One of the most powerful moments in my teaching journey was the summer I immersed myself in feedback and checking for understanding. It forced me to ask myself what and if my students were actually learning. I learned the importance of the language I used. I also learned effective ways to track student progress toward learning goals that will inform the feedback I give students. While my effectiveness as a teacher has grown exponentially, I still have a lot to learn. Since I teach in a lab, I also have both the challenge and the perk of most student work being completed on the computer. These are some of my experiences, ideas and resources for using technology to provide meaningful feedback to students -- and making the process more streamlined for everyone.
1) The Comment Feature
Not just for Microsoft Office anymore, using the comments feature on GoogleDocs, and even using the Presenters Notes in a Google Docs presentation, is a great way to provide specific and timely feedback to students. Not using Google Docs? Have students submit their work to you digitally (my preferred way is through my DROPitTOme portal that sends the docs directly to my Dropbox account), and use the traditional commenting feature in Office.
I won't pretend to have come up with this idea on my own. A colleague of mine used to pull up his students' essays on his computer and create a screencast as he went through the essay, providing specific and detailed feedback on each part. He would then email the screencasts to the students so they could watch (and rewatch) them.
Evernote is an amazingly diverse tool that allows users to create audio notes. To provide feedback, teachers can record their feedback as an audio note, create a public link and send it to the student. A teacher's voice means a lot more to a student than the written word.
4) The Livescribe Pen
Another versatile tool, Livescribe pens allow users to take traditional notes and record the sound in the room at the same time. For the pen to work, you do need special paper, but users can then stop, rewind and playback audio that has been recorded. Teachers could create a "pencast" for each student so that when they tap a symbol or a set of words written on the paper (it also comes in sticky note form), they can hear the teacher's voice. This is also a great solution for giving feedback to struggling readers.
Although nothing new, blogging is a great reflective tool. The comment feature on blogs is a bit different than those mentioned above, since those comments reside only at the bottom of the post. However, teachers can make reflective blogging part of the learning process, and then use the comment feature to help clarify student thinking, plan next steps and ask for more details.
As any teacher will tell you, effective feedback is time-consuming but priceless for students. We are very lucky as educators in this day and age to have access to tools that make the process easier. The simpler we can make the process, the more our feedback will benefit our students.