An Intentional Focus on Feedback
How can we make feedback meaningful and reduce paper load?
Background and Need, Rationale, etc.
Background And Need
It is a commonly held belief among educators that feedback is critical to student growth. Without feedback, students from any discipline and of any type will not have clear direction as to what they should focus on in the next stage of their learning. While there have been studies analyzing if teacher feedback is more important than peer feedback (Hattie & Clarke, 2020), relatively little exists in the way of comparative studies regarding specific peer feedback loops that are common in the English Language Arts (ELA) classroom at the secondary level. Part of the reason for this is that peer feedback works differently on the part of the assessor and assessee which can lead to different outcomes (Lu & Law, 2011). Additionally, the Advanced Placement ELA population has different needs in clearly definable ways. First, the population in general is high-functioning academically. As a standard, reading comprehension is markedly higher than the average population. Secondly, the Advanced Placement classroom expectations are such that students will take the College Board’s AP examination at the culmination of the class. Students have the opportunity to get college credit with a passing score. Because of this dynamic, there is a vested interest of the student that goes beyond grading and into the realm of learning and actual performance. This dynamic changes the focus of the class; students’ goals are not to please the teacher, but to prepare for an exam that will not be scored by the teacher. This relationship becomes a partnership between students and teacher in a collective effort to learn the skills that will be assessed on the exam. With this level of expectation, the paper load on both students and the teacher is significant. With many districts short on funds to train new AP teachers-- and with many AP teachers becoming experienced and expert in their AP curriculum, many Advanced Placement teachers have a full line of AP classes.
Another consideration is that due to the unique partnership in the AP classroom an opportunity to solicit feedback from students might be in order. Simply put, what works for students? What types of peer feedback might work best for them? After all, it is the student that is preparing for the high stakes AP exam; their high-functioning ability could allow for more meaningful and beneficial feedback loops to occur.
Additionally, the paperwork load on teachers at the secondary level in general cannot be overlooked. Teachers at every level are leaving the profession at high rates due to many factors, including the difficulty in finding a healthy home/work balance. When teachers provide written feedback on essays for ELA students at the secondary level, often students look for their score or grade and focus less on their learning or the feedback they receive. This phenomenon is common and can be frustrating for teachers. Carless (2006) has found that teachers often find their own feedback of significantly more value than students do. Often this is because teachers are misinterpreting the motivation of their students. If a student receives a satisfactory score on an assignment, that may have met the student’s needs. However, even a high scoring student has room for improvement. When a teacher provides feedback on how to improve their work some students may find their needs already met by the high grade. Yet, that instructor spent a great deal of time creating that feedback.
The topics of peer feedback and teacher work overload regarding feedback are absolutely related. Educators want students to succeed and peer feedback can be highly effective in helping students grow. Additionally, educators often work many long and hard hours providing feedback that is often not as valued as the grade itself. On a common sense level, students that have multiple opportunities to analyze and provide feedback with the work of others tend to develop their ability to do so in their own writing. Therefore, it is important to note that peer feedback has the potential to play a vital role in helping both students and teachers be more productive with less workload outside of the classroom.
The purpose of this study was to determine what common feedback loops work well for students while having the additional benefit of not being generated by the instructor, thus saving unnecessary time-- and potentially keeping teachers from burning out.
Review of the LiteraturePeer feedback at the high school level in English Language Arts has been found to have significant potential to help student writers improve their skills. Additionally, the effect size between teacher feedback and peer feedback in formative writing can be nearly identical (Huisman et al., 2018). However, peer feedback can also be detrimental to writing development if that feedback is incorrect. With the sheer volume of material that a high school teacher encounters from a full schedule, peer feedback could be a tremendously useful asset to both student learning and teacher efficiency. Additionally, the potential impact of poor peer feedback has caused teachers to slow the use of peer feedback as a system in general. Students that are getting substandard feedback that has minimal effect on writing growth creates something for a dilemma for the ELA teacher at the secondary level. But we know feedback works and is quite helpful when done correctly. However, based on an extensive analysis of available, existing research, there is at this time no general agreement on what feedback is best for students.
The purpose of this literature review was to conduct an in-depth review of peer-reviewed research in the use of feedback in the Advanced Placement classroom as a tool for the secondary level instructor with advanced classes, taking special consideration with current COVID-19 hybrid learning modules.
Generally, there is not a consensus of what feedback works best for students, and there is little in the way of student preference regarding types of feedback received.
The themes discussed in this research are feedback types, benefits of anonymous feedback, benefits of peer feedback, and student feedback preference.
Seminal Works / Educational Theories
John Hattie’s work has been critical in synthesizing measured learning. His book Visible Learning (2008) is the benchmark for measuring teacher efficacy in the classroom. In a follow up to that text, Hattie and Clarke (2019) co-authored Visible Learning: Feedback to hone in on how feedback works in the classroom. We know that students need feedback to grow as learners. We also know that teacher feedback and peer feedback are comparable in their effectiveness (Huisman et al., 2018). Hattie and Clarke suggested various peer feedback loops but without any type of measurable effect size in correlation to each loop. A noticeable gap in the research was that there was not a substantial amount of measurable data on the effectiveness of feedback. Within the literature there was also a noticeable gap: where best practices were discussed it was rarely done with data from students that suggested what works for them. Culture was commonly mentioned as an important component of a peer-feedback loop. Peer feedback loops can thrive in classrooms where intentionality and trust work with a collective growth mindset among all stakeholders. However, it might appear to be myopic to pursue the question about what is best for advanced student writers without asking the very same writers about what works for them.
Although providing feedback is commonly practiced in education, there is no general agreement regarding what type of feedback is most helpful and why it is helpful (Nelson & Schunn, 2008). Nelson and Schunn compared two types of input: sentence-level details and feedback on global ideas. Their study revealed that the best feedback depends on a variety of details ranging from who the feedback giver is to the individual needs of the writer. They suggested that teachers take note of what works best for their students and use that-- but also stated that all feedback should start with a summary of student performance before getting specific.
Rotsaert, Panadero, and Schellens (2017) found that anonymous feedback with high school juniors increased in quality and that over time non-anonymous feedback was of similar quality. This suggests that anonymous feedback could be a scaffold but not needed once feedback systems are established. Voet et al. (2017) focused on the active involvement of the assessee in the peer feedback process with a group of college freshmen to determine if significant improvements were noted. The findings were that feedback requests do in fact stimulate more focused feedback messages and more specific elaborations than when feedback requests were not present.
Benefits of Peer Feedback
Lu and Law (2011) found that peer feedback actually achieved more for the assessor than the assessee. The ability to give practiced feedback helped the critic of the work achieve improved abilities in their own writing. Lu and Law also determined that peer grading with high school students is less effective than peer feedback. In another study by Deiglmayr (2017), the practice of utilizing formative feedback itself provides opportunity for benefit to the end user, but the procedures to get positive results were unclear. However, there are clear benefits for the assessor. In yet another study (Simonsmeier et al., 2020), it was discovered that peer feedback in a four-week study with college undergrad psychology students ranked as the fifth most significant instruction variable for both the examiner and examinee. Additionally, peer feedback contributes to the overall academic self concept of both the assessor and assessee. A potential parallel to the Advanced Placement ELA classes might be found in a community college comparison. One such study of peer feedback practices (Gilken, 2018) noted that feelings of belongingness improved after participation in peer feedback loops, which in theory may help class culture and improve writing. Students subsequently tended to make more changes in their own writing because their knowledge base increased.
The literature suggested that peer feedback helped both the assessor and assessee and warrants a prominent place in the classroom as a highly effective strategy. However, the collective knowledge base is not clear or in conclusive agreement as to what that feedback should look like, or what kids might prefer.