As an English teacher, I always knew that if I wanted my students to become better writers, not only did I have to give them lots of opportunities to write, but I also had to help them analyze their writing and offer praise, critiques and encouragement. I had to give them feedback. I guess I was in middle school when I first understood what feedback actually was. At that point, I didn’t really know how to spell “a lot”; I always tried to make it one word, “alot”. Every paper I got back had the misspelling circled in red, yet, I continued to spell it “alot”. I knew something was wrong with it so one day, consciously, I split the word into two in one instance and left it together at another point. This time both words were circled with the word “Vague” scrawled beside “a lot”. Completely confused, I went through the rest of the year with the words “alot” and “a lot” being circled in every single paper. At some point it became comical and even a game for me to see what would be circled. There was never a conversation and no feedback other than the red circle. Should I have asked about it. Of course I should have. But I was 12 and a little intimidated by my teacher who seemed to think I should be able to decipher the red circle on my paper and know what it means.
Fast forward lots of years to spring semester of 2013. I am now taking graduate classes again and am taking an independent study class for instructional technology. My project, to use MIT’s App Inventor program to create an app for an Android phone or tablet. After spending 4 months learning, designing, and creating my app, I wrote up 23 page reflection, created a walk through video and emailed it away. After a week of not hearing anything, I logged into the student portal and sure enough, my grade had posted. I got an A. Yeah me. However, an A is not feedback, at least not meaningful feedback. What was good about it? What should be improved? Did my instructor even look at it? How disheartening that, after 4 months, my only feedback is one single letter.
I count myself lucky that I didn’t create this app for my instructor and I didn’t do it specifically for the credit, but I still feel like I put forth this effort and have yet to hear anything. As I think about the graduate classes that I teach, I can definitely say that there have been times where I didn’t want to go through every single project to give those students feedback. It’s easy to say, “here’s your grade, good job.” But what learning comes from that? I know that my learning was in the process and that I learned an amazing amount of stuff in that process, but as I sit here now, I could still use some feedback. I don’t think that’s “alot” to ask.