Feedback in the Classroom

“What feedback did you receive today to help you in your learning?” is a power question I recently heard John Hattie ask. It was one that he asked his own children after school. So I asked my Miss 16. “Nothing,” was the continual reply. I was curious…

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Couple this with a post I saw on social media (right) and it really got me thinking. Are the modern generation uncoachable? How good are we at giving and receiving feedback? What do we, as teachers, need to do to en-sure our students are coachable and can receive feedback?

Speaker Michael McQueen touched on this at a Teachers Matter Conference, remarking that students need to be able to receive feedback in the workplace to be coachable and learn the job. He went on to say that the flawed ‘self-esteem’ movement from the 1980’s and the practice
of giving everyone a participatory ribbon has made students less likely to strive to be better; therefore, less coachable.

Interestingly, my daughter comes home from sports training and 1-1 coaching with specific ‘next steps’ or ‘work ons,’ but not from school. Is it a matter of motivation or a difference in philosophy?

Professor John Hattie is very clear in his research: Feedback has more impact on student results than any other teaching strategies. Numerous articles and researchers all agree. Specific feedback increases motivation, builds on existing knowledge and helps students reflect on what they have learned.

What might that look like? Here are some ideas:

Build the Classroom Culture: To ensure students can learn from feedback a strong classroom climate needs to be established, such as a climate that values mistakes and focuses on the learning, not merely the product or outcomes. Professor James Pennebaker conveys this in his research, “Both mastery of content and more importantly, the mastery of how to think, require trial-and-error learning.” Do your students celebrate making mistakes, or hide them? Is the process important or only the product? Do you have conversationsabout learning? Do your students understand the learning process?

I wrote about some of this in another article, ‘How do Students Know They Know?’ Unknowingly, schools often glorify the results, not the thinking, mindset, dispositions and hard work that goes on to get to the end product. Students need to know not only where they are at, and where they are going, but they also are required to understand that each student is on their own learning path, at different stages and therefore avoid comparison, yet support each other on the journey.

The ability to receive feedback, therefore requires students to know that making mistakes, being vulnerable and being okay with the struggle of not knowing as all being part of the process.

Give Feedback ASAP:

Many studies indicate that the most effective feed-back is given immediately rather than a few days, weeks or months later. Focusing on what students did correctly is far more powerful that focusing on what is wrong. Students can become defensive, anxious and blame when what they have done incorrectly is pointed out and this often de-creases resilience. Remember to notice extra effort or risk taking.

Use Explicit Criteria and Rubrics:

Making assessment criteria explicit helps student to recognise what is important and valued in the curriculum, focus their efforts on key learning outcomes and evaluate their own performance through self-assessment and reflection.

Work with students to write clear criteria. Experience shows that typically, students will actually create more complex and challenging criteria than teachers. Avoid words such as never, sometimes, often and always as these are subjective. Be sure to assist students to understand what success might look like and sound like with clear exemplars and examples.

Empower the Students to Coach Each Other:

Explicitly model and teach students how to coach each other to give critique and feedback. This often takes the form of the teacher publicly coaching a student as a model for others and empowering students to do the same in pairs or small groups. If you have not seen the video,
‘Austins Butterfly,’ by Ron Berger, please take some time to watch.

An English teacher I had the pleasure of working with, used this model for her Year 10 class. Instead of the students handing in their draft essays for teacher feedback, she asked them to form small groups and taught them how to give feedback using the already established rubrics.

This was done typically a couple of times prior to the due date. Not only did this free up the teacher’s time to focus on the learning for all, it also impacted the learning in other ways. First, as students referenced the criteria in other student’s work, they learned more deeply what the
criteria meant and were therefore able to adapt their writing to meet the criteria. Secondly and per-haps surprisingly, peer feedback resulted in no plagiarism.

As all students were using the same or similar resources, it forced them to use their own words and interpretation. Furthermore, the teachers reported the depth of discussions was far broader and more meaningful than perhaps they might have been if it was a class discussion. Feedback was also given in a more timely manner than the teacher writing individual comments. How might you adapt this for your subject/s?

Gems & Opportunities:

This a great way to introduce students to giving feedback given to me by Dr Rich Allen. When a student has shared work, performed or shown their progress, the student then asks for feedback from their peers. The student chooses who gives the feedback receiving two to three gems (what they did well) first and then two to three opportunities (ways to improve). Empowering the student to choose who gives the feedback keeps them in control of the process and receptive to the responses. After you have facilitated this process a few times, encourage them to choose people who are not in their close circle of friends.

Active Gallery Walk: Invite students to set out their work, drafts or progress around the classroom desks or walls. Give each student two sets of coloured post-it notes. One colour represents positive feedback and the other colour, questions for the student to consider. Students then walk around viewing and considering their peers’ work and providing feedback. There are many variations to this, including doing this in small groups, using I Like, I Wonder, Next Steps or a Gallery Run, which is a quicker version.

Other Considerations:
• As your classroom is filled with diverse learners, be sensitive to individual needs.
• Avoid comparisons as every student is on their own learning journey.
• Avoid using the word “but.” This may put a student on the defensive.
• Be genuine in your praise. Insincere feedback is easy to detect and can be off putting. Too much can give a sense of low expectations.
• Ask students to give you feedback as the teacher. What are you doing well and how might you improve?
• Use verbs rather than adjectives. For example using the word “rude,” will have multiple meanings to different people. However saying, “You raised your voice and used unnecessarily short sentences,” provides specific information which can be improved.
• End with clear action points. What do you want the student to do next?
• Focus on the process, not the student’s natural ability.

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Karen Tui Boyes

Karen Tui Boyes is a champion for LifeLong Learning. A multi-award-winning speaker, educator and businesswoman, she is an expert in effective teaching, learning, study skills, motivation and positive thinking. Karen is the CEO of Spectrum Education, Principal of Spectrum Online Academy and the author of 10 books. She loves empowering teachers, parents and students and is the wife to one and the mother of two young adults.
Karen was named the GIFEW Evolutionary Woman of the Year 2022.