Some teachers and I had an interesting discussion last week about how despite our best efforts at giving feedback, students weren’t so good at using it. From that we evolved into a discussion about how kids cared about the mark, not the feedback, and how could we move towards kids seeing the intrinsic value of their work instead of the extrinsic reward of marks.
I really don’t know but I think it bears thinking about, so I did some and here are some of my wonderings, in no particular order.
When I think about the times when I receive feedback, it almost always feels evaluative when it happens after the fact, even when it is not meant to be. Although I listen and I make efforts to apply the feedback to the next time, it still makes me feel kind of lousy. It doesn’t help me feel better about the incident upon which I am getting feedback. So, although I know it is necessary and “good for me”, I will admit that I don’t like it.
When I get feedback as I am doing something, I don’t feel so bad. I think about making pots on the wheel. If my instructor tells me after the pot is glazed that the shape doesn’t quite work for the vase, I get it and try to remember for next time, but usually I end up disliking that vase. But if he comes by my wheel as I am throwing the pot and tells me that a slight change will improve the form, and helps me do it, then not only am I more likely to appreciate the feedback but I can apply it right then and love the pot.
I hate starting over completely, even when I know I should. Even when feedback is telling me I should. I remember a time when I painted the entire basement the wrong shade of yellow. The basement looked awful. I went to the paint store, feeling disheartened, and the paint guru was able to help me figure out how to soften the paint colour with a glaze instead of starting all over with primer. Her expertise helped me to make a big problem a littler problem.
John Hattie, an educational researcher, has looked at the effect size of common school practices. The one thing that is found to be true the most often is that students are consistently very good at predicting how well they will do on a test or assignment—they don’t really need the grade to tell them. So, I am thinking that somehow we need to get kids to change how they will do on an assignment before it is finsihed. I think that we thought that the communication of learning goals and success criteria would help (and maybe it does to some extent), but if the student isn’t sure how to apply the success criteria to his or her work, it isn’t useful. Again, we need to have the change occur immediately in the doing stage.
And I was thinking about the teachers I currently work with . They have all made changes to their teaching practices in the two years I have been their principal. They all appear to be making the changes willingly and with great enthusiasm. They work together and talk about what is going on in their classrooms. They support each other. While my role has been that of coach, cheerleader and guide, I have never stated that such and such a change MUST happen by a certain date (I am not a principal who insists on particular practices such as posting learning goals). They were not offered salary increases or rewards or even a gold star for changing your practice. So why did they? Why do we puzzle over things, try new ways of doing things, reflective on our practice and continually try to improve?
And finally, I was talking with a teacher today about collaboration. She is in a board project that is focussed on getting kids to collaborate and was telling us the story of one boy, Billy, who is always distracted and off task but she liked her collaboration checklist because she could redirect him more specifically. Good, I thought. But then as the conversation moved on she began to tell us how thrilled she was with the Genius Projects she was trying. Billy never needed redirecting due to off task behaviour then, because he was totally engaged and interested in what he was doing. How important is engagement to the process of accepting feedback and the role of intrinsic motivation?
Perhaps as I muddle through this a bit more I will come up with some answers. I’d love to hear what you think.