8/2/12

Do I know how to juggle?

Teaching is a lot like parenting, in the sense that there are so many things to know, or proverbial balls to juggle, it can be difficult to keep them all in the air at the same time.  In this time of advances in educational research, understandings, changes and standards, it can be a bit difficult to be on top of it all, but even more so for a wandering soul like myself trying to find a school to teach in.  In parenting we don't always know what color the balls will be or how many we will be expected to juggle.  A child has diabetes, we learn to juggle that ball.  A child comes down with a mysterious illness or not so mysterious stomach bug and we juggle another.  A child has autism, we learn to juggle another, and on it goes.  That is what it feels like to me right now interviewing for teaching positions.  Each school I have interviewed with has asked me to speak about a different set of what they feel are the most important colors to juggle, or get a read on.  For a person like me who doesn't think quick on her feet in an interview, being prepared has felt like a nearly impossible task.

In two instances recently, I was asked to speak about methods of assessment that I would use in the classroom.  So just as I am feeling comfortable giving a reasonably comprehensive response about that, (and please note I am comfortable using many current assessment methods, it's the talking that gives me trouble) I am asked about the kinds of feedback I give my students.  This was one of those times when I thought, "Oh brother, I know I give feedback, but there are so many and I can't think of them all and where do I start?"  but first I thought, "I haven't been asked this before, or have I?"  ugh. . .

I know I have given lots of feedback in many forms.  There is feedback in just about everything I do, or more for everything our students do, from behaviors and procedures, to participation in discussion and verbal questioning and check ins, to feedback on assignments and projects.  Feedback is closely related to assessment, because we are constantly checking in with our kids throughout the day and need to return the information to them, reflecting it like a mirror so they may see which side of the head still needs hair combing.
Sometimes feedback is verbal and simple, "good job" when a child has got it down.  Often feedback is more detailed, "You did a great job with x, y, z.  I also noticed you had a bit of trouble with w"  Feedback for written work requires prompt, constructive feedback and opportunity to learn or clarify a difficult point.

I began to think tonight, could I make a list of types of feedback?

  • verbal feedback short and positive
  • verbal feedback more involved
  • smile/ thumbs up 
  • hand on the shoulder and stern look
  • sticker on paper for good work, with a specific comment for the child
  • conference and/or reteaching for work that is incomplete or misunderstood
  • using stoplight signal for behavior or being on task 
  • A specific note praising a skill or behavior modeled by student
Then, I started to wonder, my brain is slowing down, is there more to this?   What else do I need to be thinking of in terms of feedback?  So much of how we teach is intuitive, so it is critical to bring it forward in order to be thoughtful and improve.  So I Google "teacher feedback methods" or something like that, and I get this page:  (go ahead and check it out and come right back :)

The article brings feedback to the front of my mind.  The page looks at the intricacies and types of teacher feedback as it is tied closely to assessment and further instruction, as I read this I feel as if, when asked about feedback recently, I missed the forest for the trees.   Yet, I know I do give these kinds of feedback and use them as a teacher.  Feedback goes in both directions from child to teacher and teacher to child.  As a teacher I use little daily assessments to gain feedback and insights into what or who needs reteaching.  I group the children together who need to be retaught the same skill, because that makes sense.  I try to be as immediate and specific as I can with feedback. 

Alas, I am juggling balls, guessing which direction they will fall from, confusing which color will fall faster, mixing up which hand to catch with and dropping balls left and right.  Perhaps I should have begun this post by saying "Interviewing is a lot like parenting." :)

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