Empowering Students: Student Feedback Teams

In a time when we are feeling overconnected to our devices and disconnected from one another, it is immensely important to establish and foster the relationships of our students with one another. It has become glaringly obvious how reliant our learning can be on the discussions we have with one another. As educators, we know that the more our students talk about their learning, the more powerful the experience becomes. Even in face-to-face environments, it may have been difficult to establish a classroom culture that thrived on students discussing their learning. In hybrid and virtual classrooms, this may seem practically impossible. But yet, there’s hope. In a time when nothing is normal, maybe it is time to try something new– to build something different for our students that will provide a variety of opportunities for the future of their learning and also offer a space for students to feel connected and accepted. These relationships, however, are not built in a day and will progress through a variety of stages before becoming a successful factor in the learning process.

Student Feedback Teams (or Covid Cohorts) are teams created for the long haul. These are not the on-the-fly work groups created to perform a given task, but long term groups created to bridge the need for  social learning that often disappears in our virtual and hybrid environments.  The purpose of this team will ultimately be for peer feedback. But that can’t happen immediately. Just like many things in school, this takes time.  And when try to cut time the results do not meet our expectations.

Student Feedback Teams can function in many ways.  The primary focus will be as a place for students to connect with one another and work through or discuss a learning task and provide feedback to one another on their work. This is not “group project” work, where the task is divided between students, rather this is a space for reflection and deeper conversation about the learning.   This team provides a way for groups of students to move their learning forward,  releasing the teacher from that role.  In effect, Student Feedback Teams is a way of handing some of the learning back to student groups.

It may be helpful to think of these Student Feedback teams through the lens of a sport team.  In a basketball team, each player knows their roles and responsibilities.   Their place on the team is built on their personal strengths, and they practice and hone their skills through that lens.  Thinking about the Student Feedback Teams, the teams should be created with that in mind. Including students with a variety of strengths to work together to form a functioning team.

For Student Feedback Teams to be successful, there must be student buy-in. Students need to have a voice in the creation of the teams. That means including some student choice. After explaining the goals and process of the Student Feedback Team ask students to name one person in the classroom they would choose to be on a work with an another student they would struggle to work with. Use that data to create teams. 

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This visual was created for a presentation in one of the districts we support.  It illustrates key components in a strong team, snuggly fitting together as pieces of a puzzle. Each piece is vitally important for the team to function to its full potential. Of all the pieces, TIME may be the most important.  This is true because time is in the such short supply in most classrooms and because it will take time for teams to grow together.

Helping students understand the commitment to a long term team is  vitally important.  Based on research from psychologist, Bruce Tuckman, teams go through specific stages:  Forming, Storming, Norming and Performing. Knowing about more about each stage helps the teacher support students in each team.

During the forming stage students tend to be very polite to one another as they get to know each other better.  The feedback at this stage will be very surface level, lots of “good job.” Students may be self-conscious and hesitant to be honest and open – or be overly honest and open.  The team isn’t a team, just a group of individuals sitting in the same place.  That will change as they move into the storming stage.  In this phase students begin vying for their place in the group. They are trying to figure out their roles, some tending toward over involvement and some checking out.  Members are getting on one another’s nerves and feedback may be very negative at this stage. Students may ask to be removed or have someone else removed from the group during this phase.  It is very important for the teacher to be present, but not in charge. Providing a framework or protocol for students to help them focus on the job at hand, rather than personalities is essential at this stage.

Most groups will work through the storming stage and enter the norming stage. It is helpful to think again of a sporting team. Each person on the basketball team knows their position and the team works best  when there is trust and respect between players.  The same is true in the norming stage. Student Feedback Teams are building on one another’s strengths, trusting and respecting one another.  Feedback at this stage becomes more specific, helping one another move learning forward.  It is important to note that many teams will move back and forth between storming and norming, just as most adult teams do.

Performing is the final stage. In this stage all the moving parts fit together well. Students are working to their potential, problem solving and moving forward.  This is the epitome of group dynamics, and to be honest, many groups do not get to this stage. That is ok.  Give your student and yourself grace if the Student Feedback Teams don’t make it to the performing stage.

A teacher’s role in this process is to be very aware of the stage each team is and nudge them toward the next phase. It is difficult to not ‘save’ a storming team.  Handing the responsibility to students is all part of the Student Feedback Team task.  How exactly does a teacher do that?

We’ve all tried getting students to give feedback to each other. And it may not have always gone as expected. You may have seen students end up with 10 post-its that read “I like your project.” Even in classes for adults, leaving the door wide open with no parameters is an overwhelming prospect. The giver of feedback asking “What do I say?” The receiver of feedback wondering “What am I supposed to do with this?”. If you haven’t set up your teams to firmly establish that you are giving feedback on the work, not the person, it can seem personal, or not specific, or helpful in moving someone forward. Feedback needs to aim towards improving understanding by helping students to focus where they are currently at and offer avenues to improve. By incorporating other students in the process, it empowers students to be active in the learning process in the classroom. A student’s voice is powerful when we as educators allow it to be. Students can explain things in ways that teachers can’t to other students. As teachers, we need to establish an effective way to avoid the pitfalls that come with open feedback.

How can we make this practice effective? Use a feedback protocol. It’s simple. Choose one protocol and ask that everyone follow it. Check out these resources to learn about some different feedback protocols.

One I’ve used before is I Like, I Wish, I Wonder (you can find out more about it under the Better Lessons link above). Each learner is asked to give feedback using a simple sentence starter.

  • I like… which gives an opportunity to highlight something great about the project and set a positive tone to the interaction.
  • I wish… offers an opportunity to address an aspect of the work that could be stronger.
  • I wonder….a moment to clarify a piece of the project or lean towards a suggestion.

Giving this simple frame helps to establish momentum and focus for the feedback to help it become clear for the learner who is giving the feedback. It also helps the person receiving the feedback to see what others see in their work and gives them thoughts to consider for improvement.

–> Want to learn more about COVID Cohorts, check out this link.

We’d love to hear more about how you involved students in the feedback process. Please leave us a message at this blog post.
~Amber, Beth, and Mindy