Feedback techniques – a set of methods used by teachers when providing information to students about their performance.
Effective teaching requires effective feedback.i High-performing teachers are continually providing feedback to their students, whether it be quick verbal signals, facial expressions, verbal comments or formal feedback on assignments and tests. There are many different types of feedback and each with its own purpose. Effective feedback helps to motivate students, builds their self-esteem, is an important vehicle for teaching metacognitive skills, directs students learning, and is an essential part of the continual improvement feedback loop.
On the other hand, ineffective feedback (which includes not providing feedback at all) can deflate even the most enthusiastic learners. While few teachers argue against the importance of effective feedback, unfortunately it’s a skill that very few are taught, and even fewer actively seek to master. It is rare to see a conference with a session on ‘feedback skills and techniques’. Even without training, the majority of teachers already use several feedback techniques which are a good starting point.
High-performing teachers are continually providing feedback to their students, whether it be quick verbal signals, facial expressions, verbal comments or formal feedback on assignments and tests.
First however, like all strategies, we need to consider why we use feedback in the first place. There are several reasons for why feedback is commonly provided:
The initial reason for providing feedback naturally influences the message conveyed to the student. If the intention is to motivate and encourage students, dwelling on their mistakes is more than likely counterproductive. Concentrating on the positives is more likely to result in enhanced student efforts and greater participation in the future. If the intention is to fix repeated errors, ensure that clear and precise information is provided on how the error can be avoided in the future. Being specific about the reason for providing feedback is important as it allows the feedback comment to be highly targeted for best effect. In some instances (such as for an assignment or project), multiple reasons for feedback can be combined into a larger comment.
Concentrating on the positives is more likely to result in enhanced student efforts and greater participation in the future.
The mode of communication is also an important feedback consideration. The mode should match the goals of the message. For example, written feedback is not appropriate every time a student answers a question correctly. Conversely, a nod and a thumbs up is not appropriate feedback for parents or for an essay. Feedback can be informal or formal; written or verbal; short or long; individual or group.
Experienced teachers use a combination of these feedback delivery vehicles throughout their working day. For example, individual students receive feedback during class questioning sessions and as the teacher circulates the room. Groups and the class as a whole like to hear feedback about their overall general progress near the end of the lesson. Students should be provided feedback about their progress and performance in relation to the teacher’s expectations and the lesson’s goals. Without feedback, students may not know whether they were successful or if they achieved what their teacher hoped they would.
Hint: a favoured technique is to ask students for feedback about how they think they went, what they learnt and what they could improve on. You will be surprised at how honest students are when asked questions like ‘what percentage of today do you think you were on task?’. Try asking students how you as their teacher could improve.
There are 3 important rules that apply to feedback. Feedback should be:
However, feedback on its own can only go so far in helping students to improve. Students should be provided with opportunities for correction, practise and additional feedback. Unfortunately, teachers tend to regularly test students with summative (final) assessments and immediately move to the next topic; students never have the opportunity to practise where they went wrong, and a significant learning opportunity is lost. A short 30-40-minute lesson that covers each aspect in the test combined with explicit teaching of metacognitive skills (such as applying processes and systems) is an invaluable follow-up feedback lesson. In the real world, a passing score is rarely enough – a mechanic can’t fix 73% of a problem, an accountant can’t get your taxes right 51% of the time, an electrician can’t install ‘most’ of your electrics correctly, and a pilot needs to safely land their plane every time.
Hint: mastery learning is a strategy that requires students to score 80-100% before they are permitted to move to the next topic. Less content is covered but students become masters of each topic. Mastery learning originated in medical training where a passing mark is simply not acceptable.
For essays and projects, longer feedback is expected (in part as a reflection of the extended effort made by the student and the importance of the task). The following feedback structure can be used to make marking large numbers of assessments a little bit easier:
Here is an example of this structure:
‘Overall, a well-researched project that shows you understand the topic very well. The second part was a little short and some basic fact checking is needed. I enjoyed reading your final ideas which were very creative. Next time consider a more challenging topic and plan out the project in more depth. Overall, I am very pleased with your final project and you should be happy with it as well.’
When it comes to perfecting your feedback techniques, remember to:
Hint: don’t feel like you need to address every issue or mistake – in fact, most of them you can ignore. Address 1 or 2 key points that are most likely to help the student improve based on the reason for providing the feedback in the first place and the goals of the lesson or activity.
Adam Green is an advisor to government, a registered teacher, an instructional designer and a #1 best selling author. He is completing a Doctor of Education and was previously head of department for one of the country’s largest SAER (students at educational risk) schools. Adam is managing director of FTTA, an accredited training provider for thousands of teacher aides every year.
Source: Teaching Skills and Strategies for the Modern Classroom: 100+ research-based strategies for both novice and experienced practitioners. Amazon #1 best seller in the category of Classroom Management.
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