Students need personalized feedback that is specific to them to achieve their learning goals.
Can you remember a teacher who made a huge difference in your life? I had one of those teachers my sophomore year in high school named Mr. Peck. I'm sure he has no idea how much of an impact he had, but I think about it all the time. Mr. Peck taught a Sino Soviet history class that dove into the history of Russia and the USSR. His goal for the class was to make us all better writers and better debaters. In every class, we had to write an argument in the form of a paragraph. What made Mr. Peck special was that he gave each of us personalized feedback. None of my paragraphs came back with simply a “good” or “okay” comment on it. They always came back with substantive feedback meant only for me. As a result, my ability to argue and write improved greatly.
You might ask how this relates to math learning. Well, students are going through very similar experiences in math class that I went through in that history class. Mr. Peck was teaching us a formula for a good argument. Each of us executed the formula a little differently and required different guidance, but in the end the formula (when understood) is very repeatable. The personalized feedback kept each of us on track to writing a good argument. So why don’t we approach math learning the same way?
We should understand that the end goal for each student is the same—solving the math problem. Yet because each student starts in a different place, with different experiences both inside and outside the math classroom, they will approach the problem differently. The goal of the instruction should be to understand each student's individual entry point and then steer them appropriately towards being able to solve the equation.
If you take a look at the video below, you will see two students, each working to solve a type of math problem. They start with very different knowledge and experience and therefore require different types of support as they work towards understanding how to solve this type of problem.
This is the type of approach that Mr. Peck used with his class. We all had an end goal, but the feedback and support was tailored to what each student needed to get there. Mr. Peck didn’t say, “Hey, this argument stinks. Go back and start over.” Rather, he helped each of us understand exactly where our arguments were deficient so we could go on to achieve the goal at hand. He also didn’t put a guide to writing a good argument on the board and keep pointing at it every time one of us wrote a crummy argument. He gave us a framework for writing an argument, and then gave each of us feedback on our approach within that framework. I still think about writing a thesis in the first sentence, writing three supporting points, and restating the thesis.
So let’s step up and offer learning solutions that help us expand on the feedback that makes a difference—personalized and focused on getting all students to the learning goal.
Peter is an educator with over 20 years of strategy, education and product development experience. He led the redesign of a university, built new educational programs, designed content and taught middle school. At Carnegie Learning, Peter shapes our organizational and product strategy and ensures that we continue to develop leading-edge products and services that help all students learn.Explore more related to this author
Students start with very different knowledge and experience and therefore require different types of support as they work towards understanding how to solve a problem.
Peter LaCasse, COO, Carnegie Learning