Feedback Before the Submission

Quickly, think about three things you enjoy most about teaching. I’ll wait. Got all three? While I can’t be certain, I’d make a bet that one of those top three had something to do with engaging and interacting with students. Now, consider two aspects of your job that you enjoy the least. These probably came to you rather quickly. If one wasn’t the constant barrage of emails, I’d wager that one was almost certainly marking.

I love my job, I really do. There are so many things about being a teacher that are intrinsically motivating, yet when it comes to marking, I lack this same enthusiasm. Marking eats up our family time, is seemingly never ending, is often unused by students, and is, generally, a major stress producer. With that said, marking, and feedback by extension, are necessary parts of our jobs and can’t simply be done away with.

And so, I wanted to find a way to make this process both more efficient with respect to my time and more effective for students. I’ve mention Caitlin Tucker before. If you’ve never read her blogs, you’re genuinely missing out. In a nutshell, she is an insightful EduCelebrity who implements new age pedagogical practices in order to engage her 21st-century learners.

In her writing, she references such topics as going gradeless, alternative assessment, classroom management, the Station Rotation model, and, of course, feedback. When I first came across her blog regarding the latter topic I was a little skeptical to say the least. The work in question stated how, after becoming increasingly frustrated with the amount of marking she had on a weekly basis, Tucker vowed to no longer take any marking home. Her New Year’s resolution, however, didn’t end there. She also decided to give feedback to students during the writing process rather than after.

Naturally, I was interested in her method; “you mean you no longer take any marking home!” But, needless to say, I had several questions; is feedback still provide afterwards? If so, is that simply doubling the work? If not, how would one accurately assess the work? Moreover, is a final grade provided? If so, what evidence is used to support that grade? If not, what goes on the final submission once it’s been reviewed? Finally, I already provide feedback to students during the writing process, so how is this different? And, perhaps most importantly, what do students think about this process? I told you I had a few questions about the process!

It took me some time to wrap my head around an intuitive change that flew in the face of a, and perhaps the, systematic educational approach. The more I thought about it, the more this process made sense to me. If there is value in providing feedback after, does it not stand to reason that the feedback would be more valuable before? Further, if students receive feedback afterwards, what then can they do with it unless the same assignment is being written again? Perhaps an idea that struck me most was the fact that, even if students receive feedback the very next day, that feedback is still too late for them to use it in a meaningful way.

As such, the problems of timing and actionability lead me to consider implementing Tucker’s strategy in my grade 12 English class. Before I did, I had a conversation with a couple of different students to get their insight into the methodology. Not only were they open to the idea, they welcomed the change as I assured them that it would allow them to use my feedback in order to influence their final mark. Once I, like Tucker, vowed to make this change, I discussed this shift with the class as a whole.

I was open with them about the rationale behind the change, and I told them that this approach would be new for me too; I explained that there might be some hiccups, and I assured them that we would be learning together. Sometimes, teaching is about modelling your own risks rather than your mastery. Upon doing so, I explained the process that I would be using. I would share an already created Google Doc with them through Google Classroom and would then open up that document as students wrote and would provide feedback directly on their assignments as I sat next to them.

The classes where I applied this approach where genuinely fun and engaging. Moreover, I worked harder than I ever had in any previous “work period”. As I sat with students, I would provide comments, just as I normally would, but have conversations about the comments I was offering. Further, students would ask me questions about the feedback which would lead to genuine moments of insight. Many times, I was “in the weeds” with students, trying to tease out their ideas with them. As an English teacher, I love these moments. They’re hard, engaging, messy, fun, and, most importantly, genuine moments of learning.

When it came time to actually mark the assignments, which I now term “assess”, I reminded students that I would not be providing feedback a second time because I had already done so once. There were no complaints or quarrels. During the assessing process, I had to hold myself back on multiple occasions from inserting a comment. After a few assignments though, I was actually able to just enjoy reading the works as a whole rather than focusing on the minute details. Once I finished reading, I provided a general comment about their strengths and next steps, offered an initial rating (I provide ratings rather grades) and then moved on.

This process was more efficient for me as a teacher, as I was able to provide feedback during class which meant far less time “marking”, and more effective for them as students, as they were able to immediately act upon the feedback I provided. Further, I actually worked harder during the lessons wherein I was giving the feedback. I don’t know if this method will ever take marking out of my bottmoTucker has me sold; feedback during the submission is the way we need to go!


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8 thoughts on “Feedback Before the Submission

  1. This is great, @bblack! You write: “Further, if students receive feedback afterwards, what then can they do with it unless the same assignment is being written again? Perhaps an idea that struck me most was the fact that, even if students receive feedback the very next day, that feedback is still too late for them to use it in a meaningful way.” A colleague of mine (@nsmart, who did Cohort a couple of years ago) introduced me to the idea of hanging on to student writing and returning it not once it was assessed, but when students were about to begin a similar task or work on something the required the same skills. That way, the feedback was not an end result of an old assignment, but a foundation to inform a new one. I’ve only had the chance to test this out myself once so far, but I think there’s a lot to be said for it, and that it may help shift mindsets away from the grades-based one we see so often. All of that to say that I think something like this would combine well with the approach you are already trying, and perhaps add another layer of relevance to the summary feedback you are giving following the writing process.

    It is awesome to see how you are rocking both the blogging and the experimenting aspects of this Cohort experience. I look forward to continuing to follow your journey!

  2. Thank you for sharing, @bblack! I’m sure teachers from all across our schools will love to hear about your new approach to feedback, assessment, and grading. As you say, famously unloved tasks in education. I love that you started by talking to your students, and modelled your learning journey, showing vulnerability, and ultimately creating more “genuine moments of learning.” That’s the good stuff right there! I think you’ll find many people coming at assessment in new ways when we meet tomorrow, with lots of opportunities to work along those lines. I can’t wait to see where you go from here!

    • Thanks, @lmustrad. This is very much a learning journey for me as I’m still fumbling through these ideas. I’m happy that they are resonating with others!

  3. @bblack,

    You had me at hello. Well done, again! You are a fabulous writer, and by the sounds of it, a generous and reflective educator. Your posts are a joy to read and I feel you have truly committed to this Cohort21 experience. My hope is that one day this type of assessment practice is not needed as an “innovation” because it just makes damn sense.


  4. @bblack I love what you have started here. This a really cool “re-thinking” of the WHEN and HOW of feedback. I know that
    @cfong @tfaucher and @echellew will really dig this too.

    I can imagine a writing assignment that also begins with the question “what feedback from the last assignment will you make an effort to apply in this one?

  5. This is brilliant, Brandon. It’s often the case that when we provide feedback, the student might not have another similar assignment that year to which he or she can apply said feedback. Our justification of the grade is important, but often only to us. Why not give the student the feedback they need to help them grow as a learner?

    Well done!

  6. A great read @bblack! You raise some interesting points about how useful students find our labours over providing meaningful feedback in our detailed margin notes when we’re marking. I also teach Grade 12 English and agree there is a lot of value and gain to be made from making the process of writing more focused on the feedback before the product is finished. Too often I find that students don’t even look at the comments and only see the mark. I will be experimenting with this method in the future – thanks for sharing you experiences!

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