A teacher said, “I just keep thinking that feedback is always me talking to the students about their work.” As teachers, when we hear the word “feedback” that’s what we think of automatically. And then we despair that we don’t have enough time to give that kind of feedback to every one of our students about every one of their assignments or tasks. It is a daunting task. Certainly that is one form of feedback to students and research shows that when students receive regular and timely feedback as they are learning, they do much better.
Grant Wiggins gives this definition of feedback:
Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. I hit a tennis ball with the goal of keeping it in the court, and I see where it lands—in or out. I tell a joke with the goal of making people laugh, and I observe the audience’s reaction—they laugh loudly or barely snicker. I teach a lesson with the goal of engaging students, and I see that some students have their eyes riveted on me while others are nodding off. (http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx)
He goes on to state that feedback is never evaluative nor is it advice. It is simply information conveyed about the effects of an action as related to a goal.
Dictionary.com says that the origin of the word comes from 1915-20 where the verb phrase “feed back” became a noun. Again, it is this idea that information is fed back to you in response to an action.
When I go to the gym and work on the elliptical machine I get lots of feedback during my work out:
- I can see if I am keeping my pace up and compare it to other days
- I can compare my pace to how my body is feeling this day.
- I can tell how far I am going and how long it is taking.
- I can feel how my legs are feeling and my breathing and if I am doing ok.
- If my back hurts then I know my posture is off.
All of that information affects my workout. I make choices to work harder, back off, change something or give up for the day.
In your classroom there are many ways that students can receive feedback about their learning:
- You can conference with students offering non-evaluative comments about what you understand and what might be unclear in their work. You can ask thought-provoking questions.
- When students are working on little whiteboards and holding up their answers, you get feedback on whether they understand, but you also offer immediate feedback when you stop to reteach a concept because you notice a lot of misconceptions. This happens, too, when you are using Kahoots, if you stop and explain when the majority are incorrect.
- When your students are working in groups or pairs they are getting constant feedback from their peers. For example, Jack and Sue are solving a math problem. Jack says something and Sue looks at him quizzically. Jack now knows that either his idea is off or he has explained it unclearly. Both are good pieces of information. He tries to explain his point again using a different tactic and one of two things happens. Either, Sue now understands and Jack knows that his original explanation was unclear, or Sue still doesn’t understand and Jack begins to suspect his thinking may not be clear. They go on in this fashion until both understand.
- In French class when the teacher asks students to repeat words or phrases multiple times, paying attention to their pronunciation they are getting feedback. They try it out, the teacher says it again, they try it again trying to mimic the pronunciation closer.
- In PE class when two partners are volleying the ball and the one partner is not able to return it, both students are receiving feedback. The one volleying the ball may not have good enough control to get the ball to the right spot. The one receiving the ball may need to move or change position in order to return the ball. When both partners have a goal of keeping the volleying going as long as possible, both are using feedback from the process to achieve their goal.
- When students can compare their work against an anchor chart, rubric, checklist or exemplar before submitting, they are receiving feedback. They can see if their work contains all the components required and if not, are able to fix the work.
- When the teacher says, highlight all the places in your writing where you used descriptive words (or periods, or dialogue, or complex sentences etc.) the student gets immediate feedback by seeing to what extent he or she has done so.
- When a student is involved in an inquiry project in science and has multiple opportunities to test a hypothesis, he or she is getting feedback. If the task is to build a bridge that will hold a certain weight, and the bridge breaks, that is feedback. When a student is encouraged to use that feedback to figure out what didn’t work and attempt a different design, the student has used that feedback to learn.
Teachers can, in a planned and purposeful way, design their instruction so that students have many meaningful opportunities to receive feedback as they are working:
- Provide students with multiple opportunities to try something out
- Provide students opportunities to talk with their peers about complex and challenging problems
- Provide students with support as they are working not only after they are working
- Ensure that students know what goals they are working towards, and are able to see that their efforts make a difference in achieving those goals