Q&A: Clear Learning Targets and Effective Feedback

This blog post was written by Neil Roseberry. Neil is a FIP Specialist for the Northeast Region, a part of a regional support system available to help your LEA advance the use of formative instructional practices. 

How do teachers use formative instructional practices to raise student achievement? What does FIP look like in your classroom? What successes have occurred? These questions, and others, were asked of Michelle LaGruth, 3rd grade teacher at Falls-Lenox Primary School in the Olmsted Falls City Schools.

When did you start using Formative Instructional Practices in your classroom? 
"I have been doing formative instruction since I began teaching 20 years ago. I think it was about 5 or 6 years ago when our District Leadership Team made the decision to focus our instruction on these principles. At that time, the DLT set two ‘non-negotiables” for all classrooms K through 12. We wanted everyone to make sure that learning targets were clear to all students and that we were using effective feedback that helped direct students in their learning.”

Why did the District Leadership Team decide to set these two goals for all of the classrooms?
“We were looking at our students achievement and although we were considered an ‘Effective’ school district, we knew we were not reaching all of the students. After doing a bit of reading about what raises student achievement, there was no doubt on what we wanted to highlight.”

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What do clear learning targets look like in your classroom?
“I haven’t always done a good job of making sure that the learning targets were clear for all students. Now, we post the targets in our classroom for each of the lessons. I also have students use a 3x5 card, which has been laminated and taped to their desk, to write the target that they are working on during the lesson. That has been a great process because it allows each student to focus on the target that they need work on. I also have gotten into the habit of asking students throughout the lesson about their target. The students are now used to the targets and even ask me what the target is for the day. I really think it has helped them focus their learning and I know it has helped both the students and I to track their progress.”

What about effective feedback in your classroom?
“I have been trying to do my best to be more specific when I share with students about their work. I really have been working to make sure that I give specific feedback to them about what they are doing well. I also have been able to limit the amount I want them to correct to just a few things.”

Has this changed the student work that you collect and review?”
“That has been a bit more difficult for me. In order to do a better job of giving written feedback, I had to first take a look at what student work I was collecting. I used to look at everything that the students did in class. But now, I have found that because our learning is more directed by the learning target, I no longer have to review everything that each student does in class. In fact, the students help track their progress toward the learning target. I also have been using more of my formative daily assessments, like small group work and individual conferences, to help direct student learning. That has allowed me more time to give students more descriptive written feedback about what they have done well and where they need to improve. 

Have you seen any changes with the students because you are able to give them more effective feedback?

"The students don’t worry so much anymore about their ‘grade’. Now, they have gotten used to the fact that they have done things very well and actually ask me what is the next thing to correct. Even the students that do a perfect job on a report or paper or project ask me what is next. It really has changed the feeling in the classroom. The students are much more constant learners than they were before.”

What is the next step for your classroom?
“Our Building Leadership Team has set a goal for the year for both the use of clear learning targets and effective feedback. All of the teachers were asked to fill out a self-evaluation at the beginning of the year for each of those elements. At the end of the year we will self-evaluate again and chart our progress. The evaluation is a rubric that was put together by our DLT to help us focus our efforts. Our teachers also visit each other’s classroom to share ideas and to support what is happening."

Falls-Lenox Primary School is a first through third grade building in the Olmsted Falls City School District. The District serves 3800 students and is located 19 miles directly west of downtown Cleveland.