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The Formative Feedback Project is a collaborative curation of best practices in educational strategies, ideas, resources. Specializing in student ownership, engagement, feedback loops and collaborative, effective feedback.



Join the discussion at The Formative Feedback Project, a collaborative curation of best practices in educational strategies, ideas, resources. Specializing in student ownership, engagement, feedback loops and collaborative, effective feedback.

Process vs. Content: A lightbulb moment

Taylor Meredith

Several years ago I was a member of a committee charged with planning professional development opportunities for the teachers and staff in our district. The committee was comprised of some great minds with great ideas to share. The leader of the group asked us a question about where to start - do we start with the PD content or do we start with the process? The answer was unanimous: Content. But halfway into the meeting I had a light bulb moment: 

Process comes first.

Process has to be clear, purposeful and engaging. That way, as content changes year-to-year (or, quite frankly, day-to-day) it can be pushed into the trusted process. While this may not be a hard and fast rule, I have found that more often than not, when faced with the choice between process and content - process has to come first. Since then, I have been thinking about process vs. content in several forums and here is what I came up with:

In Unit & Lesson Planning

When it comes to unit and lesson planning I frequently look to Grant Wiggins, The Teachers College Reading and Writing Project and the work of Brookhart and Moss. Backwards design, using aims to guide practice and feedback, student engagement and ownership, and meaningful content have guided my planning processes. Then, I incorporate relevant content to the planning structures. I have found that when given content without structure or scope of a unit plan the content is less memorable and meaningful. Verdict: Process

In the Classroom

Reflecting on my own practice I realize that process comes first in the classroom. We spend a lot of time practicing behaviors and routines. The workshop model is introduced, discussed and practiced. Students know to expect an aim and if I ever forget they ASK FOR ONE(!), a mini-lesson, practice, and share.  Sidenote - I am a huge fan of aims (learning targets) for both student and teacher engagement and understanding. Most of my aims are questions or they begin with the subject area (Readers can, Writers can, Scientists can). Levels of responsibility and levels of ownership are introduced and yep, you guessed it, practiced! Only then can authentic, meaningful, student-owned instruction begin. Without comfort and familiarity of these processes, students are not fully invested and connected to their learning. Verdict: Process

In Professional Development

Have you ever left a professional development session feeling like you just wasted a day? Unfortunately, I have and in my experience, many other teachers have too. We don't always trust PD because the purpose isn't clear, it is void of practice and uninspiring. I experienced my first edcamp-style PD this year and LOVED it. Because it has a clear process! There are expectations, consistency and purpose. When the process is clear and trusted we are able to learn from the content. Verdict: Process

In Feedback

This is a big one. Giving a student, colleague, friend, or anyone feedback without understanding the process and without practice is usually ineffective. It can result in confusion, anxiety, resentment and NO GROWTH, quite simply it's the worst.  In our classroom we spend time discussing and practicing multiple feedback loops. We discuss and practice attributes of effective feedback. The process of feedback becomes normalized. Then we are able to dig deep into the feedback, practice, apply and grow. Verdict: Process

What are the exceptions to this rule? Have you had any lightbulb moments? I would love to know! #feedbackplease

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