Tag Archives: customization

A First Plank Across The Feedback Swamp

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.

A Letter to Sal Khan

Over the summer, I spent some time following online discussions about the role that Khan Academy and similar sites can or should play in education.  Much of what I read and much of my own thinking was prompted by the tweets and posts of Frank Noschese, who has consistently been both fair-minded and critical when it comes to Khan Academy.

My thoughts began to gel as I considered how I would like to be able to use Khan Academy in my own classroom.  It became clear to me that the many great resources available on Khan Academy are not nearly as useful for my students as I would like them to be.  The main reason for this is that I have few tools to customize and curate these resources for my students.  A person who wants to be taught a potpourri of math topics on his own could find much of use to him on Khan Academy, but this is not how school courses happen.  Courses have shape and structure, and each one is unique because individual teachers bring their own ideas and approaches to the table.  School, district, and state curricula bring to bear their own powerful influences.  Khan Academy, as it stands, does not have the capacity to adapt itself to this variety of circumstances.

As my thoughts along these lines came into focus, I decided to write a letter to Sal Khan and his colleagues.  You’ll find a copy of it below.