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Why Feedback Loops for Math Must Happen in Elementary Classrooms

Aug 11, 2021 12:29:23 PM / by Louise El Yaafouri

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Need to Know:

  • Math feedback loops are critical for student learning, but they’re often broken in instructional practice.
  • Decreasing response time on feedback is one of the ways we can close the feedback loop.
  • We can use three quick checks to help drive down feedback response times in the math classroom thereby accelerating student learning.

A Closer Look:

Feedback is central to math learning. When it’s effectively applied, feedback in the math classroom can accelerate the rate and amount of learning. But here’s the not so great news: Kids don’t always receive the feedback they need to grow as mathematicians. I’ll explain, but first, a quick detour.

Have you ever wondered why so many kids find tech-based play downright irresistible? Gamification follows a standard design; it draws users in with play, has a central goal, has user rules, and produces a feedback loop. 

Now, let’s zoom in on that feedback loop. It looks like this: The player completes an action. The system responds by acknowledging the player’s move and hinting at the optimal next step (feedback). The gamer interprets the response, adjusts their plan, and makes a new play. Then, the system responds again, and so on. It’s this very loop that keeps kids plugged in to the game.

What’s a student feedback loop?

Feedback loops occur in the classroom, too. In this case, the student makes a move like solving a problem, answering a question, or demonstrating a behavior. The educator acknowledges the thought or action and shares information, including reteaching, if necessary, to help guide the learner’s next moves. The student interprets that communication, makes adjustments, and responds. The facilitator provides new feedback, and so on.

It turns out that student feedback loops are essential tools for driving learning. John Hattie, an expert on the subject, says, “The single most powerful influence on enhancing achievement is feedback.”  When effectively implemented, it can increase kids’ confidence and self-awareness, boost enthusiasm for learning, and even support student retention.   

This reciprocal exchange is especially beneficial in math. Why? Because math learning is generally concrete. There are patterns and systems involved. And often, math problem-solving requires moving through a series of mini checkpoints of understanding. Combined, these features make it a subject full of opportunities for purposeful feedback. 

Unfortunately, many classroom feedback loops are broken. This happens when students make a move that isn’t acknowledged, isn’t addressed quickly enough, or the feedback doesn’t guide the learner toward their next play. “At best,” Hattie tells us, “students receive moments of feedback in a single day.”  

That’s not always enough to propel a new student response. As a result, the feedback loop remains open, or incomplete. Without meaningful feedback, the student loses motivation to engage. Game over.

How do I build feedback loops or fix them when they’re broken? 

Video games and classroom instruction both embed learner feedback. So, what is it that keeps kids so intently hooked into a video game? And, what keeps learners from engaging in math content with the same level of determination and focus? 

It has to do, in part, with timing. Gamified feedback loops are instantaneous. Communication between the system and the user is like a back-and-forth ping pong match. Classroom feedback, on the other hand, is often slow because it is challenging, if not impossible, for a teacher to provide 20-35 students instantaneous feedback.

Let’s face it, providing in-the-moment feedback to a classroom full of students is tough. But to grow mathematicians, we’ve got to make moves to improve the timing gap. After all, Snappet Math, a fully digital K-5 core math solution says, “Excellent teachers monitor the progress of their students more ‘automatically’ and provide more effective feedback.”  

What’s the bottom line? Increasing response times can improve feedback effectiveness and can have a real impact on students’ math learning. Here are three tried-and-true ways to cut timing gaps in our feedback and “close the loop” in the math instruction.

1. Set aside specific times for student feedback. Be transparent with students about why the feedback loop is vital to their learning and explicitly define your role (and theirs). Then, make communication a priority by scheduling time for check-ins. It may be helpful to stagger student assignments to clear some space for these meetings.

2. Put tech to work. Programs like Snappet Math allow teachers to monitor student progress in real time as they move through the program. When teachers have at-their-fingers access to learners’ math moves, they have a better chance of providing meaningful feedback early. This is important because this is when it’s most likely to drive student growth.

3. Turn to language. Intentional, guided dialogue can help close the feedback loop in math classrooms. The feedback doesn’t always have to come from the teacher; peer-to-peer feedback can be transformative, too. Just be sure that conversations follow a standard process, have clear expectations, and are modeled before implementation.

Please share below how you use feedback loops to facilitate student growth in your math classroom(s).

Topics: Elementary Education, Mathematics

Louise El Yaafouri

Written by Louise El Yaafouri

Louise El Yaafouri is a Recent Arriver & Cultural Competency Consultant at DiversifiED Consulting. She provides professional development and curriculum design in the areas of Emergent Multilingual education, trauma-informed practice, culturally responsive pedagogy, and equity/inclusion work. Louise has authored a wide range of ed-related books and articles, including the forthcoming Restoring Students’ Innate Power: Trauma-Responsive Strategies for Teaching Multilingual Newcomers (ASCD press). Louise lives between Denver, Colorado and Saida, Lebanon with her husband and sons Noor and Joud.