Much of my geometry class is built around a series of what I call Investigations. My students just wrapped up their work on the second one of the year. This Investigation explores different kinds of geometric properties through a set of problems–position, size, shape, connection, and dimension. For the Investigation, students can try their hand at several of the problems, but after initial forays they choose one problem to dig into and then do a write-up about their results. You can view the collection of problems here: Investigation #2.
On Wednesday, my students turned in their write-ups and we had time for most of them to do a short presentation about their work. On their warm-up for the day were a couple of housekeeping questions, as well as the following:
What kind of feedback do you want on your first two Investigation write-ups? Are there parts of your work for which you are especially interested in my feedback?
Over the summer, I wrote about a minor epiphany that hit me about my struggles with giving useful and timely feedback to my students about their work. In short, I always end up feeling swamped and overwhelmed by wanting to “do right” by my students–to give them the individualized attention that I know they deserve. To help to get me around this sinkhole, I realized that I should be asking my students about the kind of feedback they want. I figured that this would make the task of giving feedback feel less like an infinite task where I needed to be all-seeing and say the “right” things and more like a conversation where the goal is to be relevant and helpful.
In teaching, of course, nice theories need to be borne out in practice. What would my students say when I asked them what kind of feedback they wanted?
Here are a few:
“I would like some pointers on how to write a clearer math paper.”
“I would actually like very harsh feedback. No sparing of feelings please.”
“Things I could have done more precisely.”
“I would like feedback about how clear I am in explaining and if my calculations are correct.”
“I don’t know.”
These are all great first stabs, including the last one. These responses will each help to focus my reader’s eye and will shape the comments I give to individual students.
By asking and continuing to ask my students about what feedback they want on their assignments, I hope–and dare even expect–that they will become more reflective about their work, both upon its completion and during its progress. I can already see it making me feel more comfortable and confident in giving feedback. And I know that it will help me to better serve them and to let them know that I care about them and that I want to help them to meet their goals and to flourish.