5 Ways to Personalize Student Feedback

Combining Technology with a Personal Touch

Since the posting of the Teaching Channel video “Podcasting to Personalize Feedback” there has been a robust discussion developing in the comments section of the video on everything from how to work the technology, to formative assessment practices, to stories of how teachers are trying out these practices in the classroom. I’ve long believed that the most important teaching I do comes in the form of the feedback I offer students and so over the years it has gone through various iterations. Here are some of my forays into offering feedback:

1. Written response. Students still see my handwriting each week in some form or another. I’ve tried all kinds of techniques from choosing a few target areas to comment on, to highlighting my favorite sentences, to writing notes to the students at the end of their pieces. Regardless of the shifts in my responses, one quality of the response hasn’t changed: I never use a red pen. Green for “go” or purple because it’s my favorite or an occasional orange, but never the stigma of “the red pen.”

2. Online written response. I love to use (and have students use when giving each other feedback) either Microsoft Word’s comment editor feature or Google Docs’ commenting tool. With either of these options, my comments stay legible and I can type much faster than I can write (which doesn’t necessarily save me time, but I get more out of the time I spend on the student work). I also love the way students literally “accept” or “reject” the comments and maintain more control over their process. (See example).

3. Writing conferences/coaching. For as long as I’ve been writing on papers, I’ve also been conferencing with students about their work. Whether these are longer conferences in the back of the classroom while other students work, or doing short impromptu conversations while students are in process, these times give me valuable insight in the process of my students’ learning.

Recently, I’ve ventured into coaching conversations as well. Inspired by a Teaching Channel experience earlier this year when Tch Vice President of Production, Erin Crysdale, expertly coached me through voiceover transitions for several of our weekly PBS broadcasts. I loved the immediate feedback, the way she would stop me, read it with a different inflection and let me try again.

I wanted my students to see the immediate results of having a coach like Erin, so when it was time to record PSA announcements they had written in response to non-fiction books they’d read, I became their producer. These conferences proved to show immediate improvement in their speaking and reading. Check out this uncut video of one of these coaching sessions.

4. Podcasts. I actually started this process long before the technology caught up with me. Inspired by my cooperating teacher, Vicki Goldsmith, I started recording comments to my students on audio cassette tapes just a few years into my teaching. As an early part of the writing process, these (now podcasts) have become anchors for our classroom. To see this in more depth, check out our podcasting video.

5. Screencasts. The more I started to share my podcasting technique, the more I realized how I needed to find some kind of similar way of responding to student speeches. Trying all kinds of tools and methods, I finally settled on creating screencasts. I digitally record the speeches as students deliver them and then I play them back on my computer. As I watch the video of students, I occasionally pause and verbally note what is going well or which moments offer places for growth. While I’m watching the recording, I’m also using a program called Screenflow to capture both my voice and everything on the screen. The result is a screencast where students see themselves and hear my comments overlaid. Check out one of my early efforts here.

Whether it’s with a pen, an iPod, or a video recorder, I’m constantly trying to find better ways to give students the kind of feedback that allows them to practice without penalty and enjoy the process of seeing themselves grow in skill and as learners. I know there are many other methods out there; I can’t wait to hear yours!

Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. She also hosts “Teaching Channel Presents” on public television stations around the country. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.

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