Useful Feedback for Students and Teachers

May 29, 2016 , In: TEACH
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Thanks to our awesome Head of Primary Curriculum, Bec McClay, I was able to attend this year’s Thinking & Learning Conference organised by Hawker Brownlow Education. ‘Feedback that Feeds Forward’ was one session I was excited about because it tied in with one of my professional learning goals for the year: becoming wiser in giving useful feedback to my students.

My exact words from my appraisal meeting with our Principal last year were, ‘Be wiser in giving feedback by researching how best to give it, which pieces of work to mark and what matters most for students’ growth and confidence.’

This goal was borne out of recognising that there is potentially no end to the comments I could make on students’ work. And whilst as a kid, I loved pretending to be an ‘office girl’ with piles of paper to sort through, assess and sign, the reality of teaching is that work to mark is in competition with other important tasks. Everything takes time.

And whilst as a kid, I loved pretending to be an ‘office girl’ with piles of paper to sort through, assess and sign, the reality of teaching is that work to mark is in competition with other important tasks. Everything takes time.

Five Important Things To Remember About Feedback

Here are a five things I learnt from the session led by Dr Susan Brookhart, a former teacher and a long-time education researcher, author and speaker:

1. Feedback must be positive, with ONE suggestion for improvement

One thing I was sure of before the session was that feedback has to be specific to be helpful and I was convinced that I was doing a pretty fine job of that. I would write or share with my students specific, multiple points they can work on, especially in writing tasks.

When Dr Brookhart said that it’s best to keep comments mostly positive and include ONE suggestion for improvement, I knew that was something I needed to work on.

If you’re asking why, good question! After all, shouldn’t we be setting high standards for our students? Dr Brookhart did not elaborate on the psychology or research behind it but she shared, ‘We all need positive feedback.’ I’m sure we all agree.

In our Writing class, I became aware that I tend to start with how students can improve their writing. I had to stop and remind myself to first point out three positive things about each child’s work.

In our Writing class, I became aware that I tend to start with how students can improve their writing. I had to stop and remind myself to first point out three positive things about each child’s work.

 

With the student by my side, I drew a star and a comment for every good aspect of their work. I then suggested something they can work on by starting with, ‘Now, your next step can be…’ For some, I asked them, ‘What do you think your next step could be?’

You should’ve seen the difference this approach made to my students’ happiness and motivation. Having a sense that they did well motivated them to work on the next step with focus and enthusiasm.

Your turn: Pick a subject this week and when students show you their work, think of three positive comments you can say first! Then, give one, yes, just ONE suggestion for improvement. You can start by saying, ‘Your next step would be…’

Useful feedback - one next step

2. Useful feedback means both the student and the teacher learn something

The phrase ‘giving feedback’ seems one-sided so I appreciated the emphasis that meaningful feedback benefits both the student and the teacher.

Continuing with the Writing example, for each one-on-one feedback session I had, students learnt at least one thing they could get better at. On the other hand, I learnt which areas I can better support my students with.

When I relayed to one student that her next step is to break her story into paragraphs, she asked, ‘What’s a paragraph?’ I could have answered in frustration that we have discussed this in class many times but this was a teaching moment and I took it. Sometimes it’s that one-on-one reinforcement that can make all the difference.

Your turn: When assessing students’ work and giving feedback, take mental notes of the skills and understanding your students need more practice in. After the session, spend five minutes writing down notes to help shape your next lesson. These will also be great anecdotal evidence for writing report comments.

3. Students must know the learning goal or success criteria

At one point in the session, Dr Brookhart asked us to applaud her. It was a bit random and out-of-the-blue but she was the speaker and so we indulged her.

Afterwards, she showed us this:

APPLAUSE RUBRIC

 

A B C

D/F

Volume

So loud I can’t hear myself think Loud enough that I can’t hear myself speak Loud-ish in some parts of the room but quiet in others So quiet I can hear the toilet flush in the ladies room

Tempo

Rapid: Hands are hurriedly smacked together FastL Hands are quickly brought together Leisurely: Hands are hit together at an unhurried pace Slow: Fingers are slowly tapped together

Dynamics

Erupts suddenly, builds to a deafening crescendo that is sustained for a second or more, then fades slowly. May involve cheering Builds up for a second, peaks, then fades No change in dynamics, half-hearted throughout Begins with a silent pause, pitter-pats for a second then fizzles

 

We rated ourselves based on the first time and then she asked us to applaud her again.

This time, everyone was giving it their all.

This was a bit of fun. She did this to prove the point that when students know the learning goal or the success criteria, they can monitor how they are doing and be more motivated to achieve or give their best.

In Maths, my students can see what skill they are trying to master and after explicit teaching, most can usually keep practicing independently.

The first few times I displayed my students’ learning goals, I realised how important it was to be very clear with the language used. I simply copied and pasted from our Numeracy progression document statements like, ‘Multiply 3D by 1D’. The students were quick to let me know I had to explain that further.

Your turn: Write or display a lesson’s learning goal where students can see it. Whether your success criteria is a statement or in a rubric, make sure it can be understood by students.

Useful feedback - learning goal

4. Feedback must be differentiated according to the learner’s needs

Differentiated learning is no new thing but it was my first time to hear of differentiation when giving feedback.

In practice, I’m sure we do this already but I find it’s useful to think about this so we make sure we are fair in giving feedback.

Wherever students are at in relation to the learning goal, our feedback must remain positive and motivating.

These are the levels and types of feedback suggested:

Successful – For those who easily grasp the concept or skill taught, Dr Brookhart suggests for a teacher to remind them of the learning target and describe how they are doing well based on the success criteria.

These students must then be encouraged to continue to practice these skills.

If it were a Maths class and you just taught them about equivalent fractions, students at this level can keep applying their skills until they are able to successfully complete a number of practice items.

Moderately unsuccessful – For those who are beginning to understand, remind them of the learning target, observe how they are attempting the task and do at least one of the following: suggest one next step, scaffold or provide some examples.

In that same Maths lesson on equivalent fractions, you might observe that a student seems to get it when you do an example together. You may want to talk through each step in the process by asking them questions and letting them work through it with your support.

Unsuccessful – If students are clearly not able to perform the learning goal by themselves, encourage them by asking questions that you know they can answer. Build on what they know and re-teach.

5. Feedback must be given when the learning is going on, it must be part of the lesson

There’s so much freedom in that statement! It does not totally absolve us from marking work after school but it should definitely take some of the burden off our shoulders.

Feedback is most effective when it is timely and timely means when the learning is still going on! Students benefit from feedback when they actually have the opportunity to do something with the teacher’s comments.

The encouragement from Dr Brookhart is that we must make room for feedback in our lessons, whilst the students are there with us.

From this, I have set a challenge for myself and our learning team as we create the planners for next term: incorporate useful feedback in lessons by providing time and some structure.

According to Professor John Hattie’s meta-analysis of 1276 studies, feedback is in the top ten factors that positively affect student learning. Instead of giving feedback ‘on the fly’, we should carefully plan for it.

Your turn: Share this with your team. Talk about the ways you all give feedback in different subject areas. Discuss how you can include time for feedback as part of lessons.

Useful feedback - make it part of the lesson

Here’s a quick re-cap of my highlights from being in Dr Brookhart’s session ‘Feedback that Feeds Forward’:

  1. Feedback must be positive, with ONE suggestion for improvement
  2. Useful feedback means both the student and the teacher learn something
  3. Students must know what the learning goal is
  4. Feedback must be differentiated according to the learner’s needs
  5. Feedback must be given when the learning is going on, it must be part of the lesson

 

Questions and comments

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Rachel Herweynen

Teacher & Traveller

Alive because of Jesus - a teacher, traveller and wife of a photographer. I write to learn, to help and to be thankful.

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