Creating dynamic feedback loops that inform learning by making student thinking visible.

by Gary Abud Jr

Grades 3-5, Grades 6-8, Grades 9-12

Introduction

In my experience as a teacher, it’s critical to create dynamic feedback loops that inform learning and make student thinking visible.

Dynamic feedback loops enable students to refine their ideas and understand next steps. It’s different from an ordinary test. It’s a complex of feedback from the content, from the teacher, and from peers.

There are many ways to use dynamic feedback loops. In my science classroom:

-Students can use it to make sense of laboratory data after they’ve done an experiment.

-It can be used to help students predict, explain, and generate hypotheses by allowing them to compare what they think might happen to what actually happened.

-Students can use different practice problems that I’ve assigned to each group to present solutions to their classmates and get immediate feedback that guides their subsequent thinking.

Students use whiteboard space to make their ideas visible. This enables to me go around from group to group and give feedback in the form of conversations. Any changes that result are documented for the whole class to see. The final conclusions are presented to the whole class and of course, feedback is integral to that phase as well.

Reflections

What I did well…

In my interview where I talked about the strategy, I gave general examples of what impact the strategy could have for any classroom, and provided specific examples of what it looked like in my classroom. That allowed me to explain the student, teacher, and group role in the creation of dynamic feedback loops. Additionally, it was a golden moment when I provided a framework for the teacher’s role (e.g., anticipating, monitoring, etc.) and for actually doing the strategy itself, which included three main steps: articulate, reflect, refine.

In leading the workshop, things seemed to go well because everyone was engaged and I got participants interacting right away, as well as throughout the workshop. Instead of just telling them what I wanted them to know, I created an experience where they were involved in learning activities that would let them arrive at my learning objectives for them. And by doing the strategy, just as students would, even with no prompting at all, the participants got to see how the dynamic feedback loops are something universal to informing learning with all students.

As I look back on this strategy, some of the high points in my overview and workshop were that I:
a. Provided a variety of ways to implement the strategy, including low-tech, high-tech, and no-tech methods, which makes the strategy more accessible to a wider audience of educators and learning environments.
b. Gave participants (e.g., students) cues, prompts, and clues to help them focus on what was important not only in the content but in how to interact during the activities.
c. Maintained consistency by regularly connecting each activity to the main actions of the strategy. I included a consistent review of the key points of the workshop multiple times throughout the workshop to identify and reinforce the critical content.
d. Put participants in a position to be metacognitive in each activity and between them by reflecting on the content and also the process by which they attained the content.
e. Embedded an explanation of the tech tools within the context of the activities and strategy of creating dynamic feedback loops.

What I would do more of, better, or differently…

As I listened to my interview again, I noticed that while I did give specific examples, my main argument for the strategy might have hinged too heavily on my explanation of a very specific example from my own classroom. This could have created a barrier for those outside of the science disciplines to see this as a universally applicable strategy. I would definitely select a more widely-appealing example of creating dynamic feedback loops in my classroom in the future to help others connect with it. I also noticed that there was a missed opportunity for my description of the strategy to be more even handed toward multiple technologies, like the workshop was. This concerned me, because the narrow focus on the whiteboards in my explanation and examples made it sound like the only way that I endorse doing this strategy is using large dry erase boards. That being said, as I demonstrated in the workshop, however, there are many ways to make student thinking visible without the whiteboards. For example, using chart paper, digital apps, or even sidewalk chalk outside on the ground. All of these are other ways that I have successfully implemented this strategy in my classroom, but did not include as use cases from my teaching experience.

When I was leading the workshop, I think I could have helped individuals better realize that their own reaction to the responses of others and themselves is a critical moment that gives rise to the learning of the lesson. So, instead of focusing on the individual responses to the questions that each person gave, I could have also pointed their attention to the way that their facial expression, tone, volume, and emotion behind their responses communicated something about what they were thinking that would otherwise not have been known if they didn’t share aloud. With the ice cream cone example the second participant in the workshop was almost discrediting the first participant’s response as invalid to answer the question, based on her facial expression and tone; however, I chose to point out only what she said, when I could have helped everyone focus on how she said it as well.

As far as the technology used in the workshop goes, I know I referenced an app called Zaption that is no longer active. For teachers interested in using this strategy in a blended learning or online classroom environment, consider using EDPuzzle or PlayPosit instead to embed a video with intentional interruption for questions throughout.

I still want to grow in this practice by…

For me, growing my practice always includes enhancing the learning opportunities for kids, but also focuses on how teachers receive and practice strategies like these. So, I can improve my creation of dynamic feedback loops, and ensure high levels of learning for all by making thinking visible not only by doing the feedback loops with students, but also by making the process of them more explicit. For this strategy, the interview, and the workshop I gave, I think it could be further developed by:
1. pointing out to participants and dissecting the ‘light bulb moments’ that take place throughout the different points of time in the unfolding of the strategy. One of the most valuable aspects of the dynamic feedback loops strategy is the reflection stage, but sometimes students overlook it. If you can help make the moments of reflection more explicit and concrete, more tangible/visible, to students, it will help them to engage with this strategy on their own as they progress through their own learning in the future.
2. further developing an activity that would allow teachers to make the strategy actionable for their own classroom. In other words, I would like to grow this practice by giving participants in a workshop an activity that goes beyond a turn-and-talk as a way to identify their next action in taking back and implementing the strategy.
3. devising classroom routines for doing the articulate, reflect, refine protocol with students that could be prescribed for use at key points in a unit of study or lesson, or with specific types of content.
4. creating more call-out moments for learners within this strategy to reflect on the process along the way, rather than all at the end, of a dynamic feedback loop. For example, I would love to develop my ability to cold call a student while we are doing an activity like the science video demonstration (at, say, the reflect stage) and ask them how they’re feeling and what they’re noticing about their thinking while in the midst of conceptual change or moments of cognitive discomfort in their learning. I think it could really help students to hear that internal narrator share what’s going on behind the eyes when students experience reflection that leads to changes in thinking. That way, they’d see the process as directly connected to thinking and as part of learning, not separate.

Ultimately, just like the workshop strives to deconstruct this strategy for teachers and make each aspect of it more visible so that they can use it, my hope for students in using this strategy is that they see it as a tool for their own independent use in learning.

About Gary Abud Jr

Gary is an educational consultant, speaker, and writer near Detroit, MI. Previously, he has served as an elementary school principal, taught high s...

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