Effective Feedback

Feedback isn’t criticism and feedback isn’t praise. Feedback tells you specifically what you did well and what if anything would make your learning stronger or better. Good feedback encourages you to keep going even when you feel lost.

FeedbackBefore you learn something new you need to know specifically what you are going to learn and how you will know if you learned it. The most effective feedback is ongoing during learning or as soon as possible after instruction. For example, I am currently going to a trainer for strength training. I always thought I could just add a few reps with some weights, do a few sit ups and a few other things and I would be fine. Unfortunately, I ended up hurting myself several times(including a frozen shoulder)and finally just gave up. I am an avid walker but something told me I still needed to add strength training. I found a trainer that I really liked and she was excellent at giving feedback. I had no idea I was holding the weights wrong. I needed to back up and go slowly. Before we start something new she always demonstrates what we will do. I practice with her guiding me and when she catches me doing something wrong she will take hold of my arm for example and guide it. Then I start on my own and she watches me like a hawk to make sure I don’t hurt myself and am using the proper form and timing. Somethings have taken me a very long time to accomplish. After several months I have gotten so much stronger. This kind of coaching with effective, specific and timely feedback is what has made the difference. My trainer lets me know what I am accomplishing too. “You held plank for 30 seconds. I know you can do more. You are doing very well with the 5 pound weights. Your form is great. Lets try the 6 pound weights next time.”

As teachers we give feedback all day long. If you are a teacher and see that some of your students are stuck, check in with your feedback. Is it timely? Is it specific? Does it encourage your student to take on new challenges? For example if you are a kindergarten teacher, you need to employ specific feedback almost immediately. When I taught kindergarten, I made the mistake of giving a paper back the next day. A few of the students recognized that it was theirs but most denied it outright! If you are a high school English teacher you can wait a bit to return something to students with feedback and you may still get results. Just remember that feedback must be specific. A grade alone does not support deep learning. Neither does, “good job!” Comment about what exactly your student did well. Specific feedback on a piece of writing, would be something like, ” I like your idea. You captured my interest in the introduction with your questions and anecdote.” If you just said good job, your student may not understand that they now know how to write an introduction that captures the audience. The more specific feedback you can give while students are practicing and trying it on their own, the more likely they will be to learn the objective. The more students know what they are doing right and what still needs work, the more likely they will be to challenge themselves to keep going.

If you are the learner, and are struggling with something, think about the kind of feedback your are getting. Is it timely? Is it specific? Does it encourage you to take on more challenges or do you just want to give up in frustration.


What is Close Reading and Why Should We Care?

Close Reading is a process that can be used by teachers to help students deeply understand a text of any kind and deeply explore what the author was trying to convey in a particular piece of writing.  When armed with the strategy to “read a text closely” students will be better prepared to tackle complex, confusing texts and be able to use the information to build their knowledge.  Close reading builds  high levels of comprehension that will enable students to apply what they glean from the reading to real life situations and use their understanding to  solve problems. Students will be better able to build content knowledge that deepens comprehension.

Douglas Fisher, Nancy Frey and Diane Lapp have a great book, Teaching  Students to Reading like Detectives. It outlines lots of classroom strategies to help all students learn the skills and strategies necessary to closely read any text.  As  Douglas Fisher  explains on U-Tube, close reading is:

  • “Close reading is the careful and purposeful interpretation of a text, wherein which readers pay close attention to the way ideas unfold as they are read.”
  • —“Close reading uncovers layers of meaning that lead to deep comprehension.”
  • —“A thoughtful, disciplined reading of a text or other object.”

A painting, movie or video clip could be “read” closely as can either literary or non fiction works.  Even IKEA directions for putting together a piece of furniture requires “close reading.”

In order to be able to interact so closely with a text, students have to be taught to pay careful attention to many aspects of the text, like vocabulary, syntax, text structure, and literary devices.  Lessons on these aspects of text are taught all the time in an ELA classroom.  Students need to bring these skills with them to a close reading.

You may also hear Close Reading referred to as is “critical reading.”  It’s the kind of reading most of us were required to do in college but really didn’t know how.  Because close or critical reading is a strategy that readers use to deeply understand the text, it usually takes several readings and rereading to get to the deep level.  So that means it takes time.  Time that teachers often feel they can not spare.  One of the foundations of the CCSS is that there are fewer standards to allow more time to go deeply into content.  We are going to have to figure out how to readjust our classroom time to be able to include deep close critical reading.  When we chose a text for close reading it needs to be rich and important enough to read several times.nd

So What does this look like in a classroom? It doesn’t happen every day.  There are lots of skills that need to be taught to lead up to a close reading. Douglas Fisher gives us some examples on U-Tube. You can also find some good examples of teachers using a close or critical reading with their students on Vimeo, U-tube and the Teaching Channel. Just use their search features to find your grade and subject matter.  Close reading can be used in any subject, even Math.   It is advisable to use a short piece of non-fiction or a small part of a literary text, especially when you are getting started.  Close reading does not have to take place with every piece of text your students engage in.   Take your time and work with your teammates to create and deliver effective close reading lessons.

Another great resource is Achieve the Core.org, a free resource for teachers. You will find examples of close reading lessons in all  subjects and grade levels.  Pinterest also has a search function that you can use to search for close reading lessons, ideas and anchor charts.

For many teachers, this means a big change in the way we instruct,  so why should we care about close reading?  To implement the Common Core state standards we need to understand the importance of close critical reading.  The CCSS require us to ensure that students can understand what they read at a deep level. They need to be able to read and comprehend more complex text.  They need to understand the vocabulary and all the other devices used by the author and be able to analyze the text.  —It is a strategy that helps students set a framework for a larger analysis. Your thoughts evolve not from someone else’s ideas about the reading, but from your own observations about the authors intent and purpose.  Students will understand what an author is really trying to say.  —Close reading demands that our students  think critically, creatively, and collaboratively. These are the skills necessary to thrive in the 21st century, the place our students will live and work.

Teaching the skills to students to enable them to read closely and giving them the time to practice will use precious instructional time. Be patient with yourselves as teachers and with your students as learners.  Give yourselves the time to learn too.  Engaging deeply with a text takes time, attention, and effort.  It will be worth it.

Kent Peterson suggests ways to support “wary and weary” teachers

New Principals and veterans can use this as a blueprint. Thank you Dennis and Kent.

Dennis Sparks on re·sil·ience

Dennis Sparks Kent Peterson was one of the first educational thought leaders to recognize the power of school culture in shaping teaching and learning, an influence he explored with co-author Terrence Deal in Shaping School Culture .

So I was particularly eager to see how he would respond to the questions I put to him.

Kent is an Emeritus Professor from the University of Wisconsin-Madison who has spoken to school leaders across the U.S. and internationally about shaping positive and transforming toxic school cultures. He may be contacted at

What are the two or three most important things you’ve learned about school leadership from observing and studying it?

Over the past decade I have visited hundreds of schools and talked with thousands of school principals and teacher leaders, and in all cases there are several important things that they school leaders do.

First, they work to make school culture and environment a…

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What if…? Part 1: Staffing

Love this idea by Grant Wiggins an inspiring and innovative educator.

Granted, and...

What if we hired and placed teachers completely differently?

I have been thinking about this issue for a long time. The assigning of one person to one classroom, in isolation from all other teachers, has always seemed to me to be a profound error. It hampers ongoing professional development, it breeds egocentrism, and makes it far too hard to get appropriate consistency across teachers concerning instructional quality, assessment, and grading.

So, what if we hired 4 teachers for 3 classrooms? That would have enormous benefit:

  1. A teacher could always be free to help another teacher manage a project, provide feedback to a colleague, work with kids in a more personalized coaching way.
  2. A teacher could always be free to do ‘learning walks’  – to visit many other classes to find good practices that could be brought back to the other team members.
  3. Someone could always be free to attend planning…

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Teachers Matter!

In this technological age where computers and robots can replace many jobs teachers will never be outsourced. Now more than ever with the implementation of the Common Core State standards on the minds of educators in most of the United States, teachers are the linchpins in the success of creating students who are career and college ready for the 21st century. Teachers are the ones who will make it all happen. The authors of the Common Core have said that the standards themselves provide a focus on results rather than a means to achieving results. So the work of making the standards come alive in classrooms for students relies on the teacher. Teachers are more important than ever as we embark on raising the rigor in education across this nation.

Teachers are not only important because of their ability to provide instruction that will create the critical thinkers, communicators and collaborators that our nation needs but they also create the conditions that ensure that high levels of learning take place.

Relationship building, connection and motivating students will be needed more than ever if students are going to be able to meet the rigorous demands of the CCSS. When relationships between students and teachers are thriving, students are empowered to learn new things, take risks, dream of possibilities and feel successful. Teachers who make the most impact on students can do that as well as create lessons and provide instruction that improves learning. Human relationships support high levels of learning.

Teachers create classroom environments conducive to high levels of learning. Teachers plan and deliver the instruction. They stay up late; they plan and reflect in the shower and on the drive to and from work. They adjust and readjust their plans and lessons on the fly in front of the students when things are going well and when they are not. They do all of this and they build relationships.

Teachers matter. Teachers will need lots of support and time to carry forward the vision of the CCSS.

“Every day you must decide whether to put your contribution out there, or keep it to yourself to avoid upsetting anyone, and get through another day.  Leadership is worth the risk because the goals extend beyond material gain or personal advancement.  By making the lives of people around you better, leadership provides meaning in life.  It creates purpose.”

Heifetz and Linsky, Leadership on the Line: Staying Alive Through the Dangers of Leading

The Second Thing to Ditch as You Transition to the CCSS

The second thing we need to ditch is our unhelpful attitudes about change.  I notice anger about the need for accountability.  I notice anger about the new generation of assessments.  I notice anger about change.  If anger will help you learn new things and push you forward use it.  If anger keeps you from learning and growing then it is time to figure out how to get past it.  In order to implement the new standards and take advantage of the new generation of assessments you will have to change a lot.  You will need to learn a lot.  You will need to teach in different ways.  You will need to lead in different ways.  If you do change your practice to reflect the higher level of rigor in the standards your students will benefit.  If more students learn at higher levels we all benefit.