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As an Edtech Coordinator one of my goals next year is to help teachers transform their feedback. Below are two posts I recently wrote on my personal blog that I wanted to share with the Canvas Community.

Part 1

One of my AAU basketball coaches would always say “When I stop pushing and being tough on you, that is when you have to worry.” At that time, I didn’t fully grasp what he meant by it. Reflecting on it now as a teacher and coach, I am able to appreciate his words. He was letting us  know that he challenged us because he cared and saw our potential. He was giving us the feedback and criticism necessary to take us to the next level of playing.

I recently found an  older article, by Paul Sohn, discussing the secret to great feedback, which reminded me of my coach’s catchphrase.  It stated:

Researchers discovered that there was one particular type of teacher feedback that improved student effort and performance so much that they considered it “magical.”Students who received this feedback chose to revise their paper far more often that students who did not (a 40 percent increase among white students; 320 percent boost among black students) and improved their performance significantly. What was the magical feedback?

Just one sentence:

I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations for you, and I know that you can reach them.

Similar to my coach’s words: very simple, short and to the point but possess a great power to generate a sense of belonging, connection and motivation.

As teachers, we must understand the power our feedback can have on a student’s progress.  To make it a positive, meaningful experience, we must first do some ground work.

  • Your first step before anything is creating a relationship with your students. They must know that everything you do is because you care. I believe these two quotes embody the connection between student relationships and feedback:
    • Nobody cares how much you know, until they know how much you care- Theodore Roosevelt.

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  • When students experience an authentic, crystal-clear signal of social trust, belonging, and high expectations, the floodgates click open. – Daniel Coyle
  • Have an open dialogue about feedback to begin the year. Discuss how receiving feedback is a positive experience and learning opportunity.

After laying the ground work, the next step is actually creating a process for feedback. In my Part 2 post, I will discuss some ideas I have that may help you move from having feedback be a singular, red ink event towards a “loop” and reflective conversation. It will focus on tools and strategies that will aid in the process!

Part 2:

In part 1, I focused on the connection between feedback and student relationships. This quote from the late Pat Summit is not only timely, but also accurately summarizes my thoughts.


I believe technology can transform our feedback. When used effectively it can help us shift the process from a one way, red inked statement to a reflective and empowering conversation loop. When students hand in their final paper, it tends to be the end of the conversation. We return their work with our comments scattered throughout, and we move on to the next assignment. With the help of technology, we can move away from the method of one way delivery and truly promote growth in our learners by changing the feedback process.

SpeedGrader in Canvas

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Now do not let the name fool you. Similar to Turnitin, it allows the teacher to add in annotations and comments directly on a student’s digital paper. It gives teachers the ability to provide focused feedback and specific guidance on how to improve.Ultimately, technology can provide the means, but teachers need to utilize it effectively. I love this example from Dr. Natalie Saaris on focused feedback.

“Imagine if you were trying to master a new skill, such as perfecting a free throw in basketball. After several failed attempts to get the ball in the hoop, you finally manage to score. Would it be more beneficial to hear the coach yell “Excellent!” across the court, or would it be better to know exactly why this shot was successful, unlike the previous ones? (“Yes! You bent your wrist 90 degrees before you flicked it, and that made all the difference.”) Taking the time to specify what the student did right or wrong enables the student to succeed when the same strategy or skill is applied in the future.”

Speedgrader also gives you options for how you deliver the feedback such as audio, video or text. After providing your comments, what sets the tool apart is the ability it gives to students.  Students can respond and reflect with the discussion feature . You can continue the conversation and should design your feedback so that it prompts discussion and questions. It is a great opportunity for students to reflect on the cognitive process and understand the strategies that lead to successful performance.

Google Applications

Google Applications give us a better chance to provide regular, ongoing feedback.  With the use of the collaborative nature of Google Apps, students can share notes and ideas enabling them to learn from one another and provide peer review. This can be done through the use of the various share settings available. Students can be at three review levels- collaborator, commenter or viewer. All can be used in a variety of ways to build the relationship of learner and peer reviewer and meet their individual needs and styles.

Research on self- and peer-assessment has shown that giving students opportunities to self regulate and self assess produces results and deeper reflection about the learning process.  It gets students thinking about the process not just the product as well!

More than Tools, We Need Relationships

From my own experience, I know that feedback is an art that teachers master in different ways.  Bill Ferriter has some wonderful posts on how he is utilizing various methods to improve the feedback process. He focuses on a multitude of feedback related topics from how students can gather feedback rather than be given it to specific forms he is utilizing to promote feedback reflection. Click here to view his posts on Feedback

I know technology can provide us innovative methods of delivery, but we are in control of how to best help a student! This brings me back to part 1 of my post, it cannot be said enough about the importance of building relationships first and foremost which will then lead to growth and deeper learning.

In a previous blog post I expressed how surprised I was that the students in my classes had not embraced Canvas in the way that I had imagined: Students who say, "just tell me what to memorise," and how to serve them


Yesterday, having spent another day enjoying the rich and varied discourse and resources in the Canvas Community, something novel occurred to me. These students may only have time and space to learn superficially.


The K-12 school where I work and use my Free-For-Teachers account is intensely timetabled. Students have obligations from 8am until 5:15pm Monday-Friday and 9:15am-4pm Saturday. These obligations include lessons and private study periods, but also chapel, sports, and service activities. Those that live on campus have 5:15-7pm as dinner/free time, then 7-9pm is when homework must be completed, before their final free hour before bed. The free time is when students fetch essentials from local shops, call their (often international) parents, catch up with friends, shower, go to the gym, etc. Maybe there isn't really time for 'reading around the subject' as we teachers so often insist is essential, unless we want them to forgo health, mental, as well as physical.


So, when I introduce Canvas and its wonderful elements (wonderments?!), but they don't seem enthused - maybe they are thinking, 'and how much more time is this going to take when you already set us the mandatory 1.5 hours of homework per week per subject...?'


I really like the idea of using Pinterest as highlighted here: How I integrated a pinterest board in my class . In fact, I had been looking for a collaboration space when I posed this question: Whiteboard collaboration space like a group blog.


However, if I don't make it mandatory/graded, they won't go the extra mile. Maybe it is because of a lack of genuine passion for my subject. As I noted here:

...students have very rarely taken the subject before, but opt for it because it will lead to good job prospects. There is often little idea of what Economics is about and little interest other than, eventually, it will help them get a good career where they earn a lot of money.


So, how can I get them to really engage? I think the answer might be badges. Having done INSET training on gamification just after I discovered Canvas, I was immediately interested, but part of me was reticent - 'these children should learn for the sake of learning, not to earn points and level up!'


Now, having seen students take back marked work, ignore the comments and just look for a grade, I wonder if their busy lives mean that they don't feel that they have the (emotional) time/space to give more than the bare minimum. Maybe I do need to trick them into learning...and being able to appreciate that "not everything worth doing is graded." (Jared Ward, InstCon2015)


So, badges. I am going to spend a day trying to figure out if I can make badges that encourage engagement with the subject and Canvas, such as First Person to Start a Discussion, Completed First Quiz, Set-up Profile, Submitted Assignment at least 24hrs before Deadline...


I will be using the information below, lifted directly from Jared Ward's presentation from InstCon2015 which you can watch here: How to Succeed with Badges Without Really Trying



Canvas User Engagement

I love learning, *really* love learning: if I could avoid my classes and sneak into the back of colleagues' rooms to listen to lessons on classical civilisation, Russian grammar, and theoretical physics all day long, that would be heaven.


As it is, I am a teacher, but I don't want to be a teacher - never have. Plus I don't like people (children or adults - I'm an equal opportunity misanthrope) - staff room break times can be a bit awkward...


But, it turns out that I just know what I like. Remember Sally ordering her pie with ice cream on the side but strawberry instead of vanilla if they had it, if not then no ice cream just whipped cream but only if it's real; if it's out of the can then nothing...?


I'm just the same, only not with pie (cooked fruit in pastry?!), but pedagogy and people - I know what I like and what I don't like: I don't like didactic methods and those who shy away from intellectual challenge.


If you want your learning to be a journey in which you really engage with the material, develop skill sets, and go outside your cognitive comfort zone, then you're my cup of tea.


And therein lies my recent problem.


Having discovered Canvas at Christmas, I excitedly made loads of content, showcased it to my students...and they were distinctly underwhelmed. Their chief complaints (and yes, they complained and made a protest survey declaring online learning 'inefficient') were that...


8079757631_cbb509a44b_b.jpg1. They preferred me to stand at the front of the class to deliver content which they would then write down - chalk and talk - I said I wasn't prepared to teach like that and that I would be doing them a disservice if they left with a certificate in my subject (Economics) but without the skills that would allow them to succeed in higher education and an increasingly competitive, globalised labour market, i.e. digital/IT skills.


2. They found the platform confusing - it transpires that they didn't bother to scroll to look for the blue 'submit assignment' button, so some decided to complete the work online then simply print it off and hand it in (defeating my 'save the trees' stance), and that some had *very* poor IT skills, e.g. didn't know how to refresh a webpage or search for specific phrases using quotation marks.


So, my attempt to blend learning and flip my classroom this year did not go well. I rushed it, students didn't understand why it was happening, there was no buy-in, and it wasted time - I had to reteach all the content.


Lessons me!


1. Do not assume that 21st century students with thumbs attached to smart phones are actually tech-savvy: I teach Yr10 (first year of GCSE, 14-15yrs old) and Yr12 (first year of A Level or BTEC or IB, 16-17yrs old) in a UK independent school (fee-paying, not run by the gov't) so there isn't poverty of access or opportunity, but there are no IT lessons anywhere in the curriculum after age 12, which is a problem to be tackled sometime never... My students are also 'disadvantaged' as they are very conformist - they expect chalk-and-talk simplicity and not being challenged with new ways of learning/thinking - they just want to memorise what they need to pass the exam...


2. If you're the only teacher using the platform they are much less invested in learning how to use the technology, and really engage with it, as they are not going to need it in nine months' time. But I worry that they are right - spending time learning a digital skill-set they won't need in the examination, in their other classes, and, maybe, not even their HE or career paths isn't efficient - with a ridiculously short academic year (Paying a shed load of cash for your education? Then we'll give you fewer days in the classroom - you're welcome!) I should just be shovelling the information into their brains and getting them ready to regurgitate it onto an examination script... but I *really* don't want to teach like that...


3. Explain the benefits of Canvas from the start and from their perspective: course materials, assignments, calendar, etc. are available anywhere with internet - no need to lug books home in the holidays, etc. They will need these skills in HE - and I have explained that ad nauseum - but the reply is depressingly repetitive - "I don't want to think about university now or the skills I need, I just want to learn the content that will get me the A* grade in the final examination." I honestly think these students may be some of the least intellectually adventurous people I've ever met!



4. Be clear on expectations of engagement - their grades will depend on this. I shouldn't have been cowed by the populist protest - I know they will benefit in the long run by using Canvas and I should have stuck to my convictions. Instead I gave up and switched back to standing at the front, showing them a PowerPoint, and telling them what to write down from it.


5. Patiently showcase Canvas and make room for the students who are reluctant - find a way to support and encourage. I had assumed that this new way of learning would be embraced quickly. If I had been given this opportunity, I would have grabbed it with both hands - 'the future is now!' sci-fi dreamscape of Inspector Gadget's Penny and her computer-book...but they just don't seem keen. I'm not good at empathising with those who do not have the same love affair with technology as I do: I just expect everyone to be as deliriously excited as I am about all the buttons and the possibilities and the everything!

Next steps


I am part of a team helping guide staff in the transition to being a BYOD school whilst we implement our 'digital strategy'. Staff don't understand why we're changing - it seems to be about photocopying less and, thus, saving money. Students don't understand why we're doing this either. Staff are reluctant to change teaching habits and my enthusiastic proselytising isn't helping. I guess the pressure on exam results to boost our position in the rankings and, thereby, get more customers squashes any desire to try something 'risky'.


I need to find a way to really sell it to them.


So, here I am trying to make sure that my new classes in September have a better experience. Does anyone have advice on what I should do differently this time, or other recommendations for improving student motivation?


Canvas User Engagement



Kristin Lundstrum

Stefanie Sanders

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