This year I have made ‘feedback’ an important aspect of my teaching. As I am now well into my second year as a full-time teacher I feel that many areas of my practice are ‘solid’ but I am no where near the standard of teacher I believe I can be or want to be. With this in mind I have read many blogs and tried a few ways of giving feedback. Some good, some not so good. As such, I am still searching for a formula that works for me and the learners in my care.
Too often I have watched and delivered lessons that severely lack in quality feedback and quality dialogue with pupils. This isn’t because I am or I have watched bad teachers but because I believe we focus too much on skill development, content and delivery that we forget all about the learners. How often have you had an observed lesson and asked ‘how was that?’, ‘what did you think about the conditioned game?’ instead of asking ‘do you think there was learning taking place?’. Too often also I have tried to consider what feedback I have given to learners and when observing lessons listening to the feedback that is being given. I have far too often found myself saying ‘well done, thats good’, ‘thats really good’, ‘that was great’ and ‘well done’ and this offers nothing to the learners. I mean by saying ‘thats good’ what are we implying to the learner, that they are already good and don’t need to improve. We already know that from Dweck’s research this will promote a fixed mindset and is not the path we want to go down as effective practitioners. To continue on just saying ‘thats really good’ the learner wouldn’t know what exactly was good making the feedback very non-specific. It is important to consider that learners need to know how they are doing, where they are going and how they are going to get there.
I like to think of feedback as the ‘language of learning’ which I will discuss in detail later in the post. I believe that feedback, as mentioned previously, should form the dialogue that allows learners to know where they are, know where they are going and know how to get there. To put this simply I often as learners three simple questions;
What are your strengths
What are your next steps
How do you know
These questions puts the learner in control of their learning and places a huge emphasis on ensuring that I, as their teacher, provide them with simple, clear and precise feedback so that they can answer these questions.
This session I am responsible for an NQT and this has allowed me to focus on their development alongside my own. They are also a strong practitioner but there are clear areas to develop within their learning and teaching, namely feedback and providing clear and accurate points that relate to the tasks given. I call this the ‘language of learning’. It is important that throughout each learning episode that the learning intentions, success criteria and feedback are all explicitly linked. For example, if I am teaching Badminton and the learning intention is ‘I can send my opponent to the back of the court using an overhead shot’ I am not going to provide pupils with feedback relating to their net shots (having said that I am not going to dismiss net shots I am going to encourage pupils to perform a variety of shots). I am looking for my NQT, and importantly myself, to provide pupils with meaningful feedback by using a distinct language of learning. Learners should leave each lesson with clear next steps (of course in the real world it is not often possible) and know why this is their next step. From this I am looking to develop good ‘feedback dialogue’ with my learners. What does this look like…
If I am teaching within the learning intention outlined above then my dialogue with pupils will be focussed on;
Selection of using overhead shots
Are the opponents being shifted to the back court as a result
What happens in the game as a result of this
By the end of the learning episode most, if not all, learners would have feedback relating to their technique when using an overhead shot, are they contacting it overhead, how hard they are hitting the shuttle and does it move their opponent to the back of the court. Importantly I would also ask learners how this would relate to the game by asking ‘why’, why should you move your opponent to the back of the court, why is this important within the game and what benefit would it bring to the learner. This would hopefully provide the learner with clear next steps and can form the basis of the next dialogue with the same learner.
The key elements of providing high quality feedback is in the dialogue with the learner. They need to know whats going well, what are their next steps and importantly how do they know. This will continue to be an aim of mine and I will look to evaluate the quality of my feedback through observations from colleagues. I believe that high quality feedback results in high quality learning.
I’ll finish this post with a message from Dylan Wiliam (2011):
“If I had to reduce all of the research on feedback into one simple overarching idea, at least for academic subjects in school, it would be this: feedback should cause thinking“