# Feedback

On the one hand I have never been someone who celebrates “special occurences” since I have always believed that each event is special in its own way.  On the other hand my past bouts with my OCD have imbued a certain Monk-like behavior as regards to numbers.

Today is the 100th consecutive week with a Teacher’s Lounge.  The special meaning that holds for me right now is that it means in 4 more editions, TL will reach having existed for two years and on the following Saturday will be it’s 2nd birthday.  If the calendar went metric, maybe I wouldn’t have to quibble about this. ðŸ™‚

But I’ll start planning (famous procrastinator words) something bigger for next month.

Meanwhile there is today.  What I would like to generate is some feedback.

Cross-posted in Orange

I have to admit that as a teacher, I may have handled the issue of feedback poorly for most of my career.  I probably haven’t given enough positive feedback.  As a math teacher, my approach was as follows:

• assign a value to the problem
• deduct a certain amount for every mistake
• explain why there is an error
• correct the error

I am perhaps a natural-born editor.  I can be picky, picky, picky.  But my goal has been to get the students to the point where they eliminate their mistakes.  Classic negative reinforcement, I am now given to understand:  behave correctly and I will remove the negative stimulus.

I have relied heavily on the assignment of partial credit, which is one of the reason I was vehemently opposed to multiple-choice type examinations.  I’ve lightened up on that a bit since I began teaching programming languages instead of mathematics.

I have relied on students understanding that 9 or 10 out of ten is excellent, 8 is good, 7 is acceptable, 6 is tolerable, and that less than 6 means that this type of problem needs to be revisited.  I explained that to them early and often.  I also explain to them that I am quite anal and that because of it I often deduct half points…and sometimes even quarter points.  I’ve been known to split hairs down to sixths.  And if one has quarters and sixths, one is bound to assign grades of 88 11/24 from time to time.

And 88 11/24 is great.  B’s are good.  B+’s are great.  A-‘s are fantastic.  A’s are outstanding.  And it is not the case, however much I wish it were so, that the entire class consists of students who are outstanding.

I have moderated that somewhat now that I teach computer programming.  First off, I believe in projects, not exams, though the latter are required to keep the students from falling too far behind.  Some of the projects consist of them doing what they are told to do.  They get credit for completing the tasks.  For the final project I give my students a list of items they can include and how much value they have and let them build the project they wish to build.  They don’t like the fact that they have to decide what their program will do.  Or that they have to design it.  Or that they have to make it do what they chose to make it do.  But I always make it possible for them to get more than the assigned value of the project (in last year’s Visual Basic final project, it was possible to get 290 out of 225).

But no, I do not often write on the students paper about all the times they did the right thing.  There are not enough hours in the day for me to both assign partial credit and comment on ever step that was done correctly.

Maybe I fail in that.  And maybe I spend too much time and attention on the students who need more guidance, thereby not spending enough time praising the students who don’t need as much.  I’ve been trying to work on that over the last decade.  I don’t really know how well I am succeeding at it.  Feedback from students is often less than helpful:

Everything

Nothing

So perhaps it is time to be a target, for either the good or the bad.

What needs to be changed about what happens here?

I know I have had some complaints from time to time about the rules down at the bottom, that they discourage discussion, etc.  From my point of view, they have generated a certain atmosphere of trust that isn’t found in a lot of diaries.  That’s what I was hoping for when I created them anyway.

How can more students be encouraged to engage in the dialog about their education?

Student engagement is also a problem in the meat world of college campuses.

How can Teacher’s Lounge be made better?

Faster, stronger.  We have the technology.

I’ll be honest, though, and say that a little positive feedback wouldn’t be met with disdain.

• Robyn on September 22, 2007 at 19:30
Author

I have the Friday @ 6pm slot over here.  Philosophy are us.  At least I hope so.

Teacher’s Lounge Saturdays at noon.

Sundays I get to exercise my musical taste over here in the guise of Turing Test.  If I want to cross-post a non-TL diary, it will be on Sunday as well.  And the essay part of Teacher’s Lounge will go into Recent Diaries over here between 1 and 2 on Saturdays.

Insane, I tell you.

Robyn

• pico on September 22, 2007 at 19:32

I don’t expect you to change this at all, that the main reason I miss Teacher’s Lounge is the time – my internet use plummets on the weekends.  Not really anything I can do about that, but I do like the setup and discussion a lot.

1. And no ‘Guest Posters’ to fill in for you? That IS truly impressive!

I think Ask a Kossak is in the 70’s now, but about ten of those have been guested.

• RiaD on September 22, 2007 at 20:38

I thought at first I’d need time to ponder…then I wrote all this:

One of the things I really really like here (docudharma) is the time to ponder. Like resding your Death last night, thinking about it this morning while doing other things, then responding. And knowing it’ll be read by the diarist…and sometimes warrant a reply. (although my response to Death was NOT what I thought I was going to say!)
I like your essays/writings in particular. You make me think in, well not new directions so much as farther…does that make sense?
Have you seen PBS’s POV called Hobart Shakespeareans? (netfix has it) I thought of you when I saw it. This teacher, Rafe, is Soo inspiring. He teaches mostly Asian & Hispanic children at one of the nations largesr middle schools (2300+ kids!) Although he does 10-12 yr olds, I think his Methods are something everyone can learn from. He gets feedback, lots of it.

Sometimes I’m just scared to say what I really feel or think, that people will think I’m a looney, so I don’t say anything. I really try to do unto others but so often the others don’t think the same way. And it hurts.

• Diane G on September 22, 2007 at 23:05

but I will have to check out TL.

In fact, I am the great un undereducated housewife.

I do find one similarity.  If I got anything less than all of them right, it pissed me off.  A “B” was unacceptable to me. (except in typing, didn’t want to take it & the nun slept through half our classes)

My son (8) is getting to be the same way.  He has yet to get anything wrong in math, and as math/science brained like me sometimes has issues with shades of gray.

I’m trying to teach him to be easier on himself than I was with myself, because the point should be learning well, not acing everything.

Once you get somethingwrong if you make the effort to know why and correct it, you will know it more intimately and permanently than the things you got right. ðŸ™‚

2. … and mini-essays and paragraph compositions in tests, I very early settled on strict criteria based marking, with absolutely no partial marks at all.

So for “analysis”, the criteria might be … in Australia, where 50% if the passing mark …
5/5 Flawless logic, perfectly aligned with the evidence presented
4/5 Very good logic, substantially aligned with the evidence presented, though with one or more minor flaws
3/5 Adequate logic, adequately aligned with evidence, despite a substantial flaw in logic or connection with evidence
2/5 A serious flaw in logic or in alignment of the argument with the evidence
1/5 Multiple serious flaws in logic or alignment of the argument with the evidence
0/5 No discernible argument

and similarly for evidence, responsiveness and composition.

I had to modify the grading scheme somewhat to fit into the US grade scale, but I used the same type of criteria with some success in a class of students dominated by a business degree that it was clear that the Econ dept. looked down upon … which was, after all, how it was that subject the dept. was looking for an instructor for, when they were short of full time staff.

My experience, especially with ESL students from China, Thailand, Indonesia, Taiwan, etc., was that repeated use of the strict category marking with broad categories focused students on fixing their most serious mistakes, since basically it was easier to get a category score to move up the lower the category score was … moving from a 1 to a 2 substantially easier than moving from a 4 to a 5.

And they very much liked the system, because it was so much easier for them to come in an work out what they had to fix in order to improve their score, something they found harder to get a handle on with a free-form “points off” or “points on” system.

So as far as negative feedback, I guess I’m saying I’ve liked how that type of approach works, although of course YMMV. Although I always told students that I was grading from 0 up, rather than from 100 down … awarding them points for what I saw them doing right, rather than deducting points for what I saw them doing wrong.

As far as positive feedback, I am constantly wavering between wanting to give more and better positive feedback and not wanting students to get the impression that the subject is a cakewalk, so I guess I try to make up for it with an explicit “active learning” versus “passive learning” discussion after the first mid-term … on the last occasion complete with a picture of a pretty glass picture for the “pitcher theory” of teaching, and a wolf pack for the active learning.

On soliciting student feedback, far and away my best results have been in handing out sheets with “list the three things you like most about the course so far (or less if there aren’t three)” on one side, and “among the many things you dislike about the course, list the three worst” on the other … less than halfway through the course. I reckon that students take feedback more seriously if they expect that they might benefit from it in the second half of the term.