Tech Salad

With Crunchy Bits and Bytes

Month: April 2014

Checkpoints, Deadlines, and Feedback

John Hendron wrote a blog post about feedback and thought it was important enough to email the link to teachers. As we move towards a 1:1 environment with a project-based instructional focus, feedback becomes more and more important. Projects can go on much longer, and it is important to help students stay on track.

It is not always easy to give feedback to students. When I work with teachers, and when I lead PD sessions, I stress the importance of timely feedback. As John says in his blog post, giving the feedback at the right time is very important. Too early and it gets lost in the shuffle, and too late and the student has no time for course correction. You could argue, of course, that grades are feedback. But how effective are they? A single letter or number after weeks of work does not give enough guidance to improve performance. And, usually, once grades are assigned, students can’t improve on the work they have turned in. This is very discouraging to some.

When planning a project, find natural break points in the process where students stop and take stock of their progress. Sometimes this is easy. If students are writing a paper, a good stopping point would be the completion of an outline or a list of sources. Even if you had not originally planned on grading individual parts of the project, make time to give feedback at an early deadline. Students who might feel overwhelmed by a big project will find smaller tasks completed in sequence much more manageable.

Giving feedback throughout the course of a project can be very cumbersome, but we have lots of tools that can help. Two in particular are very well suited to our technology-rich environment.

Google Drive and Teacher Dashboard: Get your students in the habit of creating documents and uploading files to Google, then sharing with you by storing everything in its corresponding class folder. If you are still scrolling through lists of shared documents from your students, please let me know ASAP! Teacher Dashboard is the best way to view student work. Once you have access to student files, you can give feedback by adding comments, and you can track student progress from the very beginning. There is no need to print, collect, handwrite comments, and return. Even better, you can create a list of commonly-used comments and come up with abbreviations.

Edmodo: If you have not used Edmodo yet, please consider giving it a try. This is a great place to work with small groups within your classes. It is also a great place to give feedback for projects that are not text-based. It also allows for extensive dialogue between group members and teachers. Sometimes students just need to know that someone is aware of what they are doing and how they are doing it.

But you have over a hundred students! How will you manage? You know your students. You know who needs more support, who can fly solo for a bit, and who needs just a word of encouragement to keep up the good work. Make your call. Technology allows you to differentiate your content AND your feedback. Make the most of it. 

Engagement, Hope, and Caring

How engaged are you with students in your classroom? Do you talk with your students, or do you talk at your students? Do you think your students believe you care about them? How important is any of this?

Goochland High School participated in the Gallup Student Poll last fall. Those of us in charge of logistics rolled our eyes, of course. How many surveys will we have to manage this school year? Despite my eye-rolling, I am glad we participated. It seems there is a lot going on with the data collected at the time. I do not have time to analyze the data myself, but there are smart people doing that, and other smart people writing about the important bits for us. KQED’s Mind/Shift blog has republished a blog post by Anya Kamenetz originally posted at the Hechinger Report.

 Gallup found that students who agreed with the following two statements: 1. “My school is committed to building the strengths of each student” and 2. “I have at least one teacher who makes me excited about the future” were 30 times more likely to be engaged.

Our mission statement expressly states that we are to unlock the potential of every student. Our strategic plan has an entire section dedicated to engagement. And at every faculty meeting at GHS, Mr. Newman encourages us to care for our students, to get to know them and understand them a bit better. He certainly leads by example. Every morning as I walk in the door, Mr. Newman is surrounded by students waiting to talk to him. He knows their names and even a few details of what might be going on with their families.

When you take the time to know your students, it shows you care. If you care about them now, it is more likely you will care about them in the future. If you don’t care about them now, when you see them as often as you do, it is quite certain you don’t care what will happen to them after they leave your classroom. When someone cares, there is hope.

The Gallup survey also attempts to measure hope to find out how it affects student outcomes.

Gallup researchers have found in peer-reviewed studies that their “hope” measure was a better predictor of grades in college than SATs, ACTs or high school GPA. In a third study, students’ levels of hope accounted for almost half of the variation in math achievement and at least one-third of their variation in reading and science scores.

Yeah, that’s nice. How do hope and engagement affect my SOL scores? I don’t know. Maybe you shouldn’t care, either. As Ms. Kamenetz wrote in a post all about metrics in education.

Tracking outcomes is more complex than reporting test scores. It’s also more relevant.

Crowdsourcing Stats

This week my daughter and I have been looking at what comes across in the Show of Hands app. This app asks users for basic information, then collects answers to interesting yes/no questions each day. Users can look at the collected answers in fun, easy-to-read graphics. Some of the questions are quite silly, but it is still fun to see how people all over the United States answer and how the answers are distributed.


Why are the states that answer mostly “no” stuck together? What’s going on in the other states that are not part of the bunched-up states? Could it be a function of the weather and the time of the year the question was asked?


Now look at how age, gender, and income change the answer. What assumptions could we make from looking at these?

The last graphic can bring up some interesting arguments. Here it goes.

While there isn’t much difference between people of different political leanings in this data set, you can imagine some questions have very marked differences. (“Bill Clinton, fan or not a fan?” or “Do you believe women earn less than men because of discrimination or because of their career choices?”)

It is an interesting way to start a class discussion if you find a question relevant to your content area. Or even if you don’t. Just get your students thinking about what is happening in the world and what people are thinking about.

I don’t think I’d install this app on student devices, but I’m enjoying having it on my phone. And if you want to access it from a laptop, they do have a website.


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