Letter to Parents 2018-19

Dear Parents,

My name is Andrew Burnett and I will be your child’s math teacher this year.  This year will be my 17th year as a classroom teacher and my 2nd year in Newton!!  

I started teaching math in 1997 and I loved just about every minute of the 15 years that I spent in the classroom.  In 2012, a professor from WPI in Worcester approached me to leave the classroom to help him train and support teachers that were participating in a homework feedback study.  While I still really loved teaching, I was intrigued by the offer and I decided to take a chance on the opportunity. I am really glad that I did because I was able to watch over 70 teachers in their classrooms and learn from their practices.  I was also able to look at education from the angle of research.

During my time away from the classroom I learned two major things that improved my instruction.  First, I learned that students learn more when they receive immediate feedback to the answers on their homework and classwork and when the teacher uses data from the homework to drive the homework review.  I was already doing this with my students before leaving teaching in 2012 but the homework feedback study proved that doing it makes a significant difference in student learning.

Second, I learned that teachers can improve student learning when they give students constructive comments only as a form of feedback. A large study was conducted wherein researchers examined the three types of feedback teachers give:

  • Grades alone
  • Both grades and comments
  • Comments alone

The results of the initial study as well as follow-up studies found that students who showed the most growth were those who received comments alone. Even grades paired with comments—which at face value would seem to be the richest form of feedback—was just as ineffective as giving grades alone. When a grade is paired with feedback, most students ignore the feedback and focus only on the grade.  

To this end, your child will receive written and verbal feedback about what they did well and what they can do to improve their understanding of the material. Before each progress report and at the end of each quarter, each student and I will conference and look at the evidence of their understanding together and come to a consensus regarding an appropriate grade representing the student’s most consistent level of understanding.

This approach will allow students to have greater awareness and ownership of their learning. They will know what they need to improve and how to improve it.  To see how this will work for your child, I detailed the process in a post on my blog: http://tiny.cc/grading.

Please always feel free to contact me with any questions or concerns that you have as we go through this process.

Lastly, I encourage you to take a look at the resources listed below to learn more about the science, theory, and practice of these approaches by typing the shortened “tiny.cc” link into your browser (note: these links are case sensitive).