By their very nature, lesson planning and classroom management are never “finished.” They both require constant iteration to improve over time. But how do teachers know what to improve – or that improvement is needed at all?
They might look at student performance on assessments to see how well learners absorbed new information. They might scan the faces of students during a lesson to see if anyone’s drifting off. They might gather question cards at the end of a lesson to see where there are gaps in understanding. All of these are examples of gathering feedback.
In a sense, feedback is learning. We interact with the world through feedback from our senses. We test ideas through feedback from hypotheses and experimentation. We adjust our future behavior through feedback from past experience.
Students learn by interacting with new knowledge, using new skills and receiving ongoing direction from teachers, parents and peers about how they’re progressing. Teachers also use feedback – from students, from teachers, administrators, other staff and even self-reflection – to suss out what lessons they need to reinforce, what teaching techniques are falling flat and the professional skills they can further develop.
Below, we’ll take a look at how feedback works in lesson planning, as well as best practices teachers can use to give better feedback to students and how administrators can give better feedback to teachers.
Using feedback loops in lesson planning
To understand how feedback creates better learning experiences for students, it helps to think about lesson planning as a continuous loop with a measurable output that teachers can then use as an input in the next cycle.
Loops like this are common in companies that take customer complaints and turn them into product improvements, or even when we use fitness apps that measure physical activity to track progress toward goals like running a 5k.
Similarly, in lesson planning, teachers identify goals upfront, defining what students will learn or be able to do by the end of the class. A feedback loop is a great tool for evaluating whether that goal was achieved – or whether there’s still work to be done – and then reevaluating the process so it works better next time.
The feedback loop consists of five parts:
- Design/ Make a Plan
If the goal is the “what,” then the plan is the “how” – the feedback the teacher will use to assess progress toward their goal. In chapter 1, we describe seven sections of a good lesson plan, including ways in which teachers can use assessments to check for student understanding. For example, teachers may decide to use quizzes, in-class assignments or group presentations to assess their students’ progress.
- Collect data
Once teachers identify what kinds of feedback they need, they can begin collecting data. Note that not all data is created equal – to be helpful in a feedback loop, it should be both observable and quantifiable. Technology can help with this process, whether it’s quizzes administered electronically or an education management platform that unites data from several assessments into one place.
- Analyze data
Once the results are in, teachers can look for patterns that emerge. They may find, for example, that students are particularly strong in one area but need more support in another by looking at their class’ assessment results as a whole. Or they may notice from tracking actual time allocation that the class often spends more time than anticipated answering student questions.
- Communicate and discuss
While it’s tempting to jump right to the solution, this is a great opportunity for teachers to share their findings with peers, coaches and decision-makers. These discussions can shed light on problems that are common across classrooms and give the entire team an opportunity to share ideas on how to address them.
- Course correct
Finally, with the data at their fingertips and shared insights from their team, teachers can make informed and effective changes to their lesson plans – and kick off the next cycle of experimentation as they track whether those changes make a difference or if there are other areas that could be improved.
Using peer feedback in lesson planning
Gathering feedback doesn’t have to wait until after the bell rings and the students leave the classroom. Even before delivering a lesson, teachers can seek input and advice from peers who have valuable insights and experiences to share. In fact, open sharing and communication can make the whole planning process a more satisfying one for teachers and students alike.
When teachers compare lesson plans across subjects and grade levels within their school, they can work together to identify areas of overlap and opportunities to reinforce knowledge between the classes they teach. This kind of cross-pollination is a key part of vertical alignment, a way of thinking about curriculum as a holistic student experience with a seamless progression and classroom consistency from one level or area of learning to the next.
Collaboration with peers also helps teachers find new ways to overcome challenges they face in the classroom and incorporate the successes from other classrooms into their own. When having these kinds of discussions about lesson plans, teachers can focus on five areas:
– Content: While teachers align much of the higher-level content during the curriculum mapping process, they can be more precise with planning and timing their lessons when they’re aware of the content being taught, the resources used to teach and the activities students engage in. Knowing this ahead of time allows a teacher to pick up where another left off or continue building on specific skills and knowledge over time.
– Structure: As we wrote in chapter 1, no two lesson plans are exactly alike. While they share common elements, teachers often vary in their execution, formatting and flow. By seeing what their peers find most helpful in building their plans, teachers can test new ideas and find what works best in their own class.
– Activities: Need a little inspiration for that next lesson? Looking at the activities other teachers incorporate in their classes can help overcome that block and get those creative juices flowing. It also keeps teachers in-the-know with the kinds of work their students will be expected to do later that day or further down their educational path.
– Gaps: If a particular class struggles with a topic, teachers with overlapping topics and goals can work together, in real-time, to bring learning up to snuff. Not only can this kind of collaboration help teachers catch up in their own classrooms, but it can also signal to others where students may struggle in the future.
– Routines: Good habits are hard to make – and sometimes easy to break. Teachers can leverage expectations and routines that students have learned in the past, or that they’re currently using in other classrooms, to benefit their own lessons. Plus, when routines are consistent between classes, they are reinforced more often and create a more cohesive student experience.
Chapter FiveBuilding Better Classrooms Through Feedback