Have you ever thought about trying a Bump it Up Wall in your classroom? I had heard about Bump it Up Walls through colleagues, who said they were an effective tool in improving student performance on assessments, tests and exams. I had also experimented with using more descriptive feedback, rather than just handing out grades in my classroom, but wondered if the time it took to implement, would affect the time I would have to fit in all of the other curriculum standards I still needed to teach! For years, I spent valuable time, writing descriptive feedback on student tests, projects and essays, only to feel frustrated that when the next assignment was handed in, I realized that my feedback hadn’t been implemented and I had to comment on the very same errors again! I decided I would try something new with students two years ago and I was surprised to find that the results were exactly what I was looking for! I can’t believe it took me 13 years of teaching to figure this out!

Two years ago, my school district began to focus on how educators could move students a grade forward on standardized tests. For instance, how could we move those students who scored a C on a standardized test to a B, or a student scoring a B to an A? My principal decided our school would try implementing Bump it Up walls in classrooms, as an initiative to support this overall district goal. When I researched what most Bump it Up Walls consisted of, I became very uncomfortable right away. I realized I would need to display individual student work and label it as excellent, average and poor, with the purpose of students seeing what they needed to add to their work, to improve their overall grade. A knot in my stomach began to form thinking about those students whose work would be labelled as poor or even average. How would they feel about having their work labelled as such, and displayed for the whole class to see? Would this really motivate them to improve their performance? My gut instinct told me no…at least not for my particular group of students. I know that many other educators are ok with using this strategy, which I carry no judgement, but it just didn’t fit with my own teaching philosophy.

I knew I had to think of another way to implement this initiative that would be both positive and motivating to all of my students. I decided I would form groups of students with mixed abilities and teach them to give descriptive feedback to each other, with the purpose of bumping up their work. With the focus on group work, students would collectively receive the feedback and would be more motivated to work together to improve their performance. Students, I found out, care about what their peers think of them ( ok we all knew that) but it turns out that students also care about what their peers think about their work!

I began by having groups of students complete a math problem and explained the criteria I wanted them to follow when giving descriptive feedback to others. After completing the math problem, students rotated their work through each group to receive some descriptive feedback and saw how others approached solving the same problem. Students then recorded three things on a descriptive feedback organizer about the work: one thing the group did well (thumbs up), one thing they could improve upon (bump it up) and one question they had about the groups work. Students then read over all of the descriptive feedback given about their work and discussed it with their group. They were then asked to think about which piece of feedback would be most helpful to them in improving the quality of their work, and to share it with the class. This allowed us to begin a rich discussion about how to give valuable and constructive feedback to others. I also had students answer all of the lingering questions that others had about their work.

I must admit that the first time I tried this activity, the feedback students gave wasn’t very thoughtful or descriptive. It included things like “you used a good strategy” and “your writing could be neater”. I did have one group that had something constructive to say and I used this as a jumping point into teaching students about how descriptive feedback was a valuable tool to help each other bump up the quality of their math responses. By the second math problem, students began to really think about the feedback they were going to give and became more accountable for the work they produced. Because they knew their peers would be giving them feedback and that it would be displayed for all of those entering our classroom to see, groups began to invest more time and effort into producing their best work! This had turned into a student led activity where I, the teacher, simply acted as a guide throughout the process!

I decided to still label our bulletin board as a Bump it Up Wall even though it was very different from most Bump it Up Walls. Instead of labeling work as excellent, average or poor, the student descriptive feedback, written by groups of students, was displayed next to each completed math problem. As a way of reinforcing good feedback, I asked each group to choose only the organizer that had the most helpful feedback and displayed that organizer next to their work. Before completing another math problem, I began having groups visit the Bump it Up Wall to review the descriptive feedback they received from the last math problem and had them discuss how they could apply it to their next math problem.

I have to say that I’ve seen a huge improvement in students ability to determine how they can add details or revise their work to improve the overall quality. They are also much more comfortable giving, as well as receiving feedback from others. One area where I saw improvement, which I wasn’t anticipating, is my students willingness to apply MY teacher feedback that I write on assessments, when I hand back after grading! I’ve seen an overall improvement in the quality of student work and grades as a result. If you’d like to try this activity, you can find a free sample at my Inspire to Learn store on TPT. I also have the full unit, Math Collaborative Problem Solving in my store, which includes all of the resources that I used throughout this learning activity!

My next goal is to see if I can apply this strategy across other areas of the curriculum and see similar results! I’m definitely glad I took the step to try a Bump it Up Wall in my classroom and the time it took to implement it, along with the descriptive feedback strategy, has actually freed up some time for curriculum teaching! I was surprised to see that because students were taking the time to think about the quality of their work and apply feedback in a more meaningful way, I spent less time having to re-teach various concepts throughout the year!

If you are looking to improve the quality of your students responses and are thinking of trying a Bump it Up Wall, find an approach that fits with your own teaching philosophy and watch your students grow as learners!