Tag Archives: feedback

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.


Strategies and Activities and More, oh my!

“Lions and Tigers and Bears, oh my!” is a familiar quote to many from the Wizard of Oz. It’s come to represent the speaker being fearful of a rumored threat. But, we also know that Dorothy locks arms with Tin Man and Scarecrow and plows forward with them in the face of fear and ultimately conquers it (picking up the Cowardly Lion in the process). Perhaps distinguishing strategies from activities isn’t quite as intimidating as encountering wild animals in the Haunted Forest of Oz, but it has leant itself to some uneasiness.

So, let’s extend this analogy a bit: Dorothy’s ultimate goal is to return home to Kansas. In order to do that, she has to employ research-based strategies by engaging in a variety of activities. The first strategy we witness is Feedback; she confers with Glinda, the Good Witch of the North and learns she needs to go on a quest to reach the Wizard. Armed with this new information, Dorothy sets off and soon employs Cooperative Learning as she picks up Scarecrow, Tin Man, and the Cowardly Lion. She collaborates with her partners to follow the Yellow Brick Road, reaching the Emerald City and the Wizard. Optional extension: continue the metaphor with a partner or on your own; for the rest, here comes the connection!

A couple of weeks ago, Shannon and I teamed up with building admin to deliver PD to middle school teachers in our district on this very subject: distinguishing Strategies and Activities (not The Wizard of Oz). In order for our students to achieve positive academic results, we need to engage in activities that employ research-based strategies to better their performance.

Once the foundation was laid, we targeted one specific strategy: Non-Linguistic Representation (NLR) and a specific activity: Concept Mapping. We briefly reviewed Dual Coding Theory, namely reminding folks that we take in information in two ways, linguistically (word-based) and non-linguistically (sensory), concluding that the more we employ both systems of representation, the better we are able to think about and recall knowledge. Following, we facilitated an activity using a jigsaw process in small groups to complete a Concept Definition Map.

Working in content area groups, teams then brainstormed other types of NLRs that would be applicable to their field. Below is an example of one such list:

NLR ELA examples

Let’s take a look at a few of these NLRs that might be transferrable to various content areas:

The 4-Square is often used for vocabulary and as part of the writing process, but it isn’t the sole property of English Language Arts. Students can help solidify new vocabulary by not only defining it and writing about it, but by also supplying a picture to represent the word. When writing, students may benefit from a structured graphic organizer that helps them organize their thoughts and reminds them to incorporate transitions, details, and a summary conclusion. The designs are many and modifiable, too–truly versatile.

Haiku Deck is a presentation software students can use for a variety of purposes/projects. Check out this Haiku Deck Sample. They also provide a simple introduction video you can access on their home page.

Comic strip templates can be used for visualization activities with difficult text or to explain a process in a visual way. I had sophomores in small groups create a strip for the classic poem, “Lady of Shalott” stanza by stanza in order to “see” the action unfolding, which aided their comprehension. Again, if you are tech-minded, there are several comic strip makers and animation apps free online or for tablets, such as Bitstrips and Toontastic. Scientific processes and historical events, among other adaptations, seem like they would be a natural fit to such an activity.

Roseanne Roseannadanna

So, it’s like Rosanne Rosannadanna says, “It’s always something. If it’s not one thing, it’s another.” Either Dorothy gets bumped on the head, dreams of traveling to the Land of Oz and has to get back home to Kansas, or we have students in our classrooms who have their own dreams of success. Regardless, employing researched-based strategies, engaging students in effective activities, and providing multiple ways of gaining that knowledge is best practice.


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!

Strategies vs. Activities: Impacting Student Learning

Last week, we had the opportunity to watch our fearless leader, Angie Kautz, Gresham-Barlow’s Director of Teaching and Learning, present a session on Strategies vs. Activities at one of our district late-start meetings. Administrators and teachers, now knee-deep in the district Data Team Initiative, have had some questions about distinguishing between strategies and activities. Data Teams are asked to choose and implement one common strategy during Step 4 of the Data Team process in order to bolster performance of those students not yet proficient in a targeted skill.

Angie presented a concise distinction that rang true to us: activities are the things we do to utilize a strategy. Examples of strategies include John Hattie’s Visible Learning InfluencesRobert J. Marzano’s Nine Essential Instructional Strategies, and Gresham-Barlow’s own ACTIVE instruction. Activities, then, are the things we do with students.

In the scheme of Data Teams, team members not only would choose a common strategy to teach but also a common activity. This ensures teachers’ ability to track what exactly affects student learning. In Step 5, when considering reteaching, it’s perfectly acceptable to choose another activity to influence student achievement.

Here’s an example from Hattie: The strategy Providing (actionable, timely and specific) Feedback has a .75 Effect Size, which means it has a positive influence on student achievement. In his research, any intervention yielding > .4 effect size will yield positive results. To provide perspective, an intervention that has a “1.0 effect size…is typically associated with advancing children’s achievement by two to three years….” (Hattie 2009). Pretty powerful stuff. Activities to utilize Providing Feedback may include such things as student Self-Reflection, Debate Team Carousel, or Self-Scoring with Teacher Follow-up.

Here’s another example, this time from Marzano: The strategy Identifying Similarities and Differences has a .66 effect size. Activities such as employing a Comparison Matrix, having students create a Venn Diagram, or using T-charts (see Nine Essential Instructional Strategies link above for samples) help to utilize the strategy.

We’ll undoubtedly have more to add as we continue to work with teachers on the nuances between strategies and activities. If you would like individual or team coaching, leave us a comment below!