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Want to Avoid Teacher Burnout? Iterating on Feedback Might Help

Dear teachers,

I’ve been chatting with some amazing educators from the South and Midwest this week. It’s part of our effort to spread the word about the Flash + Floop fall pilot.

By amazing, I really mean amazing, like a veteran elementary teacher who is the model ELA instructor for her district, and a veteran college counselor, with a terrific success rate, who coaches seniors on their college essays.

First, I ask, “What words come to mind when you think of your students turning in work that’s ready for your feedback?”

Here are a few responses:
“Time consuming.”
“Not timely enough for the kids to revise.”
“I get pretty exhausted.”
“I procrastinate immediately.”
“Fourteen hundred papers coming at me this fall.”
“Kids don’t focus much on comments that are two weeks old.”
“Nights and weekends.”
In short, when it comes to giving feedback, even proven and successful teachers with great paper systems in place are at risk of burnout, and feel there just might be a better way.

Here are some of the feedback practices I'll be iterating on in my own classroom this fall.  You could certainly use some of these tips without the Flash and Floop tools, but in terms of combating that feeling of inadequacy when facing a big stack of papers, the apps definitely go a long way in easing the burden.
  1. Whenever possible, narrow your teaching criteria down to a single criterion when giving teacher feedback or assigning peer feedbackTranslation? “I feel less overwhelmed.”
flash one criteria example

Notice that a science teacher here has separated her students’ understanding of the content she has taught with the skill of communicating that content effectively.

This involves a leap of faith, certainly. For years as a writing teacher, my feedback rubrics looked like six traits writing rubrics, which evaluate for ideas, organization, voice, word choice, and sentence fluency.  I’m dizzy myself trying to respond both effectively and efficiently to all the criteria.  Imagine how my students felt!

The great thing about focusing on just one at a time is that your students are still getting practice on all of the criteria, but reducing their cognitive load by focusing mostly on just one area at a time.
  1.       Begin with high-quality peer review followed by rapid teacher feedback.  A high-quality peer review, and the teacher's whole-class feedback that comes with it, can happen on the same day that kids turn in a draft of their work.  Translation? “I’m feeling gratified about the timeliness of the feedback."
Peer Review Fb example

Teacher guided peer review works like triage - the kids who are ready to help each other can and do, and those who need teacher support right away are immediately visible.
PR Color Coding For Teacher Triage

Show Work Samples View

After I’ve spent a class period reviewing samples with my students, having whole-class conversations, and giving some one-on-one support, the kids are more than ready to revise on their own. 

Next up - rapid teacher feedback using FLOOP, which feels more like a quick text from teacher to student. Translation? "By moving at a faster pace, I’m excited rather than exhausted to be in the trenches with students.”

This kind of teacher feedback is formative rather than summative and informal rather than formal.  I spend about 1-3 minutes per student.

Floop Rapid Teacher fb example

3. See peer-review data and teacher-comment data as both necessary and instructive.  Translation? “I know what’s happening with my students’ work, and quickly.”

As students complete their Flash peer reviews, I'm watching that data come in so I can spot the kids who need my attention.

When giving Floop teacher feedback, the comment counter lets me know when I should bring an often-repeated comment or issue to the whole class for discussion.

In the past, when I set time aside for paper-and-pencil peer review, the kids walked out the door with all the data, and I was none the wiser about what was happening with those drafts.  If I was commenting on drafts myself (over the course of several days), I might get the sense that I was repeating myself, but having the data tabulated for me by FLOOP is super helpful.  More than once in this process, the data influences my teaching decisions.

4. Shift student focus toward iteration and away from grading. Translation? The pressure is off the teacher in terms of grading the huge stack, and onto the work process of both teacher and student. This kind of work happens largely in-class and during the school day, rather than sapping energy on nights and weekends.

Surprisingly, or maybe not, just having these processes in place shifts my students' attention toward iteration and revision.  I hear less of, "Have you graded our essays yet?" and more, "Well, this is just my first [or second] draft" and "Thank you for the feedback!"  We're teaming, the students and I, on making progress on a journey rather than racing to a single (and graded) destination.

It’s these four practices, I'm describing to other educators, that I’ll be continuing to revise and incorporate (and revise again!) this fall, with the help of the Flash and Floop tools.

Of course, I haven’t yet landed on a full-proof system.
"In fact, it feels so good to iterate alongside my students." 
I hope these are the first words that come to mind as I reflect back on my feedback systems after next semester.  I’m hopeful. :)

Want to hear more about our fall pilot? Do you know a teacher who would?  Schedule a conversation with me and I’ll tell you all about it.


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