During the last decade, there has been an increasing uptake in the use of practice-based teacher education approaches within both preservice and in-service teacher learning contexts (Benedict et al., 2016; Forzani, 2014; McDonald et al., 2013; Peercy & Troyan, 2017). Practice-based teacher education involves situating teachers’ learning in aspects of the work of teaching using various pedagogies of practice to develop teachers’ abilities to engage in core teaching practices (Grossman, Compton et al., 2009; Kazemi & Wæge, 2015; Lampert, 2010). One such pedagogy – approximations of practice – provides opportunities for teachers to practice in situations of reduced complexity (Grossman, Hammerness et al., 2009).
In science education, these approximations have included (a) face-to-face peer rehearsals, where teachers try out an instructional strategy with their peers acting as K-12 students (Benedict-Chambers et al., 2020; Davis et al., 2017; Masters, 2020), and (b) online simulated classrooms, where teachers interact with digitally animated student avatars controlled on the backend using a human-in-the-loop who has been trained to respond in real-time as K-12 students (Lee et al., 2018; Levin et al., 2019; Mikeska & Howell, 2020; Straub et al., 2015). Research has suggested that such approximations can develop teachers’ beliefs, understandings, and skills (Benedict-Chambers, 2016; Dotger et al., 2010; Mikeska & Howell, 2021). Yet, gaps remain in understanding the mechanisms that support science teachers’ learning when using approximations, especially how simulated classrooms can be used productively.
One area ripe for examination is the use of written formative feedback to support teachers in learning from their engagement within approximations. Research has indicated that teachers are more likely to develop their ability to engage in core teaching practices when they are provided with “high-quality opportunities to practice, coupled with support and feedback” (Benedict et al., 2016, p. 2), which supports their reflection on teaching challenges they experience (Grossman, Hammerness et al., 2009). The simulated classroom is a novel tool, where teachers can practice, receive and reflect on feedback, and then use what they learned to refine their teaching skills through repeated practice.
Using feedback to reflect on their instructional practice provides an opportunity for teachers to activate their professional noticing, which is an essential component of science teaching expertise (Chan et al., 2021; Haverly et al., 2020; Luna & Sherin, 2017; Radloff & Guzey, 2017; Tekkumru-Kisa et al., 2018). While research has suggested that timely, actionable, and consistent feedback related to learning outcomes supports improvement (Brookhart, 2008; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; McManus, 2008; Wiggins, 2012), we found no studies that examined feedback conditions within the context of using simulated classrooms as approximations of practice to support science teacher learning.
Research Purpose and Questions
The purpose of this study was to examine in-service elementary teachers’ perceptions about, attention to, and use of two different types of written formative feedback designed to support them in developing their ability to engage in one core teaching practice: facilitating discussions that engage students in scientific argumentation. This core teaching has been nominated as important for building students’ scientific literacy (Kloser, 2014; National Research Council, 2007; Windschitl et al., 2012) and ensuring that students meet the recent science standards (NGSS Lead States, 2013).
This teaching practice has also been perennially difficult for teachers to learn how to engage in successfully and, as such, requires focused and scaffolded learning opportunities to build teachers’ expertise (Marco-Bujosa et al., 2017; McNeill et al., 2016; Osborne et al., 2013). The participating in-service teachers in this study facilitated these science discussions within an online, simulated classroom, shown in Figure 1, that is made up of five upper elementary student avatars.
Mursion’s Upper Elementary Simulated Classroom
Findings from this exploratory study can generate hypotheses about the nature of written formative feedback that may be most useful to support teachers’ learning within practice-based teacher education, especially when using novel tools like simulated classrooms as the context for their approximations of practice. Teacher educators, professional development facilitators, and educational researchers can use the study results to consider the key characteristics of written formative feedback that are useful to support teachers’ learning when they engage in core teaching practices like facilitating argumentation-focused discussions. The study’s research questions (RQs) are as follows:
- RQ 1: How do in-service elementary teachers understand and perceive the usefulness of written formative feedback to help them improve their ability to facilitate argumentation-focused discussions? How do these perceptions differ, if at all, between feedback conditions (specific vs. scoring level)? (Perceptions of Feedback Understanding and Usefulness)
- RQ 2: What do in-service elementary teachers report attending to when reviewing their written formative feedback? How do they report using the feedback to inform the next steps in their planning and preparation? How does their attention and use differ, if at all, across the two feedback conditions? (Attention to and Use of Feedback)
- RQ 3: After reviewing formative feedback about their first discussion performance, do in-service elementary teachers improve in their ability to facilitate argumentation-focused discussions? If so, does their improvement relate to the nature of the feedback they received? (Changes in Teachers’ Ability to Facilitate Discussions)
- RQ 4: To what extent is there alignment between areas of improved practice and the features of high-quality argumentation-focused discussions that in-service elementary teachers report attending to in their written formative feedback? How does this alignment differ, if at all, across the two feedback conditions? (Alignment between Discussion Improvement and Attention to Feedback)
This study was grounded in two theoretical perspectives. The first is a theory of practice-based teacher education, which focuses on the importance on grounding teachers’ learning in the work of teaching. The simulated classroom used in this study served as the practice space whereby study participants engaged in practice-based learning opportunities to build their instructional practice. The second perspective focuses on understanding the mechanisms by which instructional feedback can be used to support teacher learning. This study examined how study participants used and attended to written formative feedback to support their learning of facilitating argumentation-focused discussions.
Practice-Based Teacher Education
Teacher education aims to develop a set of knowledge, competencies, and practices to prepare teachers to teach effectively (Korthagen & Kessels, 1999). While different approaches have been proposed for building teachers’ theoretical foundation and their ability to enact classroom practices, practice-based teacher education emphasizes preparing teachers to enact specific instructional practices that occur as part of the day-to-day activities in which teachers and students engage (Borko et al., 2011; Fishman et al., 2017; Forzani, 2014; Pella, 2015). High-quality practices, such as facilitating discussions that engage students in scientific argumentation, are key in teacher education curricula. They can create a milieu with rich and multiple interactions with social and cognitive experiences that support student thinking and learning (Martin & Dismuke, 2018). Although consensus is growing as to the importance for teachers to learn in and from practice, Zeichner (2010) pointed out that little agreement exists about the conditions for teacher learning that enable learning while practicing instruction.
To address this gap, there have been efforts to develop research-based frameworks that guide the design of practice-based teacher education. Grossman, Hammerness et al. (2009) identified three key pedagogies of practice for learning to enact practices: representations, decompositions, and approximations of practice. Representations of practice help make aspects of specific instructional practices visible to novices and attend to the different ways that practice is represented in professional education. Decompositions of practice consist of breaking down a single practice into its constituent parts for the purposes of teaching and learning.
Approximations of practice refer to opportunities for novices to engage in trying instructional skills that are proximal to the practices of the teaching profession, such as eliciting student ideas in a peer teaching rehearsal or facilitating a discussion with student avatars in an online simulated classroom. Approximations of practice offer teachers opportunities to tryout parts of teaching in safe, reduced complexity, and supportive settings where feedback from peers or teacher educators is key to facilitate teacher learning.
Overall, providing opportunities for teachers to interact with and engage in representations, decompositions, and approximations of practice can support teachers in learning how to enact high-leverage or core teaching practices in classrooms (e.g., Ball & Forzani, 2009; Franke et al., 2006; Kazemi et al., 2007; Kloser, 2014; Sleep et al., 2007). These core teaching practices can be implemented through different curricula, contexts, or instructional approaches and teachers can begin to master them within their initial stages of preparation and continue to do so as they gain expertise and become more experienced practitioners as in-service teachers. Such practices allow teachers to learn more about students and teaching, preserve the integrity and complexity of teaching, and when used well, can improve student achievement.
In this study, we used an online simulated classroom as a practice space to engage in-service elementary teachers in two approximations of practice, where they tried out facilitating a science discussion that engaged five student avatars in argumentation. This practice space provides a way to conduct exploratory research on specific aspects that can support teacher learning – in this case, the type of written formative feedback that teachers receive and use as they build toward improvement in a core teaching practice. Earlier research in this area has investigated the use of this tool to support preservice teacher learning, with more limited work considering such use with an in-service teacher population (Mikeska & Howell, 2021; Mikeska & Lottero-Perdue, 2022; Mikeska et al., 2021).
Instructional Feedback to Support Learning
For this study, feedback is defined as “information provided by an agent (e.g., teacher, peer) regarding aspects of one’s performance or understanding…” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p. 81) and is designed to support future improvement. The primary goal of feedback is to help one see the connection between their current understanding or performance and an expected outcome and to illustrate what one can do to move closer to a specified learning goal (Landauer et al., 2009; Wiliam, 2013). As noted by many scholars, feedback is a critical lever in improving learning outcomes (Hattie, 2009; Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Lipnevich & Smith, 2018).
Instructional feedback is seen as an integral part of ongoing formative assessment, where learners are provided with information to help them understand where they are, where they need to go, and how they can improve (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). However, to influence learning outcomes, learners need to engage with and use the feedback to improve (de Kleijn, 2021).
Much research in this area has focused on examining the provision of instructional feedback to support student learning within K-12 classroom settings (Lipnevich & Smith, 2018; Van der Kleij & Lipnevich, 2021). Findings have indicated that (a) there is variability in whether students perceive the feedback they receive as useful (Handley et al., 2011; Jonsson & Panadero, 2018; Rakoczy et al., 2013) and (b) there are numerous factors that relate to whether and how K-12 students engage with instructional feedback, such as the feedback’s content, when and how the feedback is provided, the amount and specificity of the feedback provided, and students’ emotions (Barton et al., 2016; Coogle et al., 2018; Goetz et al., 2018; Harris et al., 2014; Scheeler et al., 2004; Van der Kleij & Lipnevich, 2021).
More recently, research studies have examined how instructional feedback can support preservice and in-service teacher learning within teacher education and professional development settings (Akerson et al., 2017; Aljadeff-Abergel et al., 2017; Chizhik & Chizhik, 2018; Ellis & Loughland, 2017; Garet et al., 2017; Kwok, 2018; McGraw & Davis, 2017; McLeod et al., 2019; Prilop et al., 2020). Similar to studies in the student space, teachers’ perceptions of feedback across these varied sources tend to be positive in nature.
For example, findings from one study indicated that most teachers strongly valued feedback from students when feedback was targeted, actionable, and could be implemented immediately (Keiler et al., 2020). In another study, findings indicated that preservice teachers responded positively to video and email feedback they received from coaches and showed an improvement in their ability to engage in recommended instructional practices, such as giving students choices (McLeod et al., 2019).
Studies addressing the use and understanding of instructional feedback to support teacher development have also examined some key factors that influence when, how, and why teachers attend to and use feedback. One study examined how the timing of feedback relates to preservice teachers’ ability to engage in specific teaching skills (Aljadeff-Abergel et al., 2017) and showed that feedback received immediately prior to the next lesson resulted in the greatest impact on their teaching performance.
Another study investigated variation in the mode used to provide the feedback with findings indicating that the preservice teachers valued both modes of feedback delivery, although those who received video-annotated feedback from their coaches increased their growth mindset and outperformed those who received traditional coaching via oral feedback on the standardized performance assessment used (Chizhik & Chizhik, 2018). A third study examined the nature of the feedback provided to preservice teachers by their mentor teachers and found that mentors who taught in schools that focused on reflective practice were more likely to provide feedback that supported the preservice teachers in considering and reflecting on the strategies they were using and engaging in collaborative problem-solving (McGraw & Davis, 2017).
In this study, we leveraged these earlier findings to examine whether there was variability in how study participants perceived and used two different types of feedback as they worked to improve their ability to facilitate argumentation-focused discussions. This study also addressed one of the gaps in the feedback literature – examining how learners’ uptake of feedback relates to changes in their actual performance. A few studies in the teacher learning space have started to address this gap (Aljadeff-Abergel et al., 2017; Garet et al., 2017; McLeod et al., 2019), but additional studies are needed to better understand this relationship, especially in terms of key factors that may influence this relationship, such as the nature of the feedback provided.
A convenience sample of 15 in-service elementary teachers who were teaching in public-school systems located in the Mid-Atlantic area of the United States participated in this study. We sent out emails to local school district leaders and in-service teachers we had worked with on previous projects to recruit study participants. Each interested participant completed a short, online survey to ensure that they met the study requirements for participation.
As shown in Table 1, most participants had an undergraduate degree in elementary education and described themselves as female and White, which is similar to demographics of elementary teachers in the United States (Banilower et al., 2018). On average, they reported teaching science and engineering about 5 to 6 hours per week, respectively, and over the last 3 years they spent, on average, about 8 hours in professional learning experiences in engineering. While some of those experiences may have focused on learning about scientific argumentation, none of the participants described participating in a professional development program focused on this topic. In terms of overall elementary teaching experience, on average participants had been teaching about 10 years (M = 9.8 years; SD = 5.7 years) with a range of 3 to 22 years. No participants had experience using simulated classrooms.
Characteristics of Participant Sample
|Early Childhood Education||1 (7%)|
|Elementary Education||11 (73%)|
|Special Education||2 (13%)|
|Professional Learning Experience Lead Role*|
|Characteristic||M (SD), Min-Max|
|Science||5.3 (3.8), 2-15|
|Engineering||6.5 (5.8), 2-20|
|Professional Learning Hours/Last 3 Years|
|Engineering||8.2 (8.4), 0-26|
|Note: Categories with 0% participants are not shown here.|
* Respondent could select more than one option.
Discussion Performance Task
In this study, each participant had an opportunity to facilitate two discussions (once in fall 2019 and again in winter 2020, approximately 5 months between sessions) in the Mursion® upper elementary simulated classroom using a performance task called Design a Shoreline (abbreviated as “Shoreline”; Lottero-Perdue, Mikeska et al., 2020). In the Shoreline task, teachers are challenged to facilitate a discussion with the student avatars to meet the following student learning goal: “…to work collaboratively to critique and revise each team’s initial ideas about their design performance and improvement based on the outcomes from an engineering design challenge” (p. 3). The engineering design challenge involves having student teams redesign a piece of shoreline to reduce erosion into a bay and create more terrapin habitat while considering cost (Lottero-Perdue, Haines et al., 2020).
The Shoreline task document shared with the study participants provided the teachers with key information they needed to prepare for facilitating the discussion, such as the discussion’s student learning goal, any instructional activities the students in the class completed prior to the discussion, background information about the engineering design challenge, copies of the design and design testing images (see Figure 2), and copies of the written work students produced as part of the engineering design challenge. The Shoreline task was created such that each of the three student teams (a) had a design with both strengths and weaknesses and (b) had written statements about design performance and improvement that had positive features and areas that could be improved.
For this study, prior to each data collection period, the simulation specialist engaged in a scaffolded and structured training process to learn about the shoreline design challenge, each team’s initial designs and ideas related to the challenge, and when and how the students’ ideas could change during the discussion so they could enact these student thinking profiles with consistency across the Shoreline discussions that the in-service teachers facilitated. For a fuller discussion of the Shoreline task, see Lottero-Perdue, Mikeska et al. (2020).
Students’ Designs Before and After the Test
Data collection included a compilation of survey, interview, and observational measures. Similar measures were used in a previous research study with piloting completed to ensure that the questions elicited the expected response from teachers. First, each teacher completed a background survey about their personal demographics, teaching experience, and educational background. Then, they prepared for and facilitated the Shoreline discussion in the simulated classroom for up to 25 minutes, which was video recorded.
Immediately after their first discussion, they completed an online survey and participated in a semistructured interview about their experience. Within 48 hours, they received a copy of their video-recorded discussion. Approximately 4 months later they received written formative feedback about their first discussion and used it to prepare for and facilitate a second discussion in the simulated classroom about a month later, which was also video recorded, using the same Shoreline task. After their second Shoreline discussion, each teacher completed another online survey and participated in another interview about their second discussion.
Figure 3 illustrates the key steps in the data collection process. Each participant received an honorarium of $250 for completing the data collection process for the first Shoreline discussion, and $300 for their participation in the data collection for the second Shoreline discussion, which included their review and use of the formative feedback and video from their first Shoreline discussion to inform their preparation.
Steps in the Data Collection Process
Our research team trained raters, who were practicing or former teachers, on how to write the specific formative feedback to link to each rubric feature and discussion using training protocols and supports from a previous study (GO Discuss Project, 2021; Mikeska & Howell, 2021). The trained raters generated feedback using our four-level scoring rubric; the rubric ranged from Level 1 (beginning practice) to Level 4 (commendable practice).
This rubric was linked to five dimensions – what we referred to as “features” with the teacher participants – of high-quality, argumentation-focused discussions, which we previously identified from our review of the empirical and practitioner literature (Mikeska et al., 2019): (a) attending to student ideas, (b) facilitating a coherent discussion, (c) promoting peer interactions, (d) developing students’ conceptual understanding, and (e) engaging students in argumentation. Appendix A provides a description of each feature, along with the key scoring indicators for each one.
Each rater engaged in a rigorous training process, including completing multiple learning modules, practice rating example discussions, and meeting with a scoring leader. Each discussion received six scores – one score for each of the five scoring features (scale of 1-4 per feature) and one overall, or aggregate, score that was generated by adding the five feature-level scores (scale of 5-20).
Since this study was focused on examining how the nature of the feedback related to teachers’ feedback perceptions and potential performance improvement, our research team created two different types of written formative feedback for use in this study. Both types of feedback were linked to these five features of high-quality, argumentation-focused discussions. The first type, “specific” feedback, identified specific strengths and areas of need evident in their discussion linked to the five features (Figure 4). The specific feedback identified actual examples from each teacher’s Shoreline Discussion 1 to illustrate strengths and areas of need, as well as provided specific suggestions for how they could improve in each feature.
Example of Feedback Types on Scoring Feature 1
The second feedback type, “scoring level” feedback (Figure 4), provided the teachers with a numerical rating using our four-level scoring rubric for each of these five features. In addition to the numerical score, for each feature the teacher received bulleted feedback statements stating what teachers at that scoring level tend to do well when facilitating discussions and the typical areas in which they need to improve. While these bulleted statements were not customized to the individual teacher’s discussion, they were customized to the task and scoring rubric to represent patterns we had observed in scoring the set of discussions. After categorizing each participant based on their overall score on the first Shoreline discussion into lower, midlevel, and high scoring groups, we randomly assigned participants from those groups to either the specific (n = 7) or scoring level (n = 8) condition.
The online survey used after the second Shoreline discussion asked the teachers to use a 4-point Likert scale (very easy to understand, somewhat easy to understand, somewhat difficult to understand, and very difficult to understand) to report on how well they understood the focus and key aspects of each of the five features of high-quality argumentation-focused discussions and how well they understood the formative feedback for each of the five features. Teachers also used a 3-point Likert scale (very useful, somewhat useful, not useful) to report on how useful they found the formative feedback for each of the five features of high-quality argumentation-focused discussions. Finally, teachers responded to two open-ended questions within the online survey that focused on what they attended to and how they used the information in the feedback report to inform their next steps:
Survey Question A: What did you learn about your past performance from reviewing your written formative feedback report based on your first discussion of the Design a Shoreline task?
Survey Question B: What did you decide to do differently in the second discussion after watching your video and reviewing your written formative feedback report from your first discussion of the Design a Shoreline task?
The interview conducted after the second Shoreline discussion aimed to explore teachers’ experiences in interpreting and analyzing the formative feedback report as well as how they used the information from the formative report to prepare for the second Shoreline discussion. The interview protocol had teachers describe their main takeaways or learning from the formative feedback and their preparation process for the second Shoreline discussion. Total interview times ranged between 30 and 50 minutes, and all interviews were audio recorded and transcribed for analysis purposes. Interview questions related to partipants’ perceptions about what they attended to and how they used the formative feedback report are as follows:
Interview Question A: What was your main takeaway(s) from the formative feedback report?
Interview Question B: In what ways, if at all, did you use the feedback from this performance to inform your planning and preparation for your next task? Please describe any specific aspects of the feedback that you used to inform your planning and preparation.
Our overall study used a convergent mixed method design (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011) to analyze teachers’ interview and survey responses and their discussion transcripts. We used qualitative analysis approaches to examine in-service teachers’ interview and survey responses and characterize their perceptions, attention to, and use of two different types of written formative feedback. We then used quantitative scoring data across the teachers’ two Shoreline discussions to determine if and how they improved on the five scoring features. Finally, we compared outcomes from each analysis component to link teachers’ perceptions, attention to, and use of these two feedback formats to their actual scoring performance across time points. This parallel analysis and then direct comparison of qualitative and quantitative data allowed us to discern patterns in alignment between their discussion improvement and attention to feedback features.
Analysis for RQ 1
To answer our first research question about the in-service teachers’ understanding and perceptions of the feedback’s usefulness, we used descriptive analysis to analyze participants’ responses to the task survey after the second Shoreline discussion. For example, we calculated the number and percentage of teachers who selected particular responses on Likert-scale items indicating whether aspects of the feedback reports were very easy, somewhat easy, somewhat hard, or very hard to understand and whether the feedback was very, somewhat, or not useful to supporting them in building toward improvement on this teaching practice. We then compared the patterns across the two feedback conditions. We were interested in learning whether the teachers’ perceptions about each type of feedback were generally positive in nature and consistent across conditions.
Analysis for RQ 2
To address our second research question, our team used qualitative content analysis (Schreier, 2014) to develop separate coding schemes to characterize the teachers’ attention to and use of the feedback. In particular, we analyzed the teachers’ responses to the open-ended task survey questions and the interview questions asking them about their main takeaways or learning from the formative feedback report (Survey Question A; Interview Question A) and their use of the formative feedback to inform their planning and preparation for the second discussion (Survey Question B; Interview Question B).
The coding scheme for teachers’ attention to the feedback identified the key ideas they stated regarding their main learnings or takeaways from the feedback. However, to characterize teachers’ use of the formative feedback, our team developed a three-part coding scheme. The first and broadest code, Use, indicated if the participant reported using the feedback. We used two subcodes, Yes, the participant used the feedback, or No, the participant did not use the feedback. Another code outlined the Approach for how teachers used the feedback to prepare for the second discussion (e.g., modified their teaching moves or adjusted the discussion structure). Finally, a Substance code identified the nature of the changes they made using the feedback. For this code we identified five subcodes a priori, with each one linked to one of the five rubric features and also identified other ones (e.g., using their discussion time differently) based on what we noticed in the teachers’ responses.
For each survey or interview question, two researchers used the relevant coding scheme to code five participant responses together and then independently coded the remaining 10 responses. We then came together to reconcile any areas of disagreement and the independent coding for the 10 responses was used to calculate rater agreement and interrater reliability using the intraclass correlation coefficient (ICC) for each survey or interview question. Coding for each question (Survey Question A, Interview Question A, Survey Question B, and Interview Question B) achieved adequate rater agreement (95%, 85%, 91%, and 90%, respectively) and interrater reliability (ICC = .90, .74, .87, and .88, respectively).
Our team drew upon coding across Survey Question A and Interview Question A to address what the participants attended to in their feedback and coding across Survey Question B and Interview Question B to address how they used their feedback to inform their next steps for planning and preparation of their second Shoreline discussion. For each part, our team identified key patterns using the frequencies by which these codes were applied across teacher participants. Similar to the study’s first research question, we compared the patterns in the frequency of codes applied across feedback conditions.
Analysis for RQ 3
To address the study’s third research question, we performed two comparative analyses: (a) examining average overall (aggregate) scores across features for the combined sample (n = 15), and (b) examining median scores across features between the specific (n = 7) and scoring level (n = 8) feedback groups. We chose to use nonparametric approaches, specifically the Wilcoxon Signed-Rank Test (Wilcoxon, 1945) for the first comparative analysis and the median test (Moses, 1952) for the second comparative analysis, since we did not anticipate that we could assume normality of the score distributions due to the study’s small sample of convenience. Two-tailed significance at a .05 level was evaluated for each between-subjects analysis.
Analysis for RQ 4
To answer the study’s fourth research question, we used the teachers’ task survey and interview responses to compare the features of high-quality argumentation-focused discussion that they reported attending to in their feedback report to their actual areas of improved practice in those features (i.e., improvement in rater scores from their first discussion to their second discussion). For this analysis, we compared the features that participants mentioned attending to in their feedback, as evidenced in their responses to the task survey and interview questions, to the change in scores across features for the sample overall (n = 15) and for each of the specific (n = 7) and scoring level (n = 8) feedback groups.
In this sample, teachers’ scores on features from the first Shoreline discussion to the second Shoreline discussion either decreased by 1 score point (change of -1), stayed the same (change of 0), or increased by 1, 2, or 3 points (change of +1, +2, +3, respectively). This comparison of reported attention to one of the five features of high-quality argumentation-focused discussions and change in feature score was evaluated to determine alignment. The two instances of alignment between these aspects occurred when (a) the teacher reported attending to a feature and their score for that feature increased, or (b) the teacher did not report attending to a feature and their score for that feature stayed the same or decreased. The two instances of misalignment occurred when (a) the teacher reported attending to a feature and their score for that feature stayed the same or decreased, or (b) the teacher did not report attending to a feature and their score for that feature increased.
RQ 1: Perceptions
Most participants responded that the feedback they received was very (n = 12) or somewhat (n = 2) useful in helping to inform their planning and preparation for the second Shoreline discussion. All participants indicated that the overall descriptions of each scoring feature were very or somewhat easy to understand (means ranged from 3.60 to 3.93 per feature on a 4-point scale with a score of 4 indicating very easy to understand). Regarding the actual feedback about their discussion performance, the response was also positive in that all but one participant (for Features 1 to 4) or all but two participants (for Feature 5) noted that the feedback was very or somewhat easy to understand (means ranged from 3.67 to 3.80 per feature). Similarly, all participants, except for one on Feature 2, noted that the feedback was very or somewhat useful in helping them build toward improvement. No differences in patterns were noted across the two feedback groups.
RQ 2: Attention
Frequencies across all main takeaway and learning codes for all participants, as well as each feedback group, are presented in Appendix B. Findings showed that most teachers (93%) attended to one or more areas of improvement mentioned in their feedback report. Typically, when a teacher reported an area of improvement, they also used language that reflected the descriptions of one of the five scoring rubric features.
For instance, in their task survey question response, Participant 003 (Specific Feedback) noticed that the feedback provided guidance for them to focus on “…the students and how they should be…justifying with evidence and drawing conclusions.” This response was coded as both “Areas for Improvement” and “Engaging Students in Argumentation,” as the participant identified an area for improvement linked to this feature of the scoring rubric.
The rubric feature most commonly reported by teachers as an important area of improvement was “Developing Students’ Conceptual Understanding” (60%). For example, one teacher noted in their task survey question response that the feedback allowed them to think about questions such as “Did you truly develop conceptual understanding? Did you use precise and accurate language?” (Participant 002, Scoring Level Feedback). Other rubric features attended to by teachers included “Promoting Peer Interactions” (47%) and “Engaging Students in Argumentation” (47%), followed by “Facilitating a Coherent Discussion” (40%) and “Attending to Student Ideas” (13%).
One third of participants (33%) also called attention to the areas of strength from their first discussion that were identified in the formative feedback report. For example, on the task survey one teacher noted their areas of strength in Features 3, 4, and 5: “I did well with allowing them to participate in arguments. I was strong with making goals and allowing for discussion for students to understand from their fellow classmates their strengths and weaknesses and ways they can improve their design” (Participant 025, Specific Feedback).
Some responses, however, were general and not linked to a specific rubric feature, such as the response Participant 025 (Specific Feedback) provided in their interview: “I realized that I’m doing pretty well with argumentative discussions.” Other less commonly reported takeaways were linked to how the teacher could have or did use the discussion time differently (20%) or how they learned something related to the rubric features (27%) without identifying specifically what was learned. For example, Participant 013 (Scoring Level Feedback) noted how they “learned that there was opportunity for improvement in all 5 features,” without mentioning anything specific.
As is evident in Appendix B, patterns in attention to the main takeaways and key learnings from the feedback report were consistent across the two feedback groups with the only notable differences in two categories (here, we define “notable” as there being greater than 25 percentage points of difference when comparing the groups). Participants in the scoring level group were more likely to attend to improvements they needed to make in terms of “Facilitating a Coherent Discussion” (Feature 2; 75% of scoring level feedback participants versus no specific feedback participants) and were also more likely to note generically that their learning was linked to the rubric features shown in the feedback report.
In terms of the teachers’ use of the feedback, all teachers (100%) reported using the formative feedback in the planning and preparation for their second Shoreline discussion. Appendix C presents a summary of the teachers’ reported use of feedback to prepare for the second discussion (Approach code) and the nature of the changes they made using the feedback (Substance code).
With regard to their approach, most teachers (87%) indicated that they made modifications to the teaching moves or activities used in their second Shoreline discussion. For example, Participant 002 (Scoring Level Feedback) identified multiple teaching moves or activities they modified: “encouraging students to evaluate the accuracy and validity of most of their ideas, making progress towards resolving critical student misunderstandings, and using precise and accurate language.” This response also was coded as “Developing Students’ Conceptual Understanding” for the Substance code. Teachers identified approaches linked to adjusting or modifying the notes/outline for the second discussion (53%), the structure of the second discussion (40%), and the goals for the second discussion (20%).
In terms of the substance regarding how the teachers used the feedback, most participants used language that suggested links to one or more of the five scoring rubric features: “Promoting Peer Interactions” (73%), “Developing Students’ Conceptual Understanding” (73%), “Attending to Student Ideas” (67%), “Facilitating a Coherent Discussion” (67%), and “Engaging Students in Argumentation” (53%). For example, one participant explained how they used the feedback to improve in the “Promoting Peer Interactions” feature (Substance), which also included modifying their teaching moves (Approach):
How am I going to keep [the students] calling on each other and talking the whole time? Okay, the first thing that I say when I set up the norms for the class discussion, “You guys have to keep talking to each other the whole time. That’s what this is going to sound like, just talk to each other. You are speaking to each other about this…” (Participant 009, Scoring Level Feedback)
While most of the patterns noted about participants’ use of the feedback were consistent across feedback groups, there were a few areas where the frequency differed by more than 25 percentage points. First, only participants who received scoring level feedback considered using the feedback to adjust or modify the discussion goal that they planned to address in their second Shoreline discussion. Second, more participants in the specific feedback group noted how they planned to be better in “Attending to Students’ Ideas” (Feature 1) and “Promoting Peer Interactions” (Feature 3) in their preparation for the second Shoreline discussion, while more participants in the scoring level feedback group noted how they planned to use the feedback to better plan for “Developing a Coherent Discussion” (Feature 2).
RQ 3: Changes
Table 2 shows participants’ average scores within and across the five rubric features at both time points (the first and second Shoreline discussions) across the overall participant sample and by feedback group. Findings indicated that, both within and across features for the total sample, average participant scores improved from Discussion 1 to Discussion 2. At both time points, average scores for Features 4 and 5 were consistently lower than those for Features 1, 2, or 3. Nonetheless, based on the overall score across features, the Wilcoxon Signed-Rank Test detected a significant improvement in average overall scores (Discussion 1: M = 13.73, SD = 2.60; Discussion 2: M = 16.07, SD = 2.66; p = .01). Additional analyses by feature revealed significant improvement in Feature 1 (Discussion 1: M = 2.93, SD = 0.59; Discussion 2: M = 3.60, SD = 0.63; p = .01) and Feature 4 (Discussion 1: M = 2.47, SD = 0.74; Discussion 2: M = 3.00, SD = 0.76; p = .03), but not for Features 2, 3, or 5.
Means and Standard Deviations for Participants’ Discussion Scores
|Feature||Shoreline Discussion 1||Shoreline Discussion 2|
(n = 15)
|SLF Group (n = 8)||SF Group (n = 7)||All Participants|
(n = 15)
|SLF Group (n = 8)||SF Group (n = 7)|
|1: Attending to Student Ideas||2.93 (0.59)||2.75 (0.46)||3.14 (0.69)||3.60 (0.63)||3.38 (0.74)||3.86 (0.38)|
|2: Developing a Coherent Discussion||2.87 (0.64)||2.63 (0.74)||3.14 (0.38)||3.20 (0.68)||3.00 (0.76)||3.43 (0.53)|
|3: Promoting Peer Interactions||2.87 (0.74)||3.00 (0.53)||2.71 (0.95)||3.33 (0.82)||3.13 (0.83)||3.57 (0.79)|
|4: Developing Conceptual Understanding||2.47 (0.74)||2.38 (0.52)||2.57 (0.98)||3.00 (0.76)||2.75 (0.89)||3.29 (0.49)|
|5: Engaging Students in Argumentation||2.60 (0.74)||2.63 (0.74)||2.57 (0.79)||2.93 (0.80)||2.88 (0.64)||3.00 (1.00)|
|Overall Score||13.73 (2.60)||13.38 (2.07)||14.14 (3.24)||16.07 (2.66)||15.13 (3.04)||17.14 (1.77)|
|Note. Each feature was scored on a four-level scoring rubric from Level 1 (beginning practice) to Level 4 (commendable practice). The overall score ranged from a low of 5 points (received Level 1 on all five features) to a high of 20 points (received Level 4 on all five features). SLF = Scoring Level Feedback; SF = Specific Feedback.|
Findings also showed that, both within and across features, average participant scores on the second Shoreline discussion for the specific feedback group (n = 7) tended to be higher than those for the scoring level feedback group (n = 8). However, based on the overall score across features, the median test did not detect a significant difference in average overall scores between the two feedback conditions at Discussion 1 prior to assignment (Specific Feedback: M = 14.14; SD = 3.24; Scoring Level Feedback: M = 13.38; SD = 2.07; p = .78) or at Discussion 2 (Specific Feedback: M = 17.14; SD = 1.77; Scoring Level Feedback: M = 15.13; SD = 3.04; p = .46).
An additional test for the amount of change in overall scores between feedback groups from Discussion 1 to Discussion 2 also did not produce a significant difference (Specific Feedback: M = 3.00; SD = 2.89; Scoring Level Feedback: M = 2.92; SD = 1.75; p = .32; see Figure 5). Additional analyses by feature revealed similar results (ps > .18). The test could only be performed for Features 2, 4, and 5 due to the fact that all observed values were less than or equal to the median. These results indicate that both feedback types were equally likely to be useful and produce similar degrees of change over time.
Boxplot of Changes in Overall Scores by Feedback Type from Discussion 1 to Discussion 2
RQ 4: Alignment
To determine the alignment between actual score improvement in each rubric feature and reported attention to these features, we compared the feature-level codes distributed across the four items assessed for the second research question (Survey Question A, Interview Question A, Survey Question B, and Interview Question B) to the teacher’s discussion score change in each of the five features from their first discussion to their second discussion. As shown across the two panels in Figure 6, of the 15 teachers, 10 (67%), 10 (67%), 11 (73%), 12 (80%), and 11 (73%) showed evidence of attention to Features 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5, respectively, suggesting strong attention to these features when using the feedback.
Participants’ Attention to Specific Rubric Features with and without Score Improvement
Panel A of Figure 6 presents a graph for the subset of teachers who showed score improvement only (per feature) and compares those teachers who reported attention to the feature (alignment) to those who did not report attention to the feature (misalignment). Those who improved their score in Features 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 reported attending to that feature in 78%, 67%, 71%, 71%, and 71% of teachers’ responses, respectively. Taken together, these results suggest that improvement in a specific feature was usually coupled with evidence of attention to that feature in the participant’s survey and/or interview responses.
Similarly, Panel B of Figure 6 includes only those teachers who did not improve in their scores for particular features and compares across them to indicate the teachers with no score improvement who did show evidence of attention to this feature in their feedback (misalignment) or did not show evidence of attention to this feature in their feedback (alignment). In this case, the alignment for those with a score that stayed the same or decreased in Features 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5 and who did not report attending to that feature included 50%, 33%, 25%, 13%, and 25% of teachers’ responses, respectively.
These findings show that those who did not improve were still more likely to report attention to that feature. As such, these results suggest that most teachers paid attention to these rubric features when preparing for their second Shoreline discussion, although merely attending to a feature did not always translate into actual improvement.
We also examined if there were differences between feedback groups for both those who improved their score in a feature and those who did not improve their score. Overall, we found 36 instances of a teacher improving their score in a feature from their first discussion to their second discussion (e.g., nine teachers improved in Feature 1, six teachers improved in Feature 2, and seven teachers improved in each of Features 3, 4, and 5). Of those 36 instances, 18 occurred in each feedback group. Fourteen of the 18 (78%) separate instances in the scoring level feedback group occurred when a teacher showed evidence of attention to the feature they improved in. The other four instances (22%) occurred when a teacher showed improvement in their score in a feature for their second Shoreline discussion, but there was no evidence in their survey or interview question responses of attending to that feature. Similarly, 12 of the 18 (67%) instances in the specific feedback group occurred when a teacher showed evidence of attention to the feature they improved in while no evidence of attention was shown for the other six instances (33%).
These findings, summarized in Table 3, suggest that a similar pattern occurred in both feedback groups. That is, when score improvement occurred, it was frequently coupled with evidence of attention to that feature in their feedback.
Group Differences for Participants Whose Scores Improved
|Group||Scoring Level Feedback Group|
(n = 18 instances)
|Specific Feedback Group|
(n = 18 instances)
|Evidence of Attention to Specific Rubric Features||78%||67%|
|No Evidence of Attention to Specific Rubric Features||22%||33%|
|Note. In total, there were 36 instances of a teacher improving their score in a rubric feature (e.g., increasing 1, 2, or 3 points) from their first discussion to their second discussion, with 18 instances per feedback condition.|
Similarly, there was a pattern with the 39 instances in which a teacher did not improve their score in a feature from their first to second discussion (e.g., six teachers did not improve in Feature 1, nine teachers did not improve in Feature 2, and eight teachers did not improve in Features 3, 4, and 5). Of the 39 total instances, 22 occurred in the scoring level feedback group, while 17 occurred in the specific feedback group. When examining teachers who did not improve on a feature, the differences between feedback groups in those who showed evidence of attention to a feature was slightly larger than when examining only those who did improve in the feature. For instance, 14 of the 22 (64%) separate instances in the scoring level feedback group occurred when a teacher showed evidence of attention to the feature they did not improve in. The other eight instances (36%) occurred when a teacher did not show improvement in their score in a feature for their second Shoreline discussion and had no evidence in their survey or interview responses of attending to that feature.
On the other hand, 14 of the 17 (82%) instances in the specific feedback group occurred when a teacher showed evidence of attention to the feature they did not improve in, while no evidence of attention was shown for the other three instances (18%). Again, the overall pattern is similar across feedback groups within this subset. As summarized in Table 4, most cases of no score improvement were coupled with evidence of attention to that feature, suggesting that attention alone is insufficient to making improvement on a particular feature.
Group Differences for Participants Whose Scores Did Not Improve
|Group||Scoring Level Feedback Group|
(n = 22 instances)
|Specific Feedback Group |
(n = 17 instances)
|Evidence of Attention to Specific Rubric Features||64%||82%|
|No Evidence of Attention to Specific Rubric Features||36%||18%|
|Note. In total, there were 39 instances of a teacher not improving their score in a rubric feature (e.g., score stays the same or decreases) from their first discussion to their second discussion, with 22 instances in the scoring level feedback group and 17 instances in the specific feedback group.|
Study findings point to the use of written formative feedback – either specific or scoring level – as one productive avenue that can help scaffold teachers’ learning as they engage in approximations of practice using simulated classroom environments. Results suggest that teachers overwhelmingly perceived the written feedback they received as clear and useful, regardless of feedback condition.
Our coding also indicated that their responses consistently reflected the language of the five rubric features, providing additional evidence that they were making sense of the feedback in the ways intended. Findings indicated that, regardless of feedback condition, teachers more often attended to areas of improvement than to areas of strength, and the improvement areas nearly always mapped directly to one or more of the rubric features, providing further evidence that the engagement with the written feedback was as intended.
Results also suggested improvement in the overall sample between the first and second Shoreline discussions. Overall scores and scores for Features 1 and 4 improved significantly between time points. While the improvement in Features 2, 3, and 5 was not statistically significant, it was directionally consistent in the positive direction. The sample size was possibly too small to detect a significant effect. In addition, the groups did not trend differently from one another, suggesting that while more studies may be needed, there is no evidence that the feedback condition assigned was a key differentiator in the level of improvement observed.
Results from the fourth research question suggest more study is needed to understand the path between attention and understanding of feedback and its fruitful application. Findings showed that teachers paid attention to and understood the written feedback and that, on average, the teachers’ ability to facilitate argumentation-focused discussions improved. While we had expected to see a clear relationship between the attention teachers gave the feedback and their improvement, we observed a complex relationship: Teachers who did improve showed attention to the improved feature, but teachers who did not improve also showed attention.
We propose several reasonable hypotheses for this pattern. The high levels of attention to the feedback across the board possibly made it impossible to disentangle the relationship between attention and improvement. Certainly, our sample of voluntary participants may have, through self-selection, generated a population that was highly likely to engage with the feedback. In addition, our scoring measure may have been too coarse to pick up on the level of improvement that might reasonably be expected across only two time points, as the use of whole-number rubric scores precluded us from being able to see improvements within score bands. Similarly, our survey and interview responses provided us only with evidence of attention or lack of evidence. We might not have picked up attention that occurred and influenced planning for the second discussion but that the participant did not share during the survey or interview. Finally, it is plausible that attention to feedback is helpful toward, but insufficient to guarantee, improvement in this teaching skill. Despite our participants’ widespread attention to the feedback, feedback alone may not offer sufficient scaffolding for improvement.
Our findings on teachers’ positive perceptions about the usefulness of feedback that helps them understand their strengths and areas of improvement and potential next steps they can take align with previous research. As noted in other research, it is important that learners perceive the feedback they receive – no matter the source, nature, or timing of the feedback – as useful and relevant. If not, then they will be unlikely to engage with the feedback and use it to inform their next steps (Jonsson & Panadero, 2018; Van der Kleij & Lipnevich, 2021).
In this study, all the teachers reported that they found the feedback to be useful. Further, they were able to identify certain feedback characteristics, particularly the identification of strengths and specific improvement areas, as being useful in helping them prepare and build toward improvement in this teaching practice. This finding underscores the point that feedback needs to be used by the learner to enact change. It also highlights how certain feedback aspects are particularly useful, such as identifying key areas for improvement (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; Van der Kleij et al., 2015), which was a characteristic included in both types of feedback used in this study.
Findings also aligned with previous research suggesting that feedback can be an important mechanism to support positive change in teachers’ ability to engage in specific instructional practices. One of the primary goals of feedback is directly to help learners improve their performance on a specific task or improve their learning. As noted earlier, only a few studies have started to examine the ways learners’ uptake of feedback relates to changes in their actual performance (Aljadeff-Abergel et al., 2017; Garet et al., 2017; McLeod et al., 2019). This study directly adds to this aspect of the literature, as our findings show that the teachers used the written feedback – particularly the improvement areas identified within the feedback – to focus their preparation and, on average, the teachers showed significant gains in their overall rubric scores during their second Shoreline discussion.
Finally, our findings suggest few meaningful differences between the feedback condition groups. Interpretations of these results require caution due to the small samples assigned to each condition, but the finding is somewhat counter-intuitive given prior research suggesting that feedback is generally more effective when it is more specific. The finding is also potentially meaningful for the field, as it suggests that effective feedback may not need to be linked directly to an individual’s performance to be meaningful and useful, suggesting more efficient and cost-effective methods for generating such feedback may be possible.
We note here that the nature of the scoring level feedback condition may be critical. The scoring level feedback, while not linked specifically to the teacher’s own discussion, reflected a research-based accumulation of highly specific observations and actionable suggestions based on the five scoring rubric features. It may be that because the scoring level statements were tied so closely to these features, they were sufficiently specific and actionable for teachers to use them productively even without ties to their specific discussions. This suggests an additional affordance of teacher training in controlled environments such as simulations, as using a common task and rubric features controls variation in ways that make such feedback possible.
This study has a few key limitations. First, the exploratory nature of the study and the study’s small sample of convenience not only limits any claims of generalizability across the elementary in-service teacher population nationwide, but also limits our ability to make strong claims about feature level improvement and differences between feedback conditions. However, the findings can still point to working hypotheses that can be examined on a larger scale to understand better the ways in which specific feedback characteristics are used to support teacher learning. Second, this study did not collect data to examine how these teachers used the feedback to engage in facilitating argumentation-focused science discussions in actual classrooms. The teachers’ ability to facilitate such discussions in actual classrooms may be different. Third, this study did not include a control group who did not receive any feedback to better understand the role of written feedback in supporting teacher improvement, a gap which should be addressed in subsequent studies. Finally, in this study we did not investigate other factors, such as teachers’ understanding of engineering or their experience receiving and responding to feedback, which may have impacted teachers’ use of the written feedback.
Findings from this study point to the importance of written feedback as a viable mechanism to support teacher learning. Most importantly, study results suggest that both specific and scoring level feedback provide potential positive benefits and can serve as a productive mechanism in helping teachers identify key areas of improvement and provide them with ideas for strengthening specific aspects of their practice. These findings are especially promising considering the ambitious nature of this core teaching practice and how previous research has indicated that this practice is one that is difficult for teachers to learn how to do well. Future research can examine if and how teachers can apply their improvement in the simulated classroom to their instruction in actual elementary classrooms and explore other factors that support teacher learning, such as the feedback timing and the use of coaching.
Additional research also can explore how to develop automated scoring and feedback models to scale the provision of instructional feedback when used in combination with simulated classrooms in practice-based teacher education. Finally, to extend the work from this study, researchers should explore the use of such feedback conditions with a larger, more representative sample of in-service teachers and should expand exploration to include teachers across the professional continuum, especially preservice teachers in teacher education programs, to better understand the specific affordances and potential challenges of using these feedback features to support teacher learning.
This study was funded by Towson University’s School of Emerging Technologies and ETS’s internal allocation funding. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s).
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Description of the Five Rubric Features
Codes and Frequencies for Teachers’ Attention to Their Main Takeaway/Learning From the Feedback
Codes and Frequencies for Teachers’ Use of Feedback
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