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Wednesday / June 28

Feedback – It’s Everywhere, But Is It Good?

Feedback to and from students is a hot topic in current education circles.  This is primarily due to the fact that effective feedback has the power to double the speed of learning (Hattie, 2012). Who wouldn’t bet on feedback then? The issue often lies in how effectively the feedback is being given and, more importantly, received. Initially, educators were told to give dollops of feedback—the more, the better. However, we have learned much and now have concrete practices that support effective feedback, thanks to the research of those like Dweck, Hattie, Timperley, Wiliam, Clarke, Nuthall, and more.

Before jumping into the practices that promote effective feedback, we must first address the fact that feedback does not happen without relationship. Healthy feedback thrives in healthy relationships, and thus, we define feedback as communication that nourishes learning through an exchange. We know that just as powerful a tool as feedback, student-teacher relationships have a similar effect on student learning (Hattie, 2012). Without a positive relationship and an open exchange between students and teachers, feedback may fall on deaf ears and fail to move learning forward for the student and teacher. With that established, let’s explore one or two of the practices that will ensure that it does.

Because research has uncovered a lot of important practices that surround feedback, we have developed an acronym that utilizes the word feedback itself to help us all remember these critical and actionable practices. We will focus on two: Criteria-Driven Feedback and Exchange-Oriented Feedback.

F E E D B A C K
Frequent Efficacious Exchange-Oriented Differentiated Balanced Accurate Criteria-Driven Kinesthetic

Feedback is Criteria-Driven

Put simply, all the work around feedback is only useful if it moves learning forward, and in order to do so, feedback must answer: “Where am I going?”, “How am I doing?”, and “Where to next?” Students may receive heaping amounts of feedback each day, but often it fails to address their progress toward achieving the Learning Intentions. Our goal is to ensure that we spend the majority of our time giving feedback that addresses students’ academic needs. How do we do this, you may be asking? We use Success Criteria and exemplars.

It is common in classrooms to see the Learning Intention, Goal, or Target posted; however, what is rarely defined for students is how to meet the Learning Intention. Instead, we often rush forward, asking students to navigate their own way to unclear expectations. Think of a writing task, such as students being asked to write an argument. How could we support our students in writing an argument to ensure it is well-composed and convincing? This is where Success Criteria and exemplars can play a huge role in clarifying learning for students and teachers alike. For example, students can be given several compositions to analyze and generate the criteria to write an effective argument. Through a class discussion, students and teachers are then empowered to have criteria-driven conversations about progress toward the writing goal. Without such clarity, specific feedback about how to improve one’s writing often falls short. Students are then left poking around in the dark, trying to get it right.

Feedback is Exchange-Oriented

Graham Nuthall’s research has been instrumental in understanding the hidden lives of learners, which is coincidentally the title of his book published in 2007. While recording the conversations of students in classrooms, he discovered that 80% of the feedback students receive daily is from peers and 80% of the time, the feedback is inaccurate. What does that mean for teachers? Two critical things:

  1. Student-to-student communication in the classroom trumps teacher communication to students.
  2. We must find ways for students to interact productively and provide accurate feedback to one another.

Many teachers have found peer-to-peer feedback difficult, and so, have focused mainly on providing high quality feedback of their own to students. However, the struggle to give timely feedback to each student can be insurmountable. Teachers can’t be and aren’t the only source for feedback in the classroom. We now know that if the feedback loop does not include peers, we are losing the battle and failing to tap into a valuable and persuasive resource.

What can we do? We can begin by effectively using success criteria and exemplars to provide clarity so that students can become allies in the feedback process. If students have clarity around what success looks like, they will be much more likely to give their peers accurate information. However, students don’t come pre-programmed to give and receive effective feedback. In fact, Nuthall found that students were often rude, vague, or dismissive to peers in their feedback exchanges and so we must inform students that their role in the learning of others is of crucial importance. We must teach them how.

One strategy to consider is the use of Feedback Frames to give students the language needed to give and receive feedback. This strategy is similar to the use of sentence or summary frames which supports language acquisition (Hill & Flynn, 2006). The following sentence starters provide examples of Feedback Frames that offer students the language needed to give and receive feedback. After reading through the list of potential frames, you may want to add a few of your own and create a running list with your students.

Feedback Frames

Giving Receiving
I noticed that …. I appreciate you noticing that ….
I wondered about …. I hadn’t thought about that …
I was confused by …. I heard you say that _______ confused you.
I suggest that ….. Based on your suggestion, I will ….
Have you thought about…. Thank you, what would you do?
You might consider… I’m not sure what that looks like, tell me more

Hopefully, after reading just a few of the practices that make feedback effective, you can see how knowing the research can make or break the use of feedback in the classroom.

For more information on feedback, go to www.corwin.com/partneringwithstudents or check out Partnering with Students:  Building Ownership of Learning by O’Connell and Vandas (2015).

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Written by

Mary Jane O’Connell brings a unique practitioner’s perspective to her work with educators. She has seven years of classroom teaching experience and over twenty years of experience as a building principal in year-round schools ranging in size from 450 to 980 students. Since 2007, she has served as a consultant working with teachers at all levels, building administrators, and central office staff in a variety of urban, suburban and rural settings. Mary Jane has presented numerous seminars throughout the United States and volunteered for two weeks in Zambia to work with college professors desirous of improving their teacher-training programs. It is particularly rewarding when there is an opportunity to establish a relationship and partnership with others that leads to significant increases in student learning.

Kara Vandas is an educator at heart and has an enduring passion for learning and supporting and fostering learning for others. She began her career in education at a private school for high-need and at-risk youth. Her desire was to enable students to see and realize their true potential. Kara spent several more years in the classroom in public education as a middle and high school educator and then transitioned to coaching and professional learning positions that allowed her to support teachers and leaders. Her current role as a consultant takes her around the country to partner with schools and school districts. Her work has also taken her outside of the US as well to Ecuador and the US Virgin Islands.

Mary Jane and Kara are the authors of Partnering With Students: Building Ownership of Learning.

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