The text below is a transcript of the video, above. I hope you find it useful ☺️
Today, we’re diving into the world of giving feedback. Imagine feedback as a map guiding us through the landscape of learning. I first came across this navigation analogy while listening to Dylan Wiliam. His speech is available online.
According to Professor Wiliam, effective teaching has three key principles at its core: “finding out where learners are in their learning, finding out where they are going, and finding out how to get there”.
Professor John Hattie agrees. According to Hattie, feedback refers to “the process of securing information enabling change through adjustment or calibration of efforts in order to bring a person closer to a well-defined goal.” I know. A bit of a mouthful, but essentially a perfect description of feedback.
Not many teachers would dispute the essential role that these adjustments, calibrations and course corrections play in successful learning, yet teachers habitually view giving feedback as an onerous and often thankless task, particularly if teachers are made to follow feedback policies that focus on the gathering of evidence of feedback rather than on the quality of the feedback.
Ok, so what do you need to make feedback effective? Well, five things really.
Number one: Make your learning intentions and criteria for success very clear
Never assume that your idea of what success looks like is shared by your students. As novices, it is likely that they only have a rudimentary, low-resolution grasp of where they are going whereas you as an expert in your subject you can see it in high definition thanks to your knowledge and experience.
This means that you need to articulate your outcomes really well so that your students can visualise the destination and begin to make those course adjustments. This gives your students a X on the map clearly signposting the direction of travel.
Having painted a vivid picture of what success looks like, we then need to refer back to it frequently in our teaching. Remember that your feedback is only effective if your students know where they need to go, otherwise your directions lack the most crucial point of reference: the destination.
Number two: Deliver feedback regularly throughout the learning, not after it
It sounds obvious, but often we save the bulk of the feedback for after an exam or the completion of a task or a project. And that’s often just too late.
Effective feedback is all about guiding learning along the way, not after the fact. That’s why a satnav alerts you when you’ve taken a wrong turn, and that’s also why a good driving instructor gives you guidance in real-time to steer your progress.
So don’t wait to give detailed feedback after a summative end of unit test or end of year exam, as there is little the learner can do to alter the result at that stage.
It makes much more sense to give feedback regularly during the learning process, so as to modify teaching and learning activities, then we have a better shot at improving student attainment. After all, feedback is formative assessment, and formative assessment is only formative if it happens during the learning, not after it.
Number three: Focus on how feedback is received, rather than how it is given
Research suggests that the belief that improving student motivation through praise will automatically lead to higher achievement is flawed. In fact, the opposite is true: achievement has a much larger effect on student motivation than praise.
Professor Hattie, who I mentioned earlier, writes that students tend to be future focused, and that they can find critique “unnecessary, lengthy, personal, and hurtful”.
Students are sensitive to the climate in which criticism is given, so teachers need to focus on delivering feedback that does not dwell on negatives and focuses on the positive. Another way to think about this is that we would be better off by establishing a positive and friendly climate in which the feedback is received, rather than attempting to engender such a climate through excessively congratulatory feedback.
Number four: Tailor your feedback
School teachers often feel they need to, or sometimes are expected to provide extensive, individualised feedback after every task. In reality, the feedback you provide will need to vary depending on the stage of learning and on the task.
So tailor your feedback based on what your students truly need. For beginners, simple corrections are often best, and, as they grow and make progress, you can shift to deeper, more strategic insights that support their learning journey.
While personalisation may seem a laudable aim, the truth is that students are more alike than they are different. So, consider for example dedicating some lesson time after a task to provide general feedback — this may be as effective or more effective than attempting to leave individual feedback in writing for everyone in your class.
This shift can ease your workload and counterintuitively give you the time to provide targeted intervention where it’s most beneficial.
Number five: Make sure feedback is a two-way process
Professor Wiliam suggests, “feedback should cause thinking” and it should generate “more work for the recipient than the donor” . With these two principles in mind, we ought to focus our efforts on providing feedback that engages the learner just above their current level of attainment by setting achievable challenges.
If they are not achievable, stop what you’re doing and sort that out. You may need to, for example, reteach a topic
And we should not be afraid to stimulate a degree of cognitive dissonance between where the student self-assesses herself to be and where we would like her to be. Providing this cognitive dissonance is not too large (or too small), it should motivate the student to strive to make the leap to the next step in her path to achievement.
Teachers should think of feedback as an integral part of a sequence of lessons, not as a remedial addition.
Informal feedback should also happen continuously and should be woven seamlessly into our teaching. On the other hand, formal feedback should be given regularly to cause students to act and think about their own learning.
Giving feedback and teaching should therefore not be considered as two distinct activities, but rather as one and the same.
To finish up, let’s think about these key questions :
- Are you making your learning intentions and criteria for success very clear?
- Are you delivering feedback regularly?
- Is the climate in which you are giving feedback positive and friendly?
- Are you tailoring your feedback according to the learners’ needs?
- Are learners acting on your feedback?
I hope you have found this useful and helpful. Remember feedback is not about leaving a trail of evidence; it’s about mapping out your intentions, and timing your feedback wisely. Most importantly, keep in mind that feedback shouldn’t be a postcard we get at the end of the journey; it should be the compass that guides us to our destination.
If there is anything you would like to contribute or, if you have any feedback for me, please leave a comment below, and consider liking the video and subscribing to the channel if you found this content useful.