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How 40 students used Feedback Frames to quickly find agreements on recommended class activities.

Feedback Frames in a classroom
class voting using Feedback Frames

This fun, hands-on, and equal opportunity method invited all pupils to share their ideas and record their opinions anonymously, avoiding peer pressure and groupthink. Results clearly showed multiple points of consensus, while noting some surprising disagreements too.

The Goal

The students were tasked with making recommendations for their classes’ scheduled 30 minutes of daily physical activity (DPA).

The Context

The group of 40 students were from two joint grade five and six classes. Conducted in November 2019 in Toronto, Canada, they had already spent a dozen weeks together and were very familiar with each other, aware of the rules for daily physical activity (DPA), and experienced in playing many different kinds of games as a class.  The teachers invited creative suggestions from the students but would retain authority on final decisions. 

The Process

The following instructions were given to the class verbally and with slides.  The whole activity took about 35 minutes to complete. 

Step 1 – Silent Brainstorm

Silently, on scrap paper, individually draft your ideas for Daily Physical Activity.  (2 minutes)

Step 2 – Small Group Discussions

Form groups of three to five. Do a go-around of reading all your ideas, and then discuss. (8 minutes)

Step 3 – Write Ideas on Statement-Signature Sheets

Write your favourite ideas on the Feedback Frames Statement-Signature sheets provided.  Write only one idea per sheet. Please print clearly with a dark pen or marker.  Hand your sheets with written statements to a teacher who will place the ideas on tables in front of the Feedback Frames.  (5 minutes)

writing idea on statement-signature sheets

Step 4 – Drop Tokens to Record Opinions

Once you are done writing ideas, you can get up and go to the Feedback Frames tables.  For each statement, drop one token in its Feedback Frame to record your opinion on the scale of agreement:

  • Strong Agreement (5)
  • Agreement (4)
  • Neutral (3)
  • Disagreement (2)
  • Strong Disgreement (1)
  • Not Sure (?)

Every time you rate an idea, sign the statement sheet on the right.  You can optionally write comments on the sheet below the statement.    (10 minutes)

dropping a token in Feedback Frames

Step 5 – Reveal Results

Once every idea has enough tokens/signatures (in this case, about 25 or more) we will stop and remove all the covers to see what we think!  Some of the most agreed statements will be read aloud.  (5 minutes)

After the session, all the results were photographed and documented by a volunteer.  The Feedback Frames were then packed up for reuse another day.

The Results

classroom decision-making feedback frames

The students generated and score-voted a total of 32 idea statements.  Among these, there were about 20 unique ideas (i.e. not counting very similar / repeated ideas). 

All ideas, token counts and comments were entered into a spreadsheet and had a simple formula applied to calculate their average agreement-score out of five and also consensus percentage (i.e. no disagreement).  They were also categorized by theme.  View the results data table with photos:

Entering Feedback Frames results data into a spreadsheet is not a requirement since the levels of agreement are visibly obvious in-person and in photos. That said, spreadsheets are handy for further analysis, documentation that is easy to search, and sharing broadly.

Multiple Clear Agreements and Insights

Four different ideas had almost all agreement with an average score of 4.0 or higher, out of 5.  This level of strong consensus was astounding considering the diversity of characters and preferences among the 40 students.

Interesting, while some of the most agreed statements were specific activities, such as “Dodgeball” and “Obstacle Course,” other top suggestions were not activities, but rather how activities are decided, i.e. “students should choose,” and most popularly, that “teachers should play too!”  One can imagine how this ‘outside the box’ collective strong opinion would have been missed if they had just used a survey designed by a teacher.  As a result, the teachers could use this special insight as leverage when negotiating other classroom decisions in the future.

Acceptance, Disagreements and Controversy Recognized Honestly (Anonymously)

16 of the statements had an average score of between 3.o and 4.o, which could be considered a majority in agreement, or at least acceptance.  Yet when you look closer at the patterns of the opinions, you can see some ideas are much more polarizing than others.

For example, “hide and seek” and “be allowed to read” both scored an average 3.1, but opinions on “hide and seek” trended more towards neutrality and would likely have led to less vehement opposition if carried forward. 

“Soccer,” on the other hand, was strongly objected to by a clear majority, to the disappointment of an enthusiastic few.

If these 40 students had tried to debate these competing ideas verbally, only a fraction of the opinions would have been heard (usually the most confident speakers), and peer pressure would have likely influenced the outcome.  Using Feedback Frames, all the opinions, from the most passionate to the indifferent, were ‘heard’ anonymously, avoiding the bias that comes from worrying about hurting feelings among friends.  

While participating in a respectful debate is an important skill to learn, not every topic needs to be debated, especially when a group has many points of agreement to move forward on, like in this case.

Comments Helped Explain Rational for Opinions

Some of the students took the opportunity to write comments on the statement sheets, providing insights into why they may have agreed or not with a proposal.  For example, “Go to the front of the school” was unpopular, with noted reasoning being it is “not very safe” because  “It’s a really small place and we could fall off.”

Some Statements Were Confusing

As one might expect, some of the written statements were not so clear.  Using the “Not sure” column, readers could record their confusion rather than being limited to either guessing the meaning when giving a rating, dropping a token in “neutral” which would give a false impression that they understood and accept the idea, or not vote on it, which would make it seem like they had just missed those frames.

For example, the handwriting on “OPAL Wars…” was hard to read, as some wrote in the comments, and thus almost a third of the tokens were under “Not Sure”.  But for those that could read it, they mostly really liked the idea.  If those who were unsure had voted “Neutral” it would have skewed less positive.  

In comparison, about half of the students were confused about “Camouflage Countdown,” with a few commenting “What is this game?” Of those who apparently did know the game, only a few were keen to play.

Repetition Did Not Equal Popularity

Some students really wanted to read during the physical activity period, and as a result, five differently worded suggestions about reading were submitted, such as “Fingers exercises (turning pages in books)” and “Walking and reading.” 

Even though “reading” was the most common theme among the many varied ideas, it was not widely supported.  In fact, “reading” was one of the lower-scoring and most polarizing of the suggestions.

Looking at the score-voting patterns, it was clear that while a passionate minority would prefer to read, the rest of the students disagreed, with notable reasons like it’s “not actual exercise”. Thankfully, this bookworm minority was still on board with many other types of suggested activities, including the consensus on “Dodgeball!” which was only submitted once.

No Significant Cheating

Looking at the number of signatures on each sheet compared to the number of tokens for each corresponding frame, there were no concerns about cheating in the score-voting. Typically with groups new to Feedback Frames, at least a few participants tend to forget to sign the sheet every time they vote, and thus a few missing signatures is normal.  In this case, the number of missing signatures was well under 10% for almost all frames.  Results were also relatively consistent between similar suggestions. In discussion of the results after the reveal, students were collectively not surprised with levels of agreement on the ideas, although some students were individually disappointed with the low scores on their personal favourites.

Micah with Feedback Frames

The Outcomes

After reviewing the results, the teachers responded with commitments to follow through on a few of the most commonly agreed games, such as Dodgeball and Capture the Flag, and to sometimes let the class vote on other activity options.  The teachers also had to explain why some popular requests were unfortunately not possible, such as using the OPAL play objects, which were reserved for sharing with all classes at recess. 

The results also made it easier to avoid repeating debates that were now considered settled, to the disappointment of the Soccer and Ultimate Frisbee players.  Recognizing the appetite for reading, the teachers offered more optional reading time outside of DPA.  And when the teachers needed to encourage the class to do something, they could use the possibility of themselves participating in a game as an incentive they knew all students would appreciate.

Lady holding Feedback Frames with results showing

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