Seven keys to effective feedback

Advice, evaluation, grades—none of these provide the descriptive information that students need to reach their goals. What is true feedback—and how can it improve learning?

http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx

Feedback Essentials

Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.

Goal-Referenced

Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about his or her actions. I told a joke—why? To make people laugh. I wrote a story to engage the reader with vivid language and believable dialogue that captures the characters’ feelings. I went up to bat to get a hit. If I am not clear on my goals or if I fail to pay attention to them, I cannot get helpful feedback (nor am I likely to achieve my goals).

Information becomes feedback if, and only if, I am trying to cause something and the information tells me whether I am on track or need to change course. If some joke or aspect of my writing isn’t working—a revealing, nonjudgmental phrase—I need to know.

Note that in everyday situations, goals are often implicit, although fairly obvious to everyone. I don’t need to announce when telling the joke that my aim is to make you laugh. But in school, learners are often unclear about the specific goal of a task or lesson, so it is crucial to remind them about the goal and the criteria by which they should self-assess. For example, a teacher might say,

  • The point of this writing task is for you to make readers laugh. So, when rereading your draft or getting feedback from peers, ask, How funny is this? Where might it be funnier?
  • As you prepare a table poster to display the findings of your science project, remember that the aim is to interest people in your work as well as to describe the facts you discovered through your experiment. Self-assess your work against those two criteria using these rubrics. The science fair judges will do likewise.

Tangible and Transparent

Any useful feedback system involves not only a clear goal, but also tangible results related to the goal. People laugh, chuckle, or don’t laugh at each joke; students are highly attentive, somewhat attentive, or inattentive to my teaching.

Even as little children, we learn from such tangible feedback. That’s how we learn to walk; to hold a spoon; and to understand that certain words magically yield food, drink, or a change of clothes from big people. The best feedback is so tangible that anyone who has a goal can learn from it.

Alas, far too much instructional feedback is opaque, as revealed in a true story a teacher told me years ago. A student came up to her at year’s end and said, “Miss Jones, you kept writing this same word on my English papers all year, and I still don’t know what it means.” “What’s the word? ” she asked. “Vag-oo,” he said. (The word was vague!)

Sometimes, even when the information is tangible and transparent, the performers don’t obtain it—either because they don’t look for it or because they are too busy performing to focus on the effects. In sports, novice tennis players or batters often don’t realize that they’re taking their eyes off the ball; they often protest, in fact, when that feedback is given. (Constantly yelling “Keep your eye on the ball!” rarely works.) And we have all seen how new teachers are sometimes so busy concentrating on “teaching” that they fail to notice that few students are listening or learning.

That’s why, in addition to feedback from coaches or other able observers, video or audio recordings can help us perceive things that we may not perceive as we perform; and by extension, such recordings help us learn to look for difficult-to-perceive but vital information. I recommend that all teachers videotape their own classes at least once a month. It was a transformative experience for me when I did it as a beginning teacher. Concepts that had been crystal clear to me when I was teaching seemed opaque and downright confusing on tape—captured also in the many quizzical looks of my students, which I had missed in the moment.

Actionable

Effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information. Thus, “Good job!” and “You did that wrong” and B+ are not feedback at all. We can easily imagine the learners asking themselves in response to these comments, What specifically should I do more or less of next time, based on this information? No idea. They don’t know what was “good” or “wrong” about what they did.

Actionable feedback must also be accepted by the performer. Many so-called feedback situations lead to arguments because the givers are not sufficiently descriptive; they jump to an inference from the data instead of simply presenting the data. For example, a supervisor may make the unfortunate but common mistake of stating that “many students were bored in class.” That’s a judgment, not an observation. It would have been far more useful and less debatable had the supervisor said something like, “I counted ongoing inattentive behaviors in 12 of the 25 students once the lecture was underway. The behaviors included texting under desks, passing notes, and making eye contact with other students. However, after the small-group exercise began, I saw such behavior in only one student.”

Such care in offering neutral, goal-related facts is the whole point of the clinical supervision of teaching and of good coaching more generally. Effective supervisors and coaches work hard to carefully observe and comment on what they observed, based on a clear statement of goals. That’s why I always ask when visiting a class, “What would you like me to look for and perhaps count?” In my experience as a teacher of teachers, I have always found such pure feedback to be accepted and welcomed. Effective coaches also know that in complex performance situations, actionable feedback about what went right is as important as feedback about what didn’t work.

User-Friendly

Even if feedback is specific and accurate in the eyes of experts or bystanders, it is not of much value if the user cannot understand it or is overwhelmed by it. Highly technical feedback will seem odd and confusing to a novice. Describing a baseball swing to a 6-year-old in terms of torque and other physics concepts will not likely yield a better hitter. Too much feedback is also counterproductive; better to help the performer concentrate on only one or two key elements of performance than to create a buzz of information coming in from all sides.

Expert coaches uniformly avoid overloading performers with too much or too technical information. They tell the performers one important thing they noticed that, if changed, will likely yield immediate and noticeable improvement (“I was confused about who was talking in the dialogue you wrote in this paragraph”). They don’t offer advice until they make sure the performer understands the importance of what they saw.

Timely

In most cases, the sooner I get feedback, the better. I don’t want to wait for hours or days to find out whether my students were attentive and whether they learned, or which part of my written story works and which part doesn’t. I say “in most cases” to allow for situations like playing a piano piece in a recital. I don’t want my teacher or the audience barking out feedback as I perform. That’s why it is more precise to say that good feedback is “timely” rather than “immediate.”

A great problem in education, however, is untimely feedback. Vital feedback on key performances often comes days, weeks, or even months after the performance—think of writing and handing in papers or getting back results on standardized tests. As educators, we should work overtime to figure out ways to ensure that students get more timely feedback and opportunities to use it while the attempt and effects are still fresh in their minds.

Before you say that this is impossible, remember that feedback does not need to come only from the teacher, or even from people at all. Technology is one powerful tool—part of the power of computer-assisted learning is unlimited, timely feedback and opportunities to use it. Peer review is another strategy for managing the load to ensure lots of timely feedback; it’s essential, however, to train students to do small-group peer review to high standards, without immature criticisms or unhelpful praise.

Ongoing

Adjusting our performance depends on not only receiving feedback but also having opportunities to use it. What makes any assessment in education formative is not merely that it precedes summative assessments, but that the performer has opportunities, if results are less than optimal, to reshape the performance to better achieve the goal. In summative assessment, the feedback comes too late; the performance is over.

Thus, the more feedback I can receive in real time, the better my ultimate performance will be. This is how all highly successful computer games work. If you play Angry Birds, Halo, Guitar Hero, or Tetris, you know that the key to substantial improvement is that the feedback is both timely and ongoing. When you fail, you can immediately start over—sometimes even right where you left off—to get another opportunity to receive and learn from the feedback. (This powerful feedback loop is also user-friendly. Games are built to reflect and adapt to our changing need, pace, and ability to process information.)

It is telling, too, that performers are often judged on their ability to adjust in light of feedback. The ability to quickly adapt one’s performance is a mark of all great achievers and problem solvers in a wide array of fields. Or, as many little league coaches say, “The problem is not making errors; you will all miss many balls in the field, and that’s part of learning. The problem is when you don’t learn from the errors.”

Consistent

To be useful, feedback must be consistent. Clearly, performers can only adjust their performance successfully if the information fed back to them is stable, accurate, and trustworthy. In education, that means teachers have to be on the same page about what high-quality work is. Teachers need to look at student work together, becoming more consistent over time and formalizing their judgments in highly descriptive rubrics supported by anchor products and performances. By extension, if we want student-to-student feedback to be more helpful, students have to be trained to be consistent the same way we train teachers, using the same exemplars and rubrics.

Progress Toward a Goal

In light of these key characteristics of helpful feedback, how can schools most effectively use feedback as part of a system of formative assessment? The key is to gear feedback to long-term goals.

Let’s look at how this works in sports. My daughter runs the mile in track. At the end of each lap in races and practice races, the coaches yell out split times (the times for each lap) and bits of feedback (“You’re not swinging your arms!” “You’re on pace for 5:15”), followed by advice (“Pick it up—you need to take two seconds off this next lap to get in under 5:10!”).

My daughter and her teammates are getting feedback (and advice) about how they are performing now compared with their final desired time. My daughter’s goal is to run a 5:00 mile. She has already run 5:09. Her coach is telling her that at the pace she just ran in the first lap, she is unlikely even to meet her best time so far this season, never mind her long-term goal. Then, he tells her something descriptive about her current performance (she’s not swinging her arms) and gives her a brief piece of concrete advice (take two seconds off the next lap) to make achievement of the goal more likely.

The ability to improve one’s result depends on the ability to adjust one’s pace in light of ongoing feedback that measures performance against a concrete, long-term goal. But this isn’t what most school district “pacing guides” and grades on “formative” tests tell you. They yield a grade against recent objectives taught, not useful feedback against the final performance standards. Instead of informing teachers and students at an interim date whether they are on track to achieve a desired level of student performance by the end of the school year, the guide and the test grade just provide a schedule for the teacher to follow in delivering content and a grade on that content. It’s as if at the end of the first lap of the mile race, My daughter’s coach simply yelled out, “B+ on that lap!”

The advice for how to change this sad situation should be clear: Score student work in the fall and winter against spring standards, use more pre-and post-assessments to measure progress toward these standards, and do the item analysis to note what each student needs to work on for better future performance.

“But There’s No Time!”

Although the universal teacher lament that there’s no time for such feedback is understandable, remember that “no time to give and use feedback” actually means “no time to cause learning.” As we have seen, research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning. And there are numerous ways—through technology, peers, and other teachers—that students can get the feedback they need.

4 pieces of feedback that teachers should collect from their students

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From an article from the Connected Principals blog:

In another post, I presented a case why teachers should seek feedback from their students. In deciding to seek feedback from students, it is important that it is worthwhile for both the teacher and the student.

Firstly, from the student’s perspective, they need to feel comfortable in having a voice in your class and know that their teacher is genuinely seeking to improve, with action likely to be taken upon any worthwhile suggestions for improvement. Secondly, from the teacher’s perspective, the feedback needs to be targeted, very specific, in order to gather the most meaningful feedback on the aspect of teaching sought for improvement.

Below are 4 focus areas that teachers could use as starting points for collecting feedback from their students:

Feedback on the unit or topic just covered in class. This is perhaps a softer introduction to teachers collecting feedback from their students, as it focuses more on the work covered in class rather than the teaching. When seeking feedback on the unit of work, teachers may ask students if they were interested in it, whether they found any particular activity engaging, which aspects of the unit were more easy or more challenging.

Feedback on the classroom environment and / or climate. Teachers can ask students, at any time, how they feel about their class and how it can be improved. Questions can range from getting opinions about the look and feel of the classroom to the teacher’s manner and behaviour towards the students, for example, whether the students feel safe to answer questions in class, whether they feel that the teacher is approachable and / or supportive of them.

Feedback on the teaching strategies used. It is really worthwhile gathering information on what is working for your students and why. Expect varying answers from students, as there learning preferences and interests do differ. It is possible to include questions relating to the integration of technology here, what do the students think about including technology in their lessons and how you facilitate that. Remember that just because students like a particular teaching strategy, it does not always mean that a teacher should do more of it. Overuse of a particular strategy can have detrimental effects too. It is good, though, to know what teaching strategies students do not like and why. This does not mean that a teacher should avoid what students dislike, as this is not always possible, but we can strive to do things better.

Feedback on your feedback. Ask students about the feedback that they receive from their teacher. Does the feedback help them? Do they understand it? Do they feel they get too much feedback and are overwhelmed by it? Do they feel they have opportunities to use the feedback that their teacher gives them? These are great questions to ask students to gather data about how effective we are in supporting students learn and improve.

When collecting feedback from students, it is not necessary to always use a survey. Conversations are excellent ways to communicate with students and allow them to articulate how they feel about our teaching practice, how we facilitate and support their learning.

Feedback in schools by John Hattie

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Feedback is one of the top 10 influences on student achievement. John Hattie’s research has focused on feedback for a long time.

In 2011 John Hattie contributed to a publication by Sutton, Hornsey & Douglas about Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism, and advice with an article about ‘Feedback in schools’.

This short text is definitely a must-read for everybody trying to learn more about the feedback model behind the Visible Learning research. John Hattie provides some interesting clarifications and explanations to his previous articles about feedback in schools:

  1. Giving is not receiving: Teachers may claim they give much feedback, but the more appropriate measure is the nature of feedback received (and this is often quite little).
  2. The culture of the student can influence the feedback effects: Feedback is not only differentially given but also differentially received.
  3. Disconfirmation is more powerful than confirmation: When feedback is provided that disconfirms then there can be greater change, provided it is accepted.
  4. Errors need to be welcomed: The exposure to errors in a safe environment can lead to higher performance
  5. The power of peers: Interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback are needed.
  6. Feedback from assessment: Assessment (…) could and should also provide feedback to teachers about their methods.
  7. There are many strategies to maximize the power of feedback: Shute (2008) provided nine guidelines for using feedback to enhance learning:
    • focus feedback on the task not the learner,
    • provide elaborated feedback,
    • present elaborated feedback in manageable units,
    • be specific and clear with feedback messages,
    • keep feedback as simple as possible but no simpler,
    • reduce uncertainty between performance and goals,
    • give unbiased, objective feedback, written or via computer,
    • promote a learning goal orientation via feedback,
    • provide feedback after learners have attempted a solution.

(cf. John Hattie in Sutton, Hornsey,  & Douglas (2011), Feedback: The communication of praise, criticism, and advice.)

Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp On How to Provide Feedback

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How often do we give deep thought to how we provide feedback to others? It seems like something we’d all obviously like to do well, but most of the time we stink at it.

When was the last time you really felt your feedback improved someone else’s life, whether it was your spouse’s cooking or your employee’s performance?

The problem is that we forget we’re giving feedback to a fellow human being, not an advice-taking robot. Even when we’re well-intentioned, the message gets lost in the transmission. It’s like the old saying “What counts is not what’s said, but what’s heard.” We respond emotionally to criticism, even if it’s just implied criticism. (Are you sure you still fit into that dress?) This makes it difficult to help others improve. In other words, we fail to understand and appreciate human nature.

Roger Fisher and Alan Sharp On How to Provide Feedback

Learning Sciences: Dylan Wiliam Center

dylanwiliam I missed the webinar (6 am in the morning…keen but not that keen 🙂 )…lucky they recorded it along with some other interesting ones.

A bit about the centre:

For years, schools worldwide have accelerated learning, improved pedagogy, and encouraged collaboration with teacher learning communities and powerful formative assessment strategies under the guidance of Dr. Dylan Wiliam, the world’s foremost authority on formative assessment. In partnership with Learning Sciences International, Dr. Wiliam and Dylan Wiliam Center staff deliver powerful professional development on Strategic Formative Assessment to teachers and school administrators throughout North America.

Schools report up to an 80% improvement in student engagement and accelerated learning as teachers become more skilled at strategically embedding formative assessment into classroom practice. Watch and listen to this webinar series, which started in 2014, as Dylan Wiliam describes what formative assessment is (and is not), details out the five key strategies, provides dozens of practical techniques, and introduces the Dylan Wiliam Center’s newest line of professional development, Strategic Formative Assessment, which helps teachers move the needle in this ever-changing, standards-based, academically rigorous educational environment.

PowerPoint slides for: How do we know it works? The case for short-cycle formative assessment

Link to Webinars

The Digital Staff Meeting

digital-culture-blogHi All…I hope your last few days have run smoothly.  This Digital Staff Meeting will have two parts.  The first section will relate to our Full School Review and look for your feedback around possible “Applications”.  The second part will form some work around the development of our next 4 year plan.

Part 1: Application

Review the previous post to check the information that we collected.

What is Application?:

This is really a first step in action planning. What could we do with the information that we have  read and shared in the previous staff meeting? How does this influence my work?

 

Some things to consider:

We learn best by doing…

What are Professional Learning Communities?:

An ongoing process in which educators work collaboratively in recurring cycles of collective inquiry and action research to achieve better results for the students they serve.

Dufour, Dufour, Eaker & Many Learning by Doing: A Handbook for Professional Learning Communities at Work

http://www.allthingsplc.info/files/uploads/DuFourWhatIsAProfessionalLearningCommunity.pdf

Part 2: What great things we did…

A couple of videos to get you thinking about the possibilities.  I have shared part of one of these previously but they will be useful to consider in the context of the activity below.

If you get a chance also have a look at Leigh’s post on her blog around augmented reality.

The survey below is anonymous and will be used to shape elements of our vision for the future.  Remember a vision statement is something we look to reach towards.

https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/NRS8328

Classroom Walkthroughs

My personal feelings about walkthroughs (don’t quote me on this 🙂 ) If a Principal or leadership team is in the classrooms everyday (or as much as possible) and working with their teaching team then they should be able to naturally talk about what is going on and what to work on without a formal process.  I do understand that from a Lead Principal’s perspective they are not in all their schools everyday and it provides them with an opportunity to see what is going on.  It is also useful to have others opinions on what they see.  I won’t be pushing anyone to volunteer to have these walk through visits but if you are interested I will endeavour to make it work for you as a professional learning experience.  Some more research below:

Some of the research from Jane L. David (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational_leadership/dec07/vol65/num04/Classroom_Walk-Throughs.aspx)

What’s the Idea?

The idea behind walk-throughs is that firsthand classroom observations can paint a picture to inform improvement efforts. These observations typically involve looking at how well teachers are implementing a particular program or set of practices that the district or school has adopted. For example, a school principal might want to know whether teachers are able to put into practice their recent training on quick-writes and pair-shares.

In theory, before visiting classrooms, observers decide what they will focus on, what evidence they will collect, and how they will make sense of it. Afterward, they report their findings formally or informally to one or more audiences.

Walk-throughs are not intended to evaluate individual teachers or principals or even to identify them by name in postobservation reports. Rather, the goals of walk-throughs are to help administrators and teachers learn more about instruction and to identify what training and support teachers need.

What’s the Reality?

The sheer variety of walk-throughs is breathtaking. They can last from 2 to 45 minutes. The group observing may range from 2 to 12 people and may include teachers, administrators, community members, and students. Walk-throughs can focus on one teacher, all teachers, or a subset of teachers and schools.

Observers sometimes question students to find out whether they understand what they are doing in the lesson and why. In other cases, observers focus on a particular instructional challenge raised by the teachers under observation: for example, use of questioning techniques and wait time. Or, in a version of walk-throughs verging on compliance monitoring, observers are armed with a checklist on which to record how the classroom furniture is arranged and whether the teacher has posted state standards targeted by the lesson.

Sometimes observers huddle in the hall to discuss what they saw and later send a written report to the school. In other cases, they meet with the faculty to share their findings and then shred their notes at the end of the day to reinforce the point that their purpose is not to evaluate teachers.

Other resource:

https://www.naesp.org/resources/2/Principal/2009/M-A_p30.pdf