As I’ve been researching feedback and how it can be used in the classroom, I’ve become much more aware of how feedback occurs in my own life. If you know anything about me, this is how my brain works…I get very interested in a topic, then I see it everywhere (think DOK levels…everything I look at now has an immediate DOK level assigned to it). I’ve spent the last few days reflecting on how feedback has impacted my own life.
I have 3 children, and although those children are from the same house and raised by the same parents, their interests differ greatly. My oldest plays soccer. My two girls are involved in gymnastics. My oldest and youngest play piano, while my middle child engages in pottery lessons. In each of these instances, they receive immediate, timely, and specific feedback while they are practicing. Every time my son strikes the ball, his coach looks at his foot placement and whether or not his knee is bent. He makes suggestions that help him recognize where his body is over the ball in order to ensure proper placement. My daughters are told to point their toes or to straighten their mid-sections as they work on handstands. Through the arts, all of my children are watched carefully and are instructed on how to move their fingers in order to ensure that the music is played fluently or the clay does not fold over on the wheel. All of this feedback is immediate, and given one-on-one with my child involved in the process.
This is education. This is just-in-time feedback that makes an immediate improvement on their performance. And in these instances they practice, practice, practice. My son comes home and kicks the ball repeatedly against the outside wall of the house (sometimes hitting the window and getting a glare from mom…) based on the feedback he received in practice. My daughters take out the foam balance beam and repeat handstands over and over and over again, and interestingly, they seek their mom and dad’s feedback as they practice the same skill over and over. Every time my two piano players walk by the piano, they can’t help but to stop and bend over the keys to play a few notes, hold up their heads, and wait for mom or dad to comment on what they heard.
I believe that we are hard-wired to respond to feedback. I know that when I cook a meal for my family, plant a garden, or write a report that I am seeking feedback from others. Whether it’s a simple, “This tastes great!” to “Oh, that’s salty!”, feedback provides me with ways to change my performance.
So if we know this to be true, what is the implication for our classrooms? As a former teacher of middle school students, my students often wanted to know how they were doing. As a beginning teacher, I used to believe that I was the one who needed to provide the formal feedback, but that feedback often occurred in a summative fashion, when all papers or projects were turned in for final grading. As I progressed through my career, I found that I could leverage the power of their peers in providing feedback, but that students needed specific training in how to give feedback. In writing class, I would hold student writing up on the overhead projector (yes, yes I did say overhead projector), and ask students to read their rubrics and give specific feedback to the piece we were evaluating. We used the glow and grow method where we would give a specific compliment (“I love how you used a specific example from your life to connect to the topic.” – glow) and then provide a way to improve (“Consider rewriting your introduction to include an anecdote to interest your reader.” – grow). Students would then have time to reflect on what the class said and transfer those ideas to their own writing.
Now that I am out of the classroom, when I work with adults, I now find ways to provide other teachers with feedback. I have found that my feedback now integrates asking a lot of questions. Why did you choose that? What could you do differently? How does that increase the rigor of the task? By leading with questions, I find that this opens the conversation and does not make me the keeper of the knowledge. It also engages the learner in the process, and helps them to make their own meaning of their work.
Feedback should be inspiring
Regardless of the type of feedback, it should inspire us as learners to change our behavior. Whether it means we need to cut back on the recipe’s salt content, or follow-through on the kick, or soften our hands while throwing a pot, we should be engaging in processes in our classrooms which help our students to make decisions about how to proceed in improving their work.