The Art of Teaching Feedback
Mary Jane O’Connell and Kara Vandas are a co-authors of Partnering with Students: Building Ownership of Learning published by Corwin Press.
The literature is full of advice touting the benefits of feedback. Any yet, have we thought about teaching feedback as a critical life skill students will use throughout their school years, careers, and family life? Let’s face it, not all feedback is effective, constructive, or useful and can have devastating effects in some cases. Knowing how to give, receive and act upon the good and not so good feedback can make or break the chances for success or failure now and in the future lives of students.
Why Teach Feedback?
We know from the research of Dweck, Hattie, Timperely, Wiliam, Clarke, Nuthall and others, that providing effective feedback can more than double the rate of learning for students and teachers alike. We also know from Graham Nuthall’s research described in The Hidden Lives of Learners (2007) 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?
When teachers solicit and analyze feedback, instruction and student learning can dramatically improve.
Student-to-student communication in the classroom trumps teacher communication to students.
Students must be taught how to provide accurate feedback to one another and interact responsibly in the classroom.
How Feedback Thrives
When we break apart the word “feedback,” we find the word “feed”, meaning to nourish, and “back,” meaning in return or in exchange. Therefore, feedback is meant to nourish learning through an exchange of information. Effective feedback exchanges thrive in healthy and respectful classroom or work relationships. It’s about learning how to give and receive the good and the bad news in a way that can be heard, digested, and then acted upon. Ultimately, students will take their cues from their teachers about how to respectfully give and receive feedback. Inevitably one must realize that learning is hard work, takes practice, and requires a willingness to view feedback as an opportunity to learn more.
Soliciting Feedback through Modeling
If you think about how you have learned most anything, it probably began with modeling. You primarily observed and listened to someone who offered a helping hand or some insightful tips that addressed your errors and how to correct them. To begin teaching students about how to give, receive, and act upon feedback, the teacher must also do the same thing—be a model. Since students are most often on the receiving end of feedback, we suggest beginning by soliciting feedback from students and modeling how to receive and act upon their feedback.
Facilitating Student-to-Student Communication
Many teachers are familiar with using entrance or exit slips to gather information on what students know and have learned as a means to gather feedback on content knowledge and what to teach next. However, this practice can be taken a step further to explicitly model and teach students how to receive feedback, reflect upon it, and determine next steps. The following scenario provides glimpse how one teacher began.
Sharon Snyder teaches 8th grade social studies and asked students to complete an exit slip summarizing key concepts about Western Expansion from the lesson. She is disappointed in the responses and a bit annoyed since she had prepared a stellar PowerPoint. Her first assumption is that they weren’t paying attention and thinks about redoing the lesson. But, she then decides on a different approach because of one student’s unexpected comment, “Ms. S--The video you included was cool, but I don’t know how to remember all that stuff.” As a result of this one comment, Sharon decided to share her thinking and feelings about their responses and did the following the next day:
expressed appreciation for responses that were legible and attempted to answer the exit slip fully
admitted she was disappointed in many responses, which indicated the learning intentions for the day were not achieved.
shared the feedback that got her thinking about what they needed from her to learn be successful in this unit.
asked students to work in small groups to :
identify strengths of the lesson (what worked)
what they needed to help them learn the content
what they could do to help each other
thanked the groups and stated how she would do as a result of the feedback and ask would again for their feedback
asked each student to write what they would do as a result of the discussion
Teaching Feedback Exchanges
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.
Enduring Feedback Lessons
There are many ways to nourish feedback exchanges among peers and multiple methods to solicit feedback from students to improve instruction. When students are part of a feedback exchange with a teacher or peer, they find a voice and a means to contribute to a healthy classroom environment. Just as fine art endures, the lessons students learn about effective feedback exchanges will last a lifetime.
Learn More about Mary Jane and Kara's approach to student-centered learning this summer at MindFuelED.
Hattie, J. A. (2012). Visible learning for teachers: Maximizing impact on teachers. New York, NY: Routledge.
Nuthall, G. (2007). The hidden lives of learners. Wellington, NZ: NZCER Press.
O’Connell, M. J. & Vandas, K. (2015). Partnering with students: building ownership of learning. Thousand Oaks,CA: Corwin Press.
About the Authors
Mary Jane O'Connell
With seven years of classroom teaching experience and over 20 years of experience as a building principal in traditional and large year-round schools, Mary Jane brings a unique practitioner’s perspective to her work with educators. Since 2007, she has served as a professional development consultant working with teachers at all levels, central office and building administrators, and departments of education in a variety of urban, suburban and rural settings. Her content area strengths are in curriculum, assessment, instruction, professional learning teams, and data analysis for school improvement planning and monitoring. Mary Jane holds a Bachelor’s degree in Sociology from the University of California, Northridge and a Master’s degree from the University of Colorado in Educational Administration.
As a consultant, Kara Vandas works with districts and schools around the country to implement processes and practices that best support student learning. Her areas of focus include implementing practices that encourage students to be partners in learning, the Visible Learning research and professional learning, EmpowerED Coaching™, EmpowerED Assessment™ and EmpowerED curriculum design™. Over the course of her career in education, Kara has worked as a teacher, teacher leader, trainer, and program developer. She holds a Master of Arts in Education in Curriculum and Instruction from Regis University and Bachelor of Science in Biology from the University of Wyoming.