Students’ feedback on what supported their learning during a lesson or series of lessons and what did not.
Measurement instrument overview
Plus/delta is a method to regularly solicit students’ feedback. At the end of class, students reflect on what worked for them and their learning (“pluses”) and on areas of change they would like to suggest to their instructor (“deltas”). Educators design their own method for collecting student pluses and deltas, including scribing pluses and deltas on a whiteboard, adding plus/delta sticky notes to a poster board, or using virtual tools like Padlet or Jamboard. Students might share their pluses and deltas verbally or in writing.
Connection to student learning
Plus/delta creates quick feedback loops to help teachers understand students’ perspectives on what’s working for them and what teachers can change to better support student learning.
In addition to providing teachers with valuable feedback, plus/delta can help students reflect metacognitively on their own learning and support students to identify strategies that help them learn best.
What we know about how well this measure works for its intended use
The Menomonee Falls school district has used the plus/delta approach with students for over a decade. Representatives from the district spoke to the effectiveness of plus/delta in making student feedback a regular part of teachers’ routines, providing teachers with actionable data, and empowering students to reflect on their own identities as learners. District staff members also use the plus/delta strategy to guide next steps in contexts outside of the classroom, including teacher grade-level teams, facilities personnel, school board meetings, and student-parent-teacher conferences.
Teachers at Menomonee Falls aim to use plus/delta with students every 10–15 days. This frequency enables an “intentional pause” midway through a unit and helps teachers better understand what’s working for students and why students are grasping or struggling with material before assessments.
Many teachers also use plus/delta strategically after trying something new with students (for example, a new note-taking strategy or problem-solving approach, or a change idea that’s part of a Plan-Do-Study-Act inquiry cycle). Because plus/delta feedback is quick to collect and process, some teachers make plus/delta a more regular part of their routine — even daily.
Measurement routine details
Typically, students verbally offer feedback at the end of a lesson, and the teacher records pluses and deltas on a whiteboard. Students should start with the “pluses” first. Teachers might also solicit pluses and deltas through a written form or by having students write their pluses and deltas on sticky notes and posting them on the whiteboard. In a virtual environment, students might use Google Draw, Padlet, or other online platforms to post their pluses and deltas. Some teachers incorporate a “think-pair-share” to help students process, verbalize, and share their feedback.
It’s important that teachers solicit pluses and deltas from students who are struggling or who tend to be less vocal or less engaged. To do this, teachers might follow up with individual students they did not hear from during the group plus/delta share or consider an option for students to offer pluses and deltas in writing.
After processing student pluses and deltas, teachers should share back trends and notable points from the feedback with students as well as what they intend to continue or change as a result of that feedback.
Data analysis details
Plus/delta provides teachers with a simple, minimally burdensome way to get students’ perspectives on what to continue and what to try next. When processing plus/delta feedback, teachers can identify effective and less effective strategies and update subsequent lesson plans and approaches accordingly.
Teachers might give special attention to the feedback from students who need additional support to better understand what is and is not working for them. At the same time, teachers should be mindful of what’s working for students who are succeeding so they can continue to offer these students choice and flexibility.
Teachers can also consider plus/delta feedback alongside other data sources, such as assessment data, as a way to better understand why students are or are not grasping content.
Conditions that support use
The Menomonee Falls team stressed several factors that have made plus/delta an effective tool in their district:
- Teachers are explicit about the learning strategies for which they will be asking for student feedback as well as the learning goals the strategies are meant to support. This helps students offer more specific and actionable feedback.
- The district has a broader culture of valuing student voice, and feedback is a central part of how the district operates, whether it is from students, faculty, or staff. This culture supports students’ capacity to offer actionable feedback and teachers’ receptivity towards that feedback.
- Teachers are intentional in sharing back plus/deltas with their class as well as the changes they intend to make based on student feedback.
- To help ensure that feedback from all students is heard (not just that of the students who are the most vocal, the most engaged, or the most highly academically achieving), teachers take the initiative to understand the pluses and deltas of students who seem disengaged or who may be uncomfortable sharing feedback out loud. Often this means following up with a student one on one, working to build a relationship with the student, or experimenting with how plus/delta feedback is collected (e.g., through written means, or by prefacing plus/delta with a “think-pair-share”).
- Students may need practice to become comfortable offering specific and actionable feedback.
- Some teachers who are unused to centering student perspectives may be reluctant to incorporate student feedback into their regular routines.
- Some students — often those who feel disengaged or marginalized — may be reluctant to offer up pluses and deltas.
In the School District of Menomonee Falls, the regular collection of feedback through the plus/delta method plays a central role in the district’s improvement efforts. One area in which plus/delta has been particularly impactful is where it is used with students themselves to offer feedback to teachers.
The use of plus/delta with students embodies the philosophy that the people closest to the work can do the problem-solving. As Pat Greco, the former Menomonee Falls Superintendent explains, plus/delta “is a way of getting the people closest to the work — the kids — engaged in the problem-solving process, in an elegantly simple way.”
The Menomonee Falls team acknowledged some concerns that teachers new to plus/delta might have: “What if students just say they don’t want homework?” or, “What if students hate everything I’m doing and I have to change everything tomorrow?” But after years of implementing plus/delta with students, Menomonee Falls has identified some strategies that support students to reflect metacognitively on how they’re learning while priming students to offer specific, actionable feedback on the learning approaches that are and are not working for them. The team advised that teachers using plus/delta with their students for the first time be very targeted in what they are looking for. Instead of “what do you think about this class?” tell students, “I’m going to try this strategy with you and this is why.”
Menomonee Falls has also found that plus/delta works best when learning goals are explicit. Students at Menomonee Falls translate academic standards into student-centered language built around “I can” statements. When students consider a teacher’s strategy in light of how it supports their progress toward a clear learning goal, they are better able to offer helpful feedback and reflect on their own learning and progress.
The Menomonee Falls team also stressed that it is critical to show students their feedback is taken seriously. Some Menomonee Falls teachers use the “stoplight” approach when sharing back plus/deltas with their classes. Feedback that teachers plan to act on right away is coded in green, feedback that teachers need to think about more is coded in yellow, and feedback that teachers can’t act on is coded in red, and teachers explain why.
Plus/delta feedback from students who are struggling in class or who are struggling with academic achievement is crucial. However, those students might sometimes also be less likely to fully engage in the plus/delta activity. Casey Blochowiak, Director of Curriculum and Learning, and Suzy Thomas, Director of Quality and Analytics, explained, “That’s where we look to our teachers to be skilled at building relationships with students and not letting them opt out.” They suggest that teachers can loop back with students individually or use written reflections to gather pluses and deltas from students who are reluctant to speak up in class. And plus/delta itself can be a tool to build relationships with students. As Casey and Suzy stressed, “Kids who feel disengaged and not supported are going to stay pretty quiet. But when you are meeting with them individually and collectively and pulling their voice into the process, that’s when they’re going to feel that level of support and confidence that the adults around them are focused on their best interest, not just content delivery.”
Casey Blochowiak, Director of Curriculum and Learning, School District of Menomonee Falls
Pat Greco, former Superintendent, School District of Menomonee Falls
Suzy Thomas, Director of Quality and Analytics, School District of Menomonee Falls