The Edge

Feedback And Student Choice with Jennifer Casa-Todd and Karen Phan

January 11, 2024 ISTE Season 2 Episode 11
The Edge
Feedback And Student Choice with Jennifer Casa-Todd and Karen Phan
Show Notes Transcript

Join Georgia and Jessica as they explore ways to develop feedback with students and encourage student choice in classrooms with Jennifer Casa-Todd and Karen Phan. 

ISTE CL Recording with Jennifer Casa-Todd & Karen Phan

Georgia Terlaje: [00:00:00] It's time for The Edge, a podcast brought to you by ITSD community leaders. Whether you're a seasoned educator, a visionary administrator, or a passionate education enthusiast, fasten your seatbelts because this podcast is tailor made for you. Get ready to embark on an exhilarating journey as our ITSD community leaders take you behind the scenes and into the dynamic world of education.

Georgia Terlaje: In the episodes ahead, we'll unveil stories from the front lines, showcasing the relentless dedication and innovation that fuels the transformative field of education. Buckle up, brace yourself for an adventure. Coming up today. We've =got= two fabulous guests on the show who will discuss student voice and agency. I'm one of your community leader host, Georgia. I'm a TK five instructional coach and an educator of 35 years. And I'm here with my favorite partner in crime, Jessica.

Jessica Pack: Well, thank you so much, Georgia. You're my favorite, too. [00:01:00] I'm Jessica Pack, a middle school teacher and an ISTE author, and I am really excited for today's episode. It's going to be a good one because we are going to deep dive with some special guests about student voice, agency, community building, and more.

Jessica Pack: This is just going to be an awesome jam packed episode. We are joined by our fellow ISTE community leader, Jennifer Casatab. Jen is a teacher, librarian, author, a speaker, as well as a Google certified innovator. Oh my goodness. Jen, thank you so much for being here today. 

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Thank you so much for, for having us.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I love hanging out with ISTE community leaders. So thank you.

Jessica Pack: Well, you have brought along a very special guest today as well. I am very excited to meet them. Would you please introduce them to the listeners? 

Jennifer Casa-Todd: That, no, she has to introduce herself. Go ahead, Karen. Hi 

Karen Phan: [00:02:00] everyone. My name is Karen and I'm entering my third year at UC Irvine.

Karen Phan: I'm writing a book with Jen about how we can transform education and something that we've been working on for a long time, so I'm excited to talk about it today. 

Georgia Terlaje: That's awesome. Well, welcome to The Edge, Jen and Karen. Could you give us a little insight into how you two met? Like, what's your origin story?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I think, Karen, why don't you start? And then I can talk about how I connected with George.

Karen Phan: So we met through George, and I'll start with how I met him first. In my junior year of high school, in my AP English Language class, I started blogging about my experience as a student, as a straight A student, and both my negative and positive experiences in school, and my teacher, he tweeted it, George saw it, that's how we connected, and then as I continued blogging, he talked to me more about writing a book, and then he introduced me to Gen as I was writing it.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So, and George Kuros is a [00:03:00] mentor of mine. He's a fellow Canadian and I met him several years ago. He's actually what led me. In many ways to writing my first book Social Media, Moving Students from Digital Citizenship to Digital Leadership. And he knows that I'm an advocate for student voice. I run something called the Global Student Chat and I'm all about student agency and student voice.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And he said, there's someone I think you should meet. She's currently writing a book. I'm thinking of publishing it through Impress, which is his publishing company. And he said, you know, I just, just talk to her and see what you think. And I met Karen and I was so intrigued. I think what was most.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: impactful for me was I feel like I spend so much time thinking about those students who are sometimes low achieving, like how do I meet their needs, you know? And here is Karen, a straight A student who I, you know, I have lots of those students in front of me who I think [00:04:00] they're doing just great and they're thriving.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And then to hear Karen's story and know that she didn't. Really thrive that the facade of the straight a student, you know, doing really well being successful in school achieving. It was, it was very jarring to me. And I thought I can learn quite a bit from this young woman. And I think we all can.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So then we started collaborating on. on this book and we have been doing that for a long time, haven't we, Karen? We've never met in person we still have only met online, the joys of technology, but I hope to come there one day maybe when we publish. So that's the story of how we met. Oh my 

Jessica Pack: gosh, I love this story so much that we have like two totally different perspectives.

Jessica Pack: On the same topic and that you guys have just such a unique viewpoint coming from the position that you do. Karen, would you mind kind of explaining what kinds of things really disillusioned you about your [00:05:00] educational experience with a little more detail?

Karen Phan: Something that I talk in my blogs and in this book is that I used to really enjoy going to school, especially in elementary, because I felt like it was an opportunity for me to be creative and explore things that I wouldn't get to explore at home.

Karen Phan: But over time, as I grew older and then grades started coming into the picture, I felt like that creativity eventually died away. And then I was very focused on getting good grades and doing what I could to get those grades and then move on. And then engaging in school and learning, it was very difficult for me because school was already hard enough.

Karen Phan: And then I just wanted to focus on the grade and then keep moving on. So lack of creativity was one of the biggest things for me.

Georgia Terlaje: So did you, just to like expand on that a little more, because this is definitely something I, I ponder often because I work in a lot of classrooms. Karen, did you feel like. I know you're talking about, like, you were concerned with getting grades, but do you feel [00:06:00] like also your teachers as you went to upper grades really weren't offering creative ways to show what, you know.

Georgia Terlaje: As part of your class.

Karen Phan: Yeah, definitely. It was always kind of like, if you did have options to share your creativity, a lot of students, including myself, we kind of went for the easiest way out because it was just so hard to juggle school with everything going on and then. Kind of a mentality that I developed in school was memorize something and then test on it and then forget about it.

Karen Phan: So that was kind of how I survived high school and then going to college, that's still something that's stuck with me.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I think what's really neat, I know the, the sort of approach we've taken is Karen will share her perspective. And I will respond to it. And I think what's really been neat about this whole process. So, to what she says you know, not a lot of teachers allowed her to show what she knows. Some of them did, and those are the ones that really stood out for her.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And as a connected educator, I'm [00:07:00] connected through the ISTE community. I'm connected through What was Twitter is now X and and various other way social media avenues. I have connected with teachers who really are innovating right in so many amazing ways. And so I look at Karen's experiences and. The perspective I offer is that is not everyone's experience and I showcase and so what we did was we brought in some educator highlights from around just people I know who shared some of the things they've been doing.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So it's been kind of a really neat symbiotic learning relationship, I think, if I could put words in your mouth, Karen, but just me hearing her perspectives. Sharing it's not always like that, but also really reflecting on the ways it is in my own context and still in schools. You know, we really haven't changed in the public education system as much as maybe we could have, or we [00:08:00] could.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And there are pockets of this, but you know, how, how does this become more widespread?

Georgia Terlaje: So what strategies, Jen or Karen, have you seen really working? And effect empowering students agency in school now, especially now that you've been really looking at this 

Jennifer Casa-Todd: deeper, 

Karen Phan: , I mentioned earlier that I started blogging about school in my English language class and it started with an assignment called the question exploration.

Karen Phan: And it was. It's an assignment where the whole class comes up with a question and the question that we were focused on that year was a school, the best place to learn. And then we each went about our own ways responding to it. We could write essays, blog posts, record something to answer that question and I went.

Karen Phan: With writing a blog post to answer that and I felt like that was 1 of the few experiences in high school. At least when I had the opportunity to be in charge of my learning, because I decided I wanted to do this. I decided I want to read this and research this and [00:09:00] synthesize all this information my way and the rubric was.

Karen Phan: It wasn't one of those rubrics where you had to do all of these things. It was a very short rubric, so I didn't feel confined to the grade. And I had a really great time just taking the time to explore things my own way, and it's something that I've tried to continue in college, at least. I remember in high school, always being very stressed out about my grades, and in college, that's not really an issue with me right now, because my teachers or my professors have given more opportunities to be involved in the feedback and learning process.

Karen Phan: So that's something that's been helping me.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So definitely she talks, Karen talks a lot about feedback and we know how important that is. So we have examples of that. But in terms of student voice and agency some of my own work has focused on the work of Dana Mitra. I'm not sure if you know Dana Mitra, but her hierarchy of student voice. is really interesting to me.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: She talks about student voice and agency and school transformation as in a triangle. So the [00:10:00] very bottom we have listening and listening is exactly what it sounds like, right? We listen to what students say, we give them exit cards, we do climate surveys, and we use that feedback to make change.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Collaboration is when you work with you know, you listen to what students have to say, but ultimately still the teachers have. The same, right? The teachers make the decisions in terms of what's happening, but the students are a little bit more involved and at the top she puts leadership and she says that more often than not, leadership happens within extracurricular activities or outside of school.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And so I've been thinking a lot and in my own work thinking about how do I, how do I shift that so that students in my classroom, in, in my library, in the various classrooms in with which I work, are more autonomous in terms of their leadership role. And we know that inquiry-based learning does that, right?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: It allows kids to take a more. Definitely be more involved, pick their research that what they, what they [00:11:00] want to, to learn about and then create a product that is completely autonomous with some teacher facilitation and that, that is it. So we highlight the work of Melissa Hayes, who's a grade two teacher who does that with grade twos.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And the work I've done at my own school really involves mentorship with older students and younger students. So we used just most recently, actually, we used the design thinking process. We had kids think about the school culture and what it is that they could do about school culture and to make it better.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: We were going to bring in a workshop facilitator to do this with kids and the kids said, We do the workshops. So I said, That's a great idea. So we got a leadership class to actually create lessons, and they all did completely different lessons, one on cancel culture, one on social media, one on mental health and well being, like all kinds of different really, really great topics.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: They went in and taught the younger grades, the grade nine students [00:12:00] these lessons and the feedback from the grade nines as well as The leadership class was incredible. They had never had that opportunity before. They really felt that they had made a difference. The exit card showed that they had made a difference.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And at our school, we also have leaders who run a camp for our kids. They go away for, the grade nines go away for three days. And the grade 12s completely run the entire thing. And so the more, in my experience, the more we've had mentorship opportunities where kids could lead learning for younger kids, they've been incredible.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Also we highlight the work of a good friend of mine, former student, actually, Robert Pannone, who the simple concept of classroom committees, kids. feel like they're a part of the classroom because they're running it. He has a class blog run by a PR committee. He has all the tech taken care of by a tech group.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: He has an eco council that takes care of all the [00:13:00] recycling, right? Then all the kids move through these various and responsibilities in their classes, and they really feel like they have ownership over their classroom. And those are just a couple of the ideas, right, of how we can, we can build autonomy and agency in students so that they feel ownership over their learning.

Jessica Pack: That's really incredible that you have so many student led initiatives as part of the instructional process. I think that's really revolutionary. It seems like you need a really strong sense of community, though, when you're, you're starting those types of endeavors and giving that much ownership over to the students.

Jessica Pack: So, where can teachers begin to foster that type of supportive, inclusive learning environment if they haven't necessarily how did you get started that yet?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I always talk about the power of code. So I'm a teacher librarian and teachers come to me and we work on different initiatives together.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So any kind of design [00:14:00] thinking project that we're doing at the school, they know they have an extra person. And there is that person in your midst. There is a digital literacy coach, someone at the district, there is a media specialist, perhaps, or even another teacher. I think so often we think of education as being the solo endeavor.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: When it's not, we could be so much more powerful together. So, you know, I can, I can reach out to an elementary school and when I can say, you know, like, you have these grade sixes and I have these grade tens. What can we do together? Like, let's brainstorm because I think when, when we really engage with others in planning and thinking and empowering students we, we're just, we're just stronger because we're together.

Georgia Terlaje: Karen, I wanted to circle back a little because you mentioned a little bit about grades and how that impacted you when you were in the lower grades. So how do you think the traditional grading system affects student motivation and engagement [00:15:00] with the classroom? Your personal experience or some, you know, of maybe anecdotes that you have in writing the book.

Georgia Terlaje: How do you think that impacts student engagement?

Karen Phan: Some of the anecdotes that I've included in my book. The students there have the same sentiment as me, as when grades come into the picture, we don't really feel motivated to connect with the material or expand our learning and ask why, why, why, and we just want to focus on getting it done so that we can get the A and move on.

Karen Phan: So, the grades have made school kind of a bad experience for me because again, I'm not really engaging with material the same way that I used to engage in when I was younger and it's also made school. Pretty isolating for me, when we talk about community, it's hard for me to talk about community in general, because there was always so much competition as a high achieving student with other high achieving students that we are pitted against each other.

Karen Phan: So, when [00:16:00] Jen was talking about building community, that's something that I wish. I had seen more in high school.

Georgia Terlaje: Yeah, because it seems like it takes away that intrinsic motivation. You know, you're trying to get this outward thing that could be subjective. And if you're all just working at trying to be better at what you do for your own sake, I can see that's going to build better community.

Georgia Terlaje: What have you seen, Jen, regarding like grading and taking away student agency?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Well, I think that her experience Karen's experience really, again, resonated with me, but I work in a public school where at the end of the day, we have to report on grades, right? And that's the reality for so many of us. You know, when I've experimented with things over the years I know one of A strategy that's very powerful that, you know, comes up time and time again in the research is this idea of metacognition, right?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So having students reflect on their own learning and their own grades. And I've tried this in, in a variety of different [00:17:00] ways. This, with this past project that I just told you about, the leadership project, I actually for the first time asked students, we came up with a single point rubric, which is one of the ideas that is shared in the book by another.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: So it was a single point rubric. We talked about the criteria. We co constructed the success criteria. And then I said, and you're going to grade yourself and then you're going to tell me. What your strengths were, what your weaknesses were, and why, like, justify this grade. And I was so scared to do that, I have to say, I had never done it.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I thought, they're all going to give themselves a hundred, right? Like, they don't know how to do this. And there was definitely a learning curve. I think that they would get better at it if I did it more often with them, but even that process, like I asked them about it, I said, have you ever, and they said, we've never done this before.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And it was hard. Miss Cassa taught, that was the hardest thing I've ever done. It was almost harder than creating the whole workshop. And I said, why is that? They said, because. Even though we [00:18:00] knew kind of what you were looking at, I think looking at my own success and achievement and putting a number to it is really hard.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I said, how do you think we feel? But but it wasn't really, and, and, and for the most part, their grade and my grade. With the exception of a couple of kids for which we then had to have a conversation, they were pretty matched. And I thought, why don't we do this more often? Why don't we ask students if they know exactly what the criteria is?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Why don't we ask them? What grade they think they they deserve and what they need to do to get better. Because I can tell you, as a former English teacher, I took my marking with me everywhere. I would be at a Super Bowl party, and I'd have like all these pur not red, I would put purple all over these papers.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And I gave it back to the kids, and they never even looked at it. I've never looked at it like years of my life in that garbage can, right? You know, and, and, and so I, that's just one example of something I tried, but, you know, often I'll give [00:19:00] them now feedback without a grade and say, what do you think based on the feedback?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: What do you think I gave you? And that was another strategy that worked for me as well. But I think we're all kind of struggling with this a little bit, but certainly listening to Karen, listening, reading Karen's perspective. It, it affected me in a way that I, I think I know subconsciously that it's always been something I've struggled with, but then to read her writing on it, it really impacted me and kind of motivated me to try something different.

Jessica Pack: This definitely sounds like a more equitable grading system, just in terms of like putting that bonus back on the student, but then also it doesn't sound like you're having lots of little assignments along the way that all need to be like graded with a fine tooth comb anymore, so it's possible for kids to You know, live out their passion in education as opposed to get caught up in the minutiae of what goes in the gradebook.

Jessica Pack: So that's really cool.[00:20:00] What role could technology kind of play in supporting all the things you're talking about, like student voice, creativity, agency, community, like, do you have favorite platforms that you're using or any tools that listeners maybe should check out for their potential?

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Karen, do you want to share some that worked for you or?

Karen Phan: That's hard for me to answer because I don't remember using a lot of tech in school,

Jennifer Casa-Todd: and I wonder, and that's interesting, right? I wonder to what extent you would have felt like you had a greater voice because you seem to me like you would have been a very quiet student, right? Not necessarily a student who's always raising their hand and contributing.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And I find, and I certainly, anyone listening to this podcast doesn't need me to say it, right? That technology has given voice to our quietest students, students who normally would never participate. You put a jam board in front of them, for example, and they have to add something and [00:21:00] whether they, you know, they may not be competent enough to say that out loud, but as a teacher, I can now go.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Oh my gosh, that's Jimmy's response and it's brilliant and he has never said a word. So I'm going to go, this is a great response. Tell me more or not even tell me more. Just acknowledge Jimmy and the fact that Jimmy has contributed to this class. So something like Jamboard does that really well. Padlet does that very well.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I keep reusing my free ones. Pear Deck, unfortunately, you get limited free, but certainly I have Pear Deck Premium. So kids are constantly responding and interacting with me. But you know, even something so simple as a slide with editing privileges, as long as you have shared with students exactly how they need to behave when they're online, you know gone through norms of behavior when we're using technology.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I've never really had an issue with kids being on the same [00:22:00] slide deck being able to contribute their responses. So even, even the most rudimentary technology tool can really give voice to our, our students who are, are not necessarily You know, willing to participate flip. Microsoft flip is often off.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: Awesome for this. You know, some students don't love to be on camera, but they have lots of ways to blur faces so that kids can still contribute. And I know when we did we do sustainable cities using Minecraft, and part of the process is they need to get feedback on their cities to make them better.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And so that's an incredible way. for kids to learn from other kids to get feedback, not just from the teacher. Of course, I give them feedback, but they too get feedback from other students. You have to teach them how to do proper feedback, of course. That is not something that kids know how to do.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And we talk, I think we talked quite a bit about that in one of the chapters, don't we, Karen? About feedback and what that looks like and what was effective for her and what other teachers are doing.[00:23:00] So Flip is great for that. There's a new tool called FigJam that is very interactive that I haven't started playing with, but I'm excited.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And I'm not excited by shiny tools, I'm just excited by tools that will allow kids to demonstrate their learning in a variety of different ways. So there are different entry points wherever the student might be, right? Whether the student has a learning disability, or is an English language learner, or is a high achieving shy student.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: I want them all to be able to access. What it is that we're learning and technology allows us to do that. I love 

Jessica Pack: your responses because it's like totally the definition of a universally designed classroom for every kid. Not just taking into consideration kids who maybe need an alternative to writing or a different lexile of text.

Jessica Pack: It's like Really taking it to the next level and giving them so much agency over what they're creating. That's great.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: And 

Georgia Terlaje: Jessica and [00:24:00] I are totally on board. We do a lot of work with movie making in the classroom for all the reasons that you mentioned Jen. And that feedback we find that feedback is such an important element.

Georgia Terlaje: Giving, learning how to give feedback, learning how to receive feedback, even with the littles in elementary school, it's kind of transformative. And, you know, if we can start in the lower grades, that would be, I think, really a journey to maybe helping get rid of some of these like binary grading systems that don't, don't really inspire Any, any love or passion going forward.

Georgia Terlaje: KAren, I just, I wanted to ask you you said you're at UC Irvine, correct? What's, what's exciting you at your time there? Like what's a class, what's something going on that's exciting you as far as like how they're dealing with you or assignments they're giving or, and anything along those lines. 

Karen Phan: In university, I noticed that we [00:25:00] have a lot more project based assignments and.

Karen Phan: I am a dual major right now, so my first major is English, and I'm doing a lot of these writing assignments, these essays. A practice that I've really enjoyed is that we have office hours where you go talk to a professor, and then the way that my professors have done grading or feedback is We submit the 1st job, and then they give us feedback.

Karen Phan: No grades, no, nothing. And then what's most effective is when you come with a list of questions about the feedback or what you want to improve and I think sitting down and writing those questions for myself to get to my professor and then talking through what my concerns are. It's made writing these essays and being in class a lot easier for me because I don't really have anxiety about my grade anymore.

Karen Phan: I. Know that I did what I had to do to get to improve my essay from the 1st draft. So that kind of practice has made me think less about my grades. And then my 2nd major is informatics, which is kind of computer science, kind of software engineering. And in that major, it's very [00:26:00] project heavy and you're working with teams and something that my professors also like to do is kind of mimic industry where.

Karen Phan: We learn how to give each other feedback because when you are working in the real world, you're working with so many people, you have to learn how to have these conversations with them.

Jessica Pack: That's so great. And I think that just reemphasizes how much we need to make sure our classrooms align with that future ready mindset where we're not sending kids out into the, to the field with no experience in any of these areas, but sending empowered learners. So this has been such a great conversation.

Jessica Pack: Thank you both again for being here today. We really appreciate you and your message and the whole dynamic that you two have together. Before we let you go, where can listeners connect with you to continue the conversation or be able to keep track of your 

Jennifer Casa-Todd: books? You can find me on all the socials at jkassetodd and jkassetodd.

Jennifer Casa-Todd: com and jkassetodd. com will [00:27:00] also be housing all the chapter resources for the book once it gets published. And if you follow George Kuros, Impress Publishing is putting it out, so you can certainly check that out there if you're interested.

Jessica Pack: Karen, any contact information you wanted to share? 

Karen Phan: My Twitter is Zapkanre, Z A P K A N R E.

Jessica Pack: That's perfect. Well, thank you again. That wraps up this episode of the Edge Podcast. We hope you had a great time. My name is Jessica, and you can find me at Pacwoman208 on Twitter, Threads, and Instagram. 

Georgia Terlaje: And I'm Georgia Cherlahi, and you can find me at Georgia Cherlahi on X, which I'm still calling Twitter in my head.

Georgia Terlaje: And you can find Jessica and I at storytellingsavestheworld. com. 

Jessica Pack: On behalf of everyone at ISTE's The Edge Podcast, remember to keep exploring your passion, fostering your creativity, and continue taking risks, all things that can [00:28:00] bring you to the edge.!