Professional Practices

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Marcia Baldanza, the author of Professional Practices and a Just ASK Senior Consultant, lives in Arlington, Virginia, and Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. She recently retired from the School District of Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was an Area Director for School Reform and Accountability; prior to that she was Director of Federal and State Programs. 

May 2016, Volume I Issue V

Growth-Producing Feedback
and Looking at Student Work

This issue of Professional Practices for the 21st Century Leader features a continuation of our focus on Standard 4 of the Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015: Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment, specifically on giving feedback and looking at student work. My experiences as a teacher, principal, director, and mother have reinforced my belief that the vast majority of us in the field of educational leadership are passionately interested in improving the lives of students in our care by improving our own knowledge and skill. I’ve been at this work with more than 25 years and see daily evidence of dedication and passion in our schools.

Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015

  • Mission, Vision, and Core Values
  • Ethics and Professional Norms
  • Equity and Cultural Responsiveness


  • Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment
    Effective educational leaders develop and support intellectually rigorous and coherent systems of curriculum, instruction, and assessment to promote each student’s academic success and well-being.

  • Community of Care and Support for Students
  • Professional Capacity of School Personnel
  • Professional Community for Teachers and Staff
  • Meaningful Engagement of Families and Community
  • Operations and Management
  • School Improvement


Growth-Producing Feedback

Recently, I have been paying close attention to the feedback provided to my nine-year-old son as he engages in his extra curricular activities. I compared and contrasted this feedback to the feedback I typically see in classrooms. What a difference! The tennis coach notices that the serve goes into the net and offers a simple, “If you want your serve to go over the net, toss the ball higher and hit it with a flat racket.” Soon, the serve is going in. The swim coach says your turns are slower because you’re not generating enough power with your arm. Yours is going to your side and it needs to go over your head. Within a few practices, the turns are faster and smoother. The violin teacher notices that some aspects of a piece of music are off tempo. He says to use shorter bows as the long bows he was using forced a slower tempo. An immediate difference is noted. In each of these cases, my son knows the goal… a serve that goes over the net; faster turn times in swimming; and keeping in tempo with the group. In each of the cases, the coaches gave specific and timely feedback and the performance improved.

I recently relocated back to the Washington, D.C. area after living in South Florida for eleven years. Even though there are many familiar streets, many of the places I needed to go were new. Daily, I use my phone and my favorite map app to navigate around town. My phone has allowed me to find places I always loved and new spots and streets to make my commute easier, less stressful, and ensure an on-time arrival. I have even found that the phone app has increased my confidence to go to out-of-the-way places, since I know I will not get lost. Think about the feedback loop involved: I enter the address or place I am going from and to. I am told how traffic is along the route and what time I will arrive. As I drive, I am told about upcoming turns and slow downs. If I make a wrong turn, I am re-routed and if there is traffic ahead, I am asked if I want to change my current path and take a faster route. Finally, I am told as I approach my destination and when I have arrived.

Applying these ideas to teaching and learning is a powerful concept! Bruce Oliver in the issue of Just for the ASKing! titled “It’s a Feedback World” further illustrates the power of effective feedback. The research on feedback and its impact on learning is deep and wide with many common threads:

  • In 2012, ASCD devoted an entire issue of Educational Leadership to feedback for learning in which more than 25 authors discussed feedback practices. Embedded in all of them is the notion that there are two conditions that need to be present for productive delivery of growth-producing feedback:
    • The teacher establishes a classroom that is safe for making mistakes.
    • Teachers who have such a classroom convey the idea that smart is not something you are; it is something you can become.
  • Grant Wiggins, the acclaimed guru of instruction, learning, and assessment wrote: “Feedback is information about how we did in light of what was attempted. Intent vs. effect. Actual vs. ideal performance, the best feedback is highly specific, descriptive of what we did and did not do in light of standards, and occurs in both a timely and on going way. Think of the best feedback systems: computer games, your shower faucets, tasting meals as you cook. What feedback most certainly isn’t is praise and blame or mere encouragement. Further, praise keeps you in the game; feedback helps you get better.”
  • Susan Brookhart defines good feedback as:
    • Timely: It arrives while the student (and teacher) is still thinking about the work and while there is still time for improvement.
    • Descriptive of the work: It does not describe the student or teacher, but instead focuses on one or two strengths of the work and provides at least one suggestion for a next step.
    • Positive: It shows how learning is a journey forward. The tone shows the student (and teacher) that the teacher (and leader) thinks of him or her as an active learner with capacity to grow.
    • Clear and specific: It is specific enough so that the student (and teacher) knows what to do next, but leaves the student (and teacher) with some thinking to do.
    • Differentiated: It meets the needs of each student (and teacher) with respect to the current work. Some students (and teachers) need a reminder; others may need prompts of examples.  



Strategy Alert: Growth-Producing Feedback

Access the Just for the ASKing! e-newsletter issue titled “Growth-Producing Feedback” for staff to read in preparation for completing an exercise in which they identify positive and negatives examples of growth-producing feedback.

After they read the narrative, have staff use the Growth-Producing Feedback Discussion Tool. (I did and got great feedback myself!)


Strategy Alert: Feedback Graffiti

Enlarge and cut apart the Twenty Tantalizing Tidbits on Feedback below. Glue the 20 statements to 20 pieces of construction or chart paper. Create duplicates as necessary to ensure that there is one chart per person. Each participant will jot down a reflection/reaction based on the first statement they read and then move to a new chair and new statement and respond to it.  (You can play “musical chairs” by playing music and stopping the music when it is time to move to a new chair. Continue for three to five reflections. Post later for all to review!

Feedback Graffiti


Twenty Tantalizing Tidbits on Feedback

The take-aways detailed below represent key points (along with their sources) gleaned from my work with schools, books read, and articles examined.

  1. Good feedback not only motivates, but also transfers a sense of agency to the learner! (Marge Sherer*)
  2. Before a teacher gives feedback, students need to know the learning target so they have a purpose for using the feedback they receive. (Susan Brookhart)
  3. Sometimes a simple question, “Can you tell me about this?” can set everything in motion. (Maja Wilson*)
  4. It’s hard to imagine children glued to video games, if instead of receiving on-going, real-time feedback, getting their results weeks later in the mail. (Bryan Goodwin, Kristen Miller*)
  5. When teachers provide students with more guidance than they need, feedback doesn’t deepen the learning. (Dylan Wiliam*)
  6. Feedback has one of the highest effects on student learning. Where is the student going? How is the student doing? Where to next? (John Hattie)
  7.  Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. (Grant Wiggins)
  8. When we give a grade as part of our feedback, students routinely read only as far as the grade. (Peter Johnston*)
  9. Effective feedback must be offered during the learning, while there is still time to act on it. (Jan Chappuis*)
  10. Feedback is defined as helpful information or criticism that is given to someone so they can improve a performance, product, etc. (Daniel Webster).
  11. Give kids a chance to tell you what they need. (Cris Tovani*)
  12. Absent a learning target, students believe that the goal is simply to complete the activity-finishing rather than learning. (Angela Di Michele Lalor*)
  13. When a teacher gives feedback to the whole class, many students think it’s not meant for them but someone else. (John Hattie)
  14. Feedback that falls short might make the recipient decide the goal is too hard or easy, reject or ignore the feedback, or abandon the goal altogether. (Dylan Wiliam)
  15. Feedback is the breakfast of champions. (Ken Blanchard)
  16. Learners need endless feedback more than they need endless teaching. (Grant Wiggins)
  17. Feedback, like rain, should be gentle enough to nourish a child’s growth without destroying his roots. (adapted from Frank Clark)
  18. A major role for teachers in the learning process is to provide the kind of feedback to students that encourages their learning and provides signposts and directions along the way, bringing them closer to independence. (Lorna Earl)
  19. Good feedback systems produce a stream of data to students about how they’re doing–a flow of pieces of information that is hourly and daily as opposed to weekly and monthly–which is the rate of feedback produced by systems that rely on tests. (Jon Saphier)
  20. It was only when I discovered that feedback was most powerful when it is from the student to the teacher that I started to understand it better. When teachers seek, or at least are open to feedback from students as to what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged–then teaching and learning can be synchronized and powerful. Feedback to teachers helps make learning visible. (John Hattie)

* Source: Educational Leadership issue “Feedback for Learning,” ASCD, September 2012 Strategy Alert: Growth-Producing Feedback


Growth-Producing Feedback for Adults

Growth-producing feedback isn’t just for students; it is critical for leaders and teachers as well. The idea of continuous improvement demands honest and continual feedback. In Leading the Learning, Paula Rutherford suggests that there are five areas of consideration when preparing to provide growth-producing feedback for teachers and other adults.

  • The provision of feedback is predicated on the fact that there is something that is expected to change. Try to frame the change in terms of helping students to learn and be better prepared for a changing world.
  • Different people process information in different ways. In advance of interactions, think about the teacher or audience and try to provide feedback that is most in tune with how the receiver processes information.
  • Employ good communication skills to convey interest and caring.
  • Consider where the receiver of feedback is with regard to the subject of the feedback. Does the receiver want to be told what to do, affirmed, or is she seeking ideas and suggestions?
  • Think about whether attitude, skills, or knowledge is the outcome of the desired change. Sometimes a lack of skills or knowledge comes across as a negative.

At Just ASK, our essential question is “What do classrooms and schools look like when they are organized around a commitment to the achievement of high standards by all students (and teachers)?” When we keep this essential question in mind, our thinking about what feedback we want to provide around teaching, learning, and leading shifts. Keeping this mindset ensures that conferences with teachers, parents, and students are more productive, positive, and honest. The tips below can help us put it all together.

Rutherford, in Leading the Learning, makes these suggestions when preparing to provide growth-producing feedback to improve and enhance teaching and leading and increase learning:

  • Never lose sight of the essential goal of all supervisory or mentoring conferences: teacher or leader growth and increased student learning no matter how well things are going.
  • Decide on conference approaches based on leader’s or teacher’s attitude, skills, and knowledge around the issues to be discussed. It is highly likely that more than one approach (consultant, collaborator, coach) will be used in a conference. 
  • Plan agenda and questions carefully so that the interactions move the teacher or leader toward the goals of the conference. Avoid leading questions. Avoid communication stoppers.
  • Be conscious of the time available for the conference and pace accordingly. Do not be drawn off track into interesting, and perhaps even important, conversations for which the conference is not the appropriate forum. 
  • Use coaching as the default strategy. Start with coaching and return to coaching whenever possible.
  • Tie feedback to teaching and content standards, previous conversations, and school-wide or individual professional development. This helps internalize a common language among staff.
  • Use evidence, student work, achievement data, or other data gathered from multiple sources to support question selection, opinions, suggestions, or directives. 
  • Check for understanding, agreement, and commitment. Make plans clear. 
  • Follow-up and follow-through. Check to see if the agreements reached and the commitments made result in action. Follow-through by providing the promised resources and support. 
  • Match style and word choice to the teacher’s information processing style. 
  • Use feedback, encouragement, and praise appropriately. 


Looking at Student Work

Why Should We Examine Student Work?
Engaging in the collaborative process of looking at student work allows a group of educators to analyze the learning experiences they have designed for the students to determine their effectiveness. When teachers collaboratively analyze student work, they can build understanding and agreement about the rigor of the work and its alignment to content standards. The use of protocols serves as a venue for sharing best practice for the end goal of improving student learning and performance. There are many identified benefits for collaboratively looking at student work. I have observed the following:

  • Increased professional knowledge about curriculum, students, methods, strategies, and assessments
  • Greater understanding of alignment among standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessments and how to fill gaps for students
  • Positive opportunities to collaboratively share expertise and move away from isolation
  • Higher consistency of curriculum alignment within and across grade levels
  • A collaborative culture of inquiry

How Should We Examine Student Work?
Establishing protocols or processes for looking at student work helps the group function. A protocol consists of agreed upon guidelines for a conversation. It is the structure, which everyone understands and has agreed to, that allows a conversation to take place. Protocols are the vehicles for building skills and culture necessary for collaborative work. They allow groups to build trust by doing something substantive together. Sample protocols and supportive materials are all over the Internet. A great beginning place is Looking at Student Work  where leaders can gain a quick understanding, view a virtual assessment conference and download some useful tools. A Teaching Channel clip shows a group of teachers looking at student work and defining next steps. The Rhode Island Department of Education supports a toolkit called Student Work Analysis Protocol as part of their assessment system. The templates can be useful in the journey toward formative analysis of student work. This analysis of student work through a collaborative process allows educators to discuss levels of student work, identify explanations for students’ performances, and discuss options for adjusting and strengthening instruction. The group uses the standards and agrees to what is expected and what high and low levels of performance look like in the work. The work is sorted into those categories and the group begins to identify student strengths and needs. Finally, the group identifies instructional next steps.

There are many protocols listed in the Resources and References section. However, most of the protocols draw from the work of the Education Trust’s Standards in Practice and Steve Seidel and his colleagues at Harvard’s Project Zero. When the leader models the protocol or facilitates the session, is an active participant, and supports the outcomes, the collaborative problem solving is richer and the learning for teachers and students is enhanced.

Harvard’s Project Zero’s Collaborative Assessment Conference is a protocol that provides opportunities for teachers to examine and discuss pieces of student work in a structured conversation with their peers. A high level of trust is required and the active participation of all members is critical for a quality result. Having a facilitator helps everyone stay on task and respond to the essential questions. The protocol steps are:

  • Getting started: The presenting teacher shares copies of student work without comment.
  • Describing the work: Participants examine the work and describe what they notice without judgement of quality.
  • Raising questions: Participants pose questions and “guess” what the student was working on at the time (skills, standards, indicators)
  • Teacher response: The presenting teacher responds to the comments and provides information to clarify the intent of the assignment. This is a reflective conversation and the teacher may ask questions of the team.
  • Closing the conference: The group reflects on their learning and process. Recommendations for future instruction may be discussed and considered.

The Standards in Practice is a job-embedded, ongoing professional development process in which school leaders and teachers look at assignments to answer the question, “How do we know if our teachers hold the kind of high expectations necessary to help students meet high standards?” Looking at assignments in conjunction with standards and student work yields new insights into how teachers are teaching and what students are learning. The model applies to all levels of schooling and to all kinds of students because it forces teachers and leaders to answer the question: “Why are we asking students to do this assignment, task, or activity? Is it aligned with standards?” The Education Trust’s Standards in Practice protocol follows these steps:

  • Complete the assignment or task.
  • Analyze the demands of the assignment or task.
  • Identify the standards that apply to this assignment.
  • Generate a rough scoring guide from the standards and the assignment.
  • Score the student work, using the guide.
  • Ask. ‘Will this work meet the standards? If not, what are we going to do about it?’ then plan action at the classroom, school, district, and state level, to ensure that all students meet the standards.

Connecting Feedback to Student Work
Connecting feedback to student work is where the rubber meets the road. When I taught sixth grade language arts, I felt that I needed to grade and offer feedback on every piece of writing I asked my students to submit. I soon found myself up to my ears in paper and spending weekends trying to do so only to get halfway through. By the time I did get feedback for every student, it broke one of the feedback rules-it was no longer timely. So, I looked for ways to work smarter and not harder. Doug Fisher and Nancy Frey’s 2012 Educational Leadership article “Making Time for Feedback” resonated with me and reminded me of that sixth grade class. As they wrote, “Teachers don’t need to mark every mistake a student makes. Teachers should first distinguish an error from a mistake and then look for patterns in errors.” This is how instruction can be targeted. It allows teachers to be more precise in their reteaching or remediation or feedback. A few guidelines can help teachers find time, give meaningful and timely feedback and spend only part of the weekend writing on student papers.

  • Focus on errors rather than mistakes. Mistakes are due to lack of attention. Once pointed out to us, we immediately correct. Errors occur due to lack of knowledge. Correcting mistakes while failing to address errors can be a costly waste of time. Correcting errors usually results in improved learning. Errors may be factual, procedural, transformation or application, and misconception. Knowing the type of error can help group students and ensure improved learning of the intended target.
  • Identify patterns in student errors. Making sure that you note the errors in some chart or table can better assist the teacher in providing small group instruction. Once the papers are returned to students, performance data and your feedback are lost.
  • Distinguish between global and targeted errors-and teach accordingly. Rarely does the entire class need remediation; most of the time it is only a few students. Yet, we see often teachers remediating all students. Knowing who needs what makes teaching more efficient and more effective.
  • Use prompts and cues. Prompts are statements or questions that cause students to do cognitive or metacognitive work. Alternatively, cues are shifts in the learners’ attention. These shifts require more responsibility of the teacher.

All schools with high levels of student achievement tightly link standards, curriculum, instruction, and assessment across, as well as within, all grades and subjects. The results are clear and consistent expectations for student learning and teacher growth. This issue, along with Issue IV, is designed to assist leadership teams in building a shared understanding of rigor when applied to curriculum, instruction, and assessment and of the power of both growth-producing feedback and collaboratively looking at student and teacher work.



Resources and References

Blanchard, Ken. “Feedback is the Breakfast of Champions.” How We Lead. January 7, 2015. Access at

Bondie, Rhonda. The Well Developed Classroom: Looking Collaboratively at Student Work, New York City Public Schools. November, 2010. Access at

Brookhart, Susan. How to Give Effective Feedback to Your Students. Alexandria, VA: ACSD, 2008.

Brown-Easton, Lois. Protocols for Professional Learning. Alexandria, VA: ASCD, 2009.

Clayton, Heather. “Norms and Protocols.” Making the Standards Come Alive! e-newsletter. March, 2015. Access at

Dweck, Carol. Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. New York: Ballantine Books, 2007.

Earl, Lorna. Assessment as Learning: Using Classroom Assessment to Maximize Student Learning. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin, 2003.

Educational Leadership. Alexandria, VA: Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development. September 2012. (Note: The entire issue is devoted to growth-producing feedback. Authors contributing to that issue include: Susan Brookhart, Jan Chappuis, Bryan Goodwin and Kristen Miller, Peter Johnston, Angela Di Michele Lalor, Marge Sherer, Cris Tovani, and Maja Wilson.)

Fisher, Douglas and Nancy Frey “Making Time for Feedback.” Educational Leadership, September, 2012: pp 42-46. Access at

_______________. “Choice Words.” Principal Leadership. Decmber, 2012. Access at

Hattie, John and Helen Timperley. “The Power of Feedback.” Review of Educational Research, 2007.

McDonald, Joseph, Nancy Mohr, Alan Dichter, and Elizabeth McDonald. The Power of Protocols: An Educator’s Guide to Better Practice. 2nd Edition. New York: Teachers College, 2007.

Murphy-Paul, Annie. “Four Ways to Give Good Feedback.” Time March 18, 2013. Access at

National Policy Board for Educational Administration. Professional Standards for Educational Leaders 2015. Reston, VA. Access at

Oliver, Bruce. “It’s a Feedback World.” Just for the ASKing! e-newsletter. February, 2008. Access at

_________. “Growth-Producing Feedback.” Just for the ASKing! e-newsletter. October, 2005. Access at

Rutherford, Paula. Leading the Learning. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2005.

Rutherford, Paula, et al. Creating a Culture for Learning. Alexandria, VA: Just ASK Publications, 2011.

Tims, Angela. “Marzano, Robert: Reinforcing Effort and Providing Recognition.” August 15, 2013. Access at ampaign=share&utm_medium=copy

Wiggins, Grant. “Feedback: How Learning Occurs.” The American Association for Higher Education Bulletin. November,1997, pp 7-8.

Online Resources for Looking at Student Work

Education Trust’s Standards in Practice.

Education World.

Harvard’s Project Zero.

National School Reform Faculty.

Teaching Channel.

Using a Structured Protocol for Analysing and Learning from Student Work.

Looking Collaboratively at Student Work: An Essential Toolkit

 Principal's Library

Permission is granted for reprinting and distribution of this newsletter for non-commercial use only.

Please include the following citation on all copies:

Baldanza, Marcia. “Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment.”” Professional Practices. May 2016. Reproduced with permission of Just ASK Publications & Professional Development (Just ASK). © 2016 by Just ASK. All rights reserved.