How to Leverage Simple Technology for High Impact Student Feedback

Instruction

After writing an article for Cult of Pedagogy about delaying the grade students receive to help them focus on feedback, I saw a lot of questions and comments about why I don’t giving feedback while the kids are writing.  I assure you, I do! But that wasn’t the focus of the article.  The article was about after the essay is turned in, not the process.  I also do writing conferences, and these, combined with the methods I’m discussing today, make for a lot of opportunities for students to grow as writers.

As I read through the stack of essays from my 11th graders, I realized there were some ridiculous mistakes being made.  Didn’t they listen during the mini lesson? Why can’t they remember how to punctuate a title? Why are they making all of these errors? What am I doing wrong?

These questions plagued my grading for the first half (or more) of my teaching career.  It wasn’t until I started to leverage the technology we’d been given–first iPads and later Chromebooks–that I realized the power of feedback.

I think anyone reading this will agree that feedback is super important, so I won’t spend much time explaining why you should give more of it.  Instead, I’ll show a couple of benefits I’ve seen and share how I use the technology I have to give my student writers a lot of feedback.

The Benefits

  • Guidance:

    Giving feedback during the writing process, especially with the use of technology, allows me to help students find their direction.  We all know it’s easy to veer off course when we’re writing, and sometimes we need reminders about our focus / the prompt / etc.  Asking clarifying questions is probably my number one method of feedback.  These questions help students reflect on what they intended, where they’re going, or simply, what they’re trying to say.  I can also use technology to share additional resources or examples to help students find their own way with other writers as guides.

  • Familiarity: 

    I talked about this in my post about writing conferences as well, but I can’t stress how important it is to me to know my students’ writing.  I want to know their struggles and confusions before I get to the final draft.  Giving feedback allows me to see where individuals are struggling, which also helps me shape mini lessons and whole-class instruction.  I also learn each student’s voice, which helps if there are ever any issues with cheating or plagiarism. If you’ve been giving feedback all along, you’ll have a better idea if something sounds “off” when you get to the final draft.

  • Focus: 

    Periodic check-ins for feedback helps students stay on task.  If you have a long writing assignment, perhaps one that takes several days or one that is happening “behind the scenes” while the class is working on other things, kids can sometimes forget or just lose track (or maybe even procrastinate…what? no, never!) of the process.  Knowing that they have to turn something in, or that you are going to look at it on such-and-such day, keeps them on track.  Most of them want the feedback so they can do well, so that is oftentimes motivating for them.

  • Self-advocate:

    I have found that by the end of the year, this process of feedback (and the conferences) have turned more of my students into self-advocates when it comes to writing.  T
    hey start to anticipate comments I might make because they’ve seen them in the past, so they’ll ask, “does this sentence sounds awkward? I think it sounds funny.”  They have learned to find issues with their organization or their wording, and while they don’t always know how to fix them, I’m happy they can identify them!

These are some of the reasons I’m a fan of feedback.  Now, let me share the technology tools I use most regularly.


tech tools feedback

The Tools

Over the past five years our school has gone from BYOD, to iPads for everyone, to–most currently–Chromebooks for everyone.  Being in a 1:1 school has many benefits (but also, I would argue, some interesting problems to tackle), but adapting to the different technologies hasn’t always been easy.  Just when I found things I loved on the iPad, we switched to Chromebooks, and I felt like I was starting over.  Finally, after two or three years with Chromebooks, I’ve got a system I like.  These tools, however, can be used without Chromebooks as long as you and students have access to the Internet.

 

Google Docs

  • The first thing my students do at the beginning of the year is share a Drive folder with me.  That way, all work they do for my class is accessible by me (or at least in theory it is). This is extremely handy during the writing process for a couple reasons: one, I can check to see if they’re on track even if I’m not giving feedback, and two, they don’t have to do any extra steps for me to check in and give feedback whenever they or I want.
  • There are a few different features of Docs I use for feedback. (Sidenote: I don’t introduce all of them at once.  We add to our toolbox all year).
    • The first is the comment feature.  In the beginning, I use this to comment or ask questions about different parts of a students essay (or any assignment).  Eventually, the students will leave me comments to focus my feedback in the areas they want help.  I can also leave links to other resources (from my class or other sources) so kids can access them while they write.
    • Sometimes I have kids highlight the sections of their assignment they want me to check. For example, if they have written three body paragraphs, they can choose one they want me to read and provide feedback on.  This cuts down the time and helps students use feedback on other parts of their essays, not just the part I commented on. (It takes a while for them to learn how to do this, and I’m still looking for ways to help them with it!).
    • The suggestion feature is a favorite of mine as well. This way I can suggest things (and add ideas in the comments of the suggestions for clarification). I’ll correct a comma or punctuate a title correctly, and then comment for them to check the rest of their titles, etc.  This feature is kind of handy because kids have to make a decision to reject or accept your suggestion.  Eventually, they’ll make suggestions and ask me if they work or not.

Screencastify

  • If you don’t know about this Chrome Extension, you must learn about it asap! It’s one of my favorite tools ever.  It’s a free screen recording extension, it’s super easy to use, and it lets you upload videos to YouTube or save them in Drive.  This is probably my favorite way to give feedback (during the writing process or after).  My process: I open a student’s essay and quickly read through it (or just the part I’m giving feedback on) to get a “feel” for it.  Then I turn on Screencastify and answer student’s questions, ask questions, explain how they could improve certain areas of the essay. I love this because as I’m sure you know, when you have to write comments, it’s not always easy to concisely write exactly what you want to say and it’s time consuming.  Saying my feedback out loud allows me to explain myself clearly, concisely, and pretty quickly. When I finish recording, I save it to either YouTube or Drive (I haven’t decided which I prefer yet) and share the link with the student, either in a comment on their essay, at the bottom of the essay, or on Canvas, depending on the situation.

Canvas

  • For a bunch of reasons that I don’t feel like explaining here, I use Canvas in my classroom instead of Google Classroom.  Sometimes, I have kids turn in parts of their essay on Canvas; this is usually at a graded checkpoint of some sort and Canvas allows me to make sure things are turned in on time and makes it easier to tell who finished and who didn’t. Anyways, I like giving feedback on Canvas because it allows me to draw on, highlight, and make comments.  Sometimes I use screencastify while an essay is open in Canvas and then leave the link right in the Canvas comments.  If you’re a Canvas user, there are a lot of great features for feedback. I really like how quickly I can cycle through work in the SpeedGrader without having to close and open something new.

Other tools I’ve used or want to use

  • Kaizena: I used this when it first came out and I liked it; however, they have since changed how it works, and in my opinion made it less streamlined.  I know a lot of people who use and love Kaizena though, so it’s worth looking into.
  • Notability (on iPad): this was my favorite when I had an iPad. I’d open a student’s essay from Dropbox into this app, record my comments (and draw, etc.). I then shared it back to the kids, they opened it on their iPads, and voila!
  • Voxer: I haven’t used this yet, but I’m determined to find a place for it in my classroom. I’m thinking “conferences”, peer editing, students sending me a vox with a question about their essay.  That’s as far as I’ve gotten, but I think there is potential.  (Please share if you have any ideas!!!)

Those are my go-to tools as of now. I know there are so many ways feedback can be done, and I’m always looking for ways to improve what I’m doing.  Do you have any tips or tricks for giving feedback? What technology do you use? I would absolutely LOVE to hear what works for you!

 

Additional Resources:

Here are some other resources you might want to check out. I’ve found them helpful in my professional growth.

 

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