What We Learned

What We Learned

We have completed our first full year of Feedback Centered Learning in the English Department and are ready to start our second year. I thought I would take the time to post our notes of what we learned and what we hope to improve on in our second year.

We learned a great deal in our first full year of running a Feedback Centered Classroom and are excited to continue this growth.

Hopefully this reflection will help if you are planning to start your own Grades Free Classroom.

Note: We teach in Ontario, Canada and are using our provincial expectations.

Feedback Centered Startup:

  • Start the semester with a week of community building, and mind set activities.
  • Have discussions/lessons around learning and how our brains work.
  • Consider individual forms or inventories to discover learning styles, and familiarity and comfort with feedback centered learning.
  • Set up Freshgrade and/or Google Classroom and get students familiar with how you will be sharing their feedback. Have students practice responding to your feedback.


Using the Expectations:

  • At a minimum, use the 3 overall expectations for Oral, Reading, Writing, and Media to create your personal bank of course expectations. Feel free to add more specific expectations to your bank as you see fit, but remember not to overwhelm either yourself or your students. Re-write the expectations in student friendly language (preferably using I Can statements). We have found this is better than having the students re-write the expectations.
  • Invite students to interact with the bank of expectations. Have them individually and in groups decide which assignments would help them meet which expectations.
  • Show and/or Post examples of how students have explained their understanding of how they met the expectations in past years. Draw student’s attention to how a good explanation gives examples of what the student did to meet the expectation.
  • If possible show examples from previous students (see other teachers for examples as well), if not create your own exemplars.

Giving Feedback and Re-Do’s:

  • Remember that not all feedback needs to be formal. A one-on-one conversation with a student constitutes feedback.
  • When giving more formal feedback attempt to balance positive and constructive feedback. Note the students you are working with; some students can handle several suggestions at once, while others will need fewer suggestions at one time.
  • Using Google’s Keizena (oral feedback) can save you time, but remember to make short notes in either the Google document or Freshgrade, so you don’t have to re-listen to your feedback when talking with students. When you conference you will want to remember the overall “big” issues you pointed out.
  • You can also add oral feedback using Google Read and Write. Students can use this to send you a message as well. For example, you might ask students to make a brief comment on something they would like you to take note of. “Mrs. Locke please look at my thesis, it is really good or I’m still having trouble with the topic sentence, is this one better?

Reassuring students and Discussing Progress:

(We still must give grades at mid-term and final, which is why students still wonder about their grade)

We have found that it is important to periodically stop and touch base with students regarding their progress. Because this is new to most of our students, and us, they need more reassurance that they are on the right path. There are a number of ways to do this. Remember to reinforce that it is their learning that is important, not the speed at which they complete work or a collection of “blue stars” (from FreshGrade). We would suggest doing this between the progress report and midterm and then again between midterm and final. You may find that individual students need this reassurance more often than others.

  • You can create a quick Google forms survey asking students how they think they have been doing on their recent work. Your last question can be “What letter grade would you give yourself right now and why?” You can then quickly touch base with each student or just the ones who aren’t on the same page as you.
  • You can give students a sticky note and ask them to write down a grade for themselves on one side and one or two reasons why on the other.
  • You can have quick conferences with each student and ask them what they think their grade is and why. These conversations can also be filmed and added to their Freshgrade portfolio.

Student / Teacher Conferences:

  • Give students specific guidelines for each conference. Tell them what you will be looking for and how they need to be prepared BEFORE they come to the conference. If students are prepared and you know what skills you are looking for you will be able to complete more conferences during a period.
  • Give students graphic organizers to prepare for the conference or have them create their own. If they are prepared, students should be able to run the conference themselves. When you sit down together resist the urge to lead. When they say “what do you want to talk about?” toss it back to them and say “I don’t know, this is your conference where do you want to start?”
  • Students should be telling you which expectations they were working on and which ones they met. They should be able to tell you why they met the expectation with examples from their work. Not meeting the expectation is just as valuable.
  • Ask students to discuss an expectation they have not met and how they are preparing to meet it. Allow students the time to express their ideas, try not to ask leading questions. For example: “When did you use inference”? As opposed to “Did you use inference when the brother got in a fight with the main character”?
  • If using Freshgrade, have it open on your screen while you conference and take a few minutes to make notes while the student is talking. Take a few minutes at the end to write your comments and give next step feedback. This way you can give the feedback right away, save time and you don’t have to transcribe any notes.
  • Be ready for the student who is not prepared. Conferencing is part of their learning; don’t hesitate to tell them they are not ready and to come back when they are prepared. (Some students may need more guidance on how to prepare). At the same time, give yourself a bit of slack. You are also learning how to conference. You will learn what questions to ask that will give you the information you need.

Final Thought: This is a major shift in pedagogy; give yourself and your students time to adjust.

Have you used any of these techniques in your classroom?

2 thoughts on “What We Learned

  1. Thank you Karen for sharing your learning. This learning experience is invaluable and I hope it inspires educators to focus more on feedback and less on grades!


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