). Many learning management systems (Google Classroom, Schoology, Microsoft Teams) have opportunities to facilitate digital discussion as well.  Harness the power of digital to take conversations to the next level while empowering both students and adult learners in the process.


Smith, M. K., Wood, W. B., Adams, W. K., Wieman, C., Knight, J. K., Guild, N. & Su, T. T. (2009) Why peer discussion
     improves student performance on in-class concept questions. Science 323 (5910):122–24.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

Power Up Your Spaces

Times are a changing in case you haven’t noticed. We have seen disruptive innovation across so many different sectors of society.  If you were to go back in time and pinpoint when disruption began to take off, I would wager that it correlates with the proliferation of the smartphone. Pause a second and think about companies such as Uber and Airbnb.  Had it not been for the smartphone their innovative apps might never have come to fruition or experienced immense scalability as they have. Where would many of us be without these or similar apps today?

Now we know that across the world adults have pretty much embraced the smartphone. Some would even go as far to say it has become an additional appendage of many. Statista predicts that approximately five billion people will use a smartphone by 2019. Imagine what this number will be in years to come.  With all of this predicted usage, I was curious to know how many of our learners owned a smartphone. Well, I did find some stats for kids in the United States and am willing to bet that other developing countries have similar numbers.  The site eMarketer found that 41% of students ages 0-11 and 84% ages 12-17 owned a smartphone in 2016.  These numbers are predicted to increase to 49.7% and 92.9% respectively by 2020. Before we know it almost everyone that wants a smartphone across the globe will have one.

The increase in smartphone ownership is a good indicator as to where many schools are headed.  Over the years we have seen more embracement of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) and 1:1 device rollouts.  Cost and ease of access will only lead to more schools and districts going down this path. The USDOE’s Office of Educational Technology places emphasis on students and educators having access to a robust and comprehensive infrastructure when and where they need it for learning.  The National EdTech Plan goes on to state the following:
Preparing students to be successful for the future requires a robust and flexible learning infrastructure capable of supporting new types of engagement and providing ubiquitous access to the technology tools that allow students to create, design, and explore. The essential components of an infrastructure capable of supporting transformational learning experiences include the following: 
Ubiquitous connectivity. Persistent access to high-speed Internet in and out of school. 
Powerful learning devices. Access to mobile devices that connect learners and educators to the vast resources of the Internet and facilitate communication and collaboration. 
High-quality digital learning content. Digital learning content and tools that can be used to design and deliver engaging and relevant learning experiences. 
Responsible Use Policies (RUPs). Guidelines to safeguard students and ensure that the infrastructure is used to support learning.


Now don’t get me wrong, all of the above are great.  However, there is one crucial aspect that needs to be considered. A focus on logistics must complement the pursuit of a more enriched and challenging learning experience for students in the digital age, which Tom Murray and I lay out in Learning Transformed.   In laymen’s terms, this means having enough power to support all of the connected devices.  I know it’s not flashy, aligned to research, or even directly connected to pedagogy….but it is a necessity if the goal is to support learning. 

To begin, consider conducting an audit consisting of walk-throughs with IT, maintenance staff, teacher leaders, and administrators to determine where there are areas of opportunity. Many outlet additions can be completed over summer and holiday breaks.  Polling students to gain their insight is a good move as well.  The next step is to determine if there are excess funds in the budget (there is almost always money to spend at the end of the year) to make changes immediately.  If not, then this should be worked into the budget for the following year.  Below are some practical suggestions to power up your school.




  • Transform blocks of hallway lockers into charging bars. During a coaching visit to the Downingtown Area School District, I saw how Lionville Middle School has begun to transition some of their obsolete locker spaces into charging bars (pictures above). Many lockers go unused as our digital learners don't find a need for them so converting them seems like wise decision. 
  • Overhaul old typing rooms and computer labs. If your middle or high school building isn’t relatively new, then the chances are that there were at least one typing room and numerous computer labs. These rooms had numerous outlets throughout to power devices so a little innovative design can transform these spaces into power hubs. 
  • Purchase furniture and accessories that have built-in electrical outlets. This strategy seems like a no-brainer when schools are looking to refurbish libraries and comfortable furniture for common areas. Check out Steelcase for an array of ideas and solutions specific to education. 
  • Replace standard outlets with multi-functional USB combos – When assessing power needs through an audit, count the number of outlets in classrooms, hallways, and common spaces. You can then purchase and replace those outlets with dual USB tamper-resistant models, which will essentially double the available power in any room or space.  
  • Invest in school branded charging stations – As the principal, I invested in a few of these mobile stations from a company called Kwikboost and placed them in common areas throughout the building (picture below).  One of the benefits was that each station already came with every type of charging cable pre-installed.  During events like concerts, plays, and art shows these devices can easily be temporarily placed in these spaces to meet the power needs of stakeholders visiting the school while showing off some school pride in the process. 


When more devices, whether school or student-owned, are integrated to support learning an infrastructure must be in place to support the need for power.  What unique ideas and strategies have you seen that you would add to the list above?