Goodbye Red Pen: Effective Feedback in a LightSail Classroom

Christina-PenaChristina Peña is a LightSail Instructional Coach. Her former students will attest that Christina loves data, class competitions, and Google Spreadsheets almost as much as she loves shoes (high heels to be exact). They never bought that her first name was Miss.

Beep beep. The “Bulletin board is due” Outlook alert again… Didn’t I just update that thing last week? Now I have to quickly assign my students something to do and scribble some glows and grows on a post-it note or in red pen for passersby to see.

We’ve all been there. Slammed with essays to grade, assessment data to analyze, and lesson plans to write, and now the added task of throwing together a bulletin board with pumpkins, a snowman and snowflakes, or flowers to show we’re “springing” into [insert subject name] seems to pale in importance.

As a teacher I always rather enjoyed the task, though more as a creative outlet and a way to beautify the hallways than a source of effective feedback for my students. It’s the feedback that is happening in the classroom, while the learning is still happening, that matters the most.

Here are five things to keep in mind when giving students feedback and relevant LightSail features to assist you:

1. Always start with the exemplar.

As an student and adult, I’ve often found it invaluable to have an exemplar to work from, an end goal in mind. D Royce Sadler argued that there is a powerful rationale for the use of exemplars for students to “gain experience in making judgements about work of different quality, create verbalised accounts how various works could have been improved, and engage in evaluative conversations with teachers and other students.” [1] As a literacy teacher this became an important best practice for me to effectively evaluate student work.

Above standard and below standard work is often easy to spot, but it’s the nuances of that middle tier work that is often difficult to parse out. So, I always recommend starting with an exemplar for short responses, annotations, and even thinking around multiple choice questions. In doing so you are able to understand what students know and gain a better understanding of where students went wrong because you’ve done the work yourself.

However, when students are independently reading various books, this can be incredibly difficult and often unrealistic to do (you can’t read ALL the books students are reading!). This is where a concrete framework for how to write short responses and annotations comes in handy for you and your students. Did they make the inference? Did they provide two pieces of evidence? Was the evidence relevant? As a teacher you can then provide feedback on students’ use of that framework.

LightSail provides teachers with question-specific rubrics for each short response with exemplars for above, on, approaching, and below standard; each with a clear rationale, so teachers can effectively evaluate student work without having read every book. We also have a number of skill-based annotation sentence starters for students and teachers to use. With these resources, teachers are able to give students more effective feedback.

2. Use your data to inform and narrow your assignments and feedback.

With every new assignment, you gain insight into students’ understanding and need to adjust your instruction accordingly. Use paper or digital trackers to keep track of your students’ data and spot trends for whole class, small group, or individual reteaches or feedback. Without the proper tools this can be an overwhelming endeavor, especially since the sources of data are endless!

Luckily, LightSail provides rich data views available for teachers and students so that comprehension and growth in the app can be closely monitored. Use the Teacher Student Status page, Student Progress page, or your Weekly Data Report to quickly spot where students are excelling or struggling.

For example, with a quick glance at this data display on the Progress page, I can see that this student is below standard on RL.3, RI.4, and RL.7 and approaching in other important standards such as RL.1 and RI.3. As a teacher, I can carefully evaluate what standards are going to be highest leverage and then purposefully assign this student a task, such as annotating around word meaning in informational texts. By narrowing the scope, students are practicing the skills they need to work on. And, as a teacher I’m able to provide the student with more targeted feedback, so it’s a win-win!

The same applies for whole class trends. If students are annotating as they read, it is nearly impossible to give everyone feedback if they are all writing about different things. By giving the class a specific skill to practice during their independent reading, you can more easily give feedback because they’re all working on the same thing. Use these Common Core-aligned sentences frames as a guide to make this even easier.

3. Be specific, timely, and constructive in your feedback.

So you’ve given your student or class a specific task during their independent reading and the annotations are rolling in and FAST, now what?

Whenever possible, you’ll want to give in-the-moment feedback so that misconceptions do not persist. If that’s not
doable, aim to give feedback to those that need it within 24-48 hours or there is a risk that the misunderstanding will build up. The shorter the feedback loop, the faster performance will improve.

The LightSail ThinkFeed is a great place to give feedback. Teachers receive a real-time stream of students’ annotations and view of the related text, highlighted by each student, for context. You can respond directly from the ThinkFeed to provide positive reinforcement and prompt for further action.

Keep in mind that the teacher doesn’t have to be the only one who provides feedback! Students can provide effective feedback to each other through think-pair-share activities if given a good “glows” and “grows” framework. For example, tell students to use the following sentence frame: “I like that you did _______. One thing you could work on is ______.” You’d be surprised how great student-to-student feedback can be!

4. Only assign students work that they will get some sort of feedback on.

The great basketball coach John Wooden once said that we should “never mistake activity for achievement.” As a teacher, especially in literacy, this could not be more true. In an effort to foster a love for reading, we’re working to ensure that students are racking up those reading minutes and answering as many comprehension questions as possible to practice. But as Doug Lemov notes in Practice Perfect, what we do during that practice matters as much, if not more than, how much we practice. [2]

“A kid who practices hours of sloppy pick-up basketball every day is going to develop less than a kid who practices really well for two hours a day with good instruction and feedback.” -Michael Goldstein

The hustle and bustle of open books and pages turning–or illuminated screens–can be deceptive. As teachers we need to constantly be checking for and pushing toward mastery through effective feedback. Otherwise, students will practice the wrong things to do, building bad habits that show up when it comes to “game time.”

To avoid this, turn off the annotation feature or short response assessments until you’re ready to monitor for effective practice. For example, we often see students start to utilize emojis or other informal modes of speech in annotations or short responses when teachers have not given students clear expectations. We provide launch lessons and short response lessons to introduce this functionality to students and allow teachers time to plan to give meaningful feedback.  

LightSail Tip: Emojis can be a fantastic reward that students work toward after they’ve shown they have mastered annotating in a professional manner!

5. Have students revise their work based on your feedback.

Lemov argues that the aim of practice should be to “encode success” not failure, which requires students to do it again so that they practice getting it right.

Once you go over an annotation or short response with an individual student, small group, or as a class, allow students to go back and re-write with the correct answer in mind.

The “Add Additional Thought” feature is great for this! Students can go back and revise their work directly in the book or through the ThinkFeed. This way, students are making a small leap towards mastery of the skill and closing out the task feeling successful, not letting the incorrect answer permeate. In addition, these thoughts will be saved in the ThinkFeed and Portfolio page, so the student can refer to his/her revision as an exemplar, if needed.

LightSail is a fantastic reading tool to use in your classroom, but only with careful teacher facilitation will students be able to reach their true literacy potential. Purposeful teacher-to-student (or student-to-student) feedback is an incredibly important element to lift the quality of student work and mastery.

So, put down that red pen and freshen up your feedback game with LightSail!

[1] Sadler, D. R. 1987. “Specifying and Promulgating Achievement Standards.” Oxford Review of Education 13: 191–209

[2] Lemov, Doug, Erica Woolway, and Katie Yezzi. Practice perfect: 42 rules for getting better at getting better. John Wiley & Sons, 2012.

Insights for your ELA Classroom

We've gathered information on the topics educators ask us about most often. Each post is written to be insightful, practical and most of all, based on what we know works from our experiences with tens of thousands of classrooms across the country.

Trending Topics:

  • Going Digital & Your Literacy Strategy
  • Engaged Students in Data Driven Classrooms
  • How Formative Assessments Can Guide Instruction

Sign Up For Literacy In Action

We protect your privacy and will never share your email address with anyone.