14 Feb Slice of Life: Feedback is the Key to Greater Learning
“What’s the difference between thinking and understanding?”
All of a sudden his question was far more interesting than the teaching point I had in mind. I had to stop and consider this question.
“That’s an interesting question. Say more.”
“Well you asked us to turn and tell our partner what we were thinking about the story. I am not sure what I should say.”
I nod and give myself a moment.
“What would you have said if I asked you to turn and tell your partner what you understood about the story?”
“I would have told her about the characters, the setting, the problem – the events that happened so far.”
“And the word thinking makes you believe you should talk about something else.”
“Yeah. Thinking is like me – what I think. It is not the story and what I understand. What would we talk about if we were thinking?”
“That’s a great question – let’s talk about that!”
I never walk away empty handed after a turn and talk. When I take the time to listen to students’ thoughts, ideas and questions, I get the information I need to teach them — not teach the lesson, but teach them. This is a distinction I am thinking a lot about lately. I believe we need to spend time planning our units of study – using data to identify instructional goals and thinking about how to teach those goals as a grade level team. While this type of planning is essential, it does not remove the need to adjust to the formative data that we are collecting all day every day.
There are many moments of teaching and learning that happen on the way to meeting an instructional goal. We find that each lesson slowly chips away at an instructional goal. Students need time to truly learn a new instructional skill or strategy. They need time to experience a new skill or strategy in many different situations and in many different types of texts. We navigate this journey by listening to and observing our students.
I have never considered the difference between the words understanding and thinking. I realize now I choose to use one word or the other depending on my purpose. I do tend to prefer to hear a student’s thinking rather than check for understanding. For me, I am always interested in what catches their attention, confuses them or interests them. Once I hear their thinking, it helps me connect where they are to where I go next instructionally. Either way, I get the feedback I need to teach effectively.
Grant Wiggins’ research demonstrated, “…feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about his or her actions. Information becomes feedback if, and only if, I am trying to cause something and the information tells me whether I am on track or need to change course.” (2012)
When we give our students opportunities to turn and talk during our instruction, we are creating a feedback loop that is timely, ongoing, goal-referenced, actionable, and user-friendly (Wiggins, 2012). If we take the time to listen in and use the information to adjust our instruction, we are bringing the research to life — less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning. (Hattie, 2008)
As for the difference between thinking and understanding… I will certainly be thinking more about that in my instruction.