Category Archives: Feedback Activity

Fascinating Data: One step closer to a thinking classroom


Are your students lacking motivation to begin a task?  Does their typical discussion involve headphones and iPhones?  Do they stop working at the first sign of trouble?

If so, read on…

As is often the case, I Googled one thing and found myself several links later reading  Peter Liljedahl’s research on thinking classrooms and was fascinated. His research included 300 teachers, the majority of whom taught 6th-12th grade, on the elements that supported or impeded a thinking classroom.

“A thinking classroom is a classroom that is not only conducive to thinking but also occasions thinking, a space that is inhabited by thinking individuals as well as individuals thinking collectively, learning together and constructing knowledge and understanding through activity and discussion. It is a space wherein the teacher not only fosters thinking but also expects it, both implicitly and explicitly.”   ~Peter Liljedahl, Associate Professor at Simon Fraser University, Canada

One of the elements Liljedahl found impactful was the student workspace.


And this is where it gets interesting.

Liljedahl  looked at five different workspaces.  He gave each group of 2-4 students only one pen to ensure group work, then gave students a task to solve.  The five workspaces included:

  • a wall-mounted whiteboard (vertical, non-permanent (i.e. easy to erase))
  • a whiteboard laying on top of their desks or table (horizontal, non-permanent)
  • a sheet of flip chart paper taped to the wall (vertical, permanent (i.e. can’t erase marks))
  • a sheet of flip chart paper laying on top of their desk or table (horizontal, permanent)
  • their own notebooks at their desks or table (horizontal, permanent).

Eight data points were collected to measure the effectiveness of each of the surfaces.

  1. Time to task
  2. Time to first mathematical notation
  3. Eagerness to start (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned for no enthusiasm to begin and a 3 assigned if every member of the group were wanting to start.)
  4. Discussion (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned for no discussion and a 3 assigned for discussion involving all members of the group.)
  5. Participation (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if no members of the group were active in working on the task and a 3 assigned if all members of the group were participating in the work.)
  6. Persistence (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if the group gave up immediately when a challenge was encountered and a 3 assigned if the group persisted through multiple challenges.)
  7. Non-linearity of work (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if the work was orderly and linear and a 3 assigned if the work was scattered.)
  8. Knowledge mobility (A score of 0, 1, 2 or 3 was assigned with 0 assigned if there was no interaction with another group and a 3 assigned if there were lots of interaction with another group or with many other groups.)

Here is the data:


Non-permanent surfaces outperformed permanent surfaces in almost every measure. Are students more willing to take risks when they are working on non-permanent surfaces?

Vertical surfaces outperformed horizontal surfaces in almost every measure.  The act of standing reduces the ability to hide.

Vertical whiteboards decrease the amount of time it takes students to get something on their surface;  from almost 2 1/2 minutes down to 20 seconds!  Eagerness increases when moving to a vertical whiteboard – a perfect 3!   And, Participation and Discussion jumped from less than 1 with a notebook to close to 3 with a vertical whiteboard.

How cool is that?!  This is impactful data!  

Get some white boards, people! Get them on the wall! Get them now!!  

And, let me know how I can help!


P.S. If you are in need of super cheap whiteboards, just laminate a piece of construction paper or tag board!

P.S.S. Find a concise summary of Liljedahl’s research of the 9 elements of a thinking classroom here.


Plickers: An Engaging Formative Assessment Tool

I was at a Digital Technology workshop earlier in the week, and I was pleased to hear the presenter talk about technology as a vehicle through which to engage students and support learning, not as a learning outcome itself. In fact, a mantra we heard frequently throughout the morning really hit home for me: It’s not about tech; it’s about learning.”

It's not about the tech; it's about the learning.

It’s not about the tech; it’s about the learning.

I can’t remember the first time I was introduced to Plickers, but I do remember the first time I actively used it; that was just a few weeks ago, as we were introducing Professional Learning Teams to three of our middle school staffs that would be collaborating across school sites. Plickers is a formative assessment tech tool. Using Plickers to pose questions and record live responses would both engage our “students” and support their learning, just what we’d hope could be replicated by teachers in their own classes. The tech tool simply enhanced what we might have done with paper and pencil. But, the more opportunities we have to purposefully and effectively integrate technology for students, the more opportunities we have for buy-in from various stakeholders.

This tool is free, easy to prep, and effective. It can be used in any content area to “take the temperature” of a class on their understanding of a concept, their perception of a theory, or their progress on a task, for example. It has its limits; you can’t ask a constructed response question with it and have a means for quick feedback, but it has a place in the assessment toolbox.

Click on the video below to get a feel for what Plickers is and how it works, then try it for yourself! After you do, drop us a note in the “Leave a Reply” box below this post, so we can all benefit from your pilot!

Feedback via Speed Dating

I saw the AT&T Speed Dating Commercial  the other day.  Take a look below if you aren’t familiar with it.

I started thinking about how speed dating – using math problems – allows students to give and receive feedback from each other.  Not only does this activity employ the strategy of Feedback that Robert Marzano and John Hattie argue has a high effect size (.73), it also gives students an opportunity to work on Math Practice Standard #3: Construct viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others.

I found a great 3 minute video (once on the webpage, scroll down to Row Games and Speed Dating) that shows how this activity works in a high school math class, although it could work at any level. While not as entertaining as the AT&T commercial, the video reveals how engaging, efficient, and effective speed dating in math can be.

Screen Shot 2014-12-01 at 11.48.06 AMI found 6 suggestions to ensure success at a speed dating event.  I’ve applied these tips to the math classroom.

1)  Be prepared.  Make the classroom structures and procedures explicit for this activity.

2) Top questions to ask. Make sentence frames available for students to use when they are questioning their partner or defending their work.  For example:

  • Why did you…
  • I knew that…

3)  Fun questions to ask.  Grow the sentence frames in complexity so that students can see how playground language can grow to academic language.  For example:

  • I saw that…  →   I noticed that…
  • Here is an example of…   →   I’ve illustrated…

4)  Be confident.  This activity is worth the class time. It reinforces procedural skills, math practices, and is an activity that facilitates a research-based strategy.

5)  Make introductions.  Keep this activity moving.  Use a timer. Kids should be working with as many different partners and problems as is reasonably possible.

6)  Don’t be a whiner.   This goes for both teacher and students.  As a teacher, having a positive, encouraging attitude is key to anything we want kids to buy into.  The success of this activity does rely on the culture you’ve built in your classroom and the expectations around how students treat each other.

This last tip is mine:

7) Be flexible.  Remember: everything may not go perfectly the first time you try this activity. React to the feedback you are getting from the kids as they engage. You may need to change things up on the fly.  Go with it.

Let me know how it goes or if I can be an extra body in the classroom while you try it.  I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Happy dating!

Feedback is Universal

My sixth grade daughter struggles with math…a lot. There are myriad reasons that contribute, but the bottom line is she is not finding success, and it tears me apart.

So, I’ve been reflecting…a lot. In the pool when I swim laps, on my bike as I tick off the miles, on the road as I negotiate our two dogs through squirrel infested neighborhoods. I tell her what we need to do through my most helpful concerned mom-isms. I’m emotionally charged and am reacting instinctively wanting to protect her, feeling defensive, all the while trying to stop the bleeding. But, when I take a step back—breathe—and think about how I would approach a student who struggles, say with writing, I realize I have some tools to apply to our situation.

A timely blog post arrived in my Inbox last week from Indent, written by Kate and Maggie Roberts, two evangelists from the Teachers College Reading Writing Project. The post’s focus is on critique. One of the points that stood out to me was:

Giving feedback doesn’t just mean dumping what we think on our students and then walking away. Listening and questioning is just as important as talking.”

Just last week, I’d bombarded my daughter with suggestions and prescriptions and advice; I am chagrined to report I never once asked a discerning question or listened to her ideas, two tenets of conferring I used in my own classroom practice—duh!

Feedback is a Strategy both Robert Marzano (Classroom Instruction that Works) and John Hattie (Visible Learning) tout as high-leverage, meaning that when practiced with fidelity, can lead to exceptional growth in student performance. Conferring is an activity or a means of delivering feedback. To be most effective, according to Marzano, feedback needs to be corrective in nature, timely, and specific to correction.

Descriptive Feedback

The structure of conferring in the classroom follows a predictable (though not always perfect) trajectory. We conduct research while observing students work, taking heart to identify needs then decide on a path of instruction, finally explain and provide an example and reminder or link to using the strategy in the future. Although this framework can be a challenge in a class period with organized chaos bubbling around us, it can be a powerful tool for specific, timely feedback to a student. With classes bursting at the seams, teachers often find success in small group conferring, when you’re able to identify a group (close to proficient?) who may benefit from a strategic intervention that helps them reach a benchmark.

Tovani 2

I suspect giving feedback to my 12-year-old at home will be a bit of a different experience than when I’m in the classroom. Maybe it’s that preteen attitude or the fact that I’m the parent or perhaps it’s the mood she woke up with today. But, I have a protocol to work from, her teacher as back-up, and the Internet for resources. What could possibly go wrong? I’ll keep you (blog)posted on her progress!