What teaching less and giving more feedback looks like

My last post talked about teaching less and giving more feedback to produce greater learning in students.  But what does that look like in a classroom?  Well, let’s consider a process built around the idea below, as stated by Dr. Robyn Jackson:

“The person working hardest in the room is the only person learning.”

This isn’t to say that teachers can sit back, relax, and watch their students toil over worksheets or glaze over watching a video all period.  To me, it means two things:

  • Teachers must stop planning lessons centered around what they will be doing in front of students
  • Teachers must start planning lessons centered around what students will do to master learning targets.

It’s this shift in the direction of lesson planning toward students and away from teachers that is a subtle but necessary shift.  To think in terms of student activities oriented toward learning is the vital first step in teaching less.  To teach less, students must be engaged in meaningful tasks that allow them to do the intellectual heavy-lifting instead of watching the teacher do their job all period.

But how does a teacher know what meaningful tasks to give students?  Well, that’s based on the learning targets/outcomes the teacher wants the students to learn.  From standards learning targets are born…and then the assessment that clearly depicts what mastery looks like for students.  The students learning tasks should be selected or designed to get students to master the targets in such a way that is aligned to what’s on the assessment.  To some that’s called “teaching to the test.”  To others it’s called “setting students up for success” and “getting all students to learn the material they’re supposed to learn by helping them clearly see what they have to do and not make learning a guessing game.”

And what about the feedback component?  If you and your students know what mastery looks like by having assessments aligned to learning targets (beginning with the end in mind), everyone is better equipped to give and receive feedback on progress towards mastery – and what it takes to get to mastery.  The whole intent of a formative assessment is to not only inform the teacher of where students are at so instruction can be planned and modified as needed, but also to give information to students about where they’re at with their learning.  The assessment itself is a powerful tool for feedback and learning, if designed in such a way that mastery of a learning target is made clear ahead of time.

But, again, none of the above actually gets down to the nitty-gritty of this “teach less/more feedback” idea – what it looks like in the classroom.  The truth is, it can look like a lot of things:

All of the ideas mentioned above have students at the center of any learning going on, with feedback loops created as needed.  Really, it looks like anything but traditional teacher-centered factory-model education.

So how do teachers get started teaching less and giving more feedback?

The answer is…that depends.  It depends on their students, it depends on the teacher’s level of readiness, it depends on how well the culture of a teacher’s school is developed to allow teachers to take risks and support them in those risky ventures.

But we have to be brave and take the risk.  Because once we put students in the center of learning, amazing things start happening.



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