"Good job!" "I think you need a work a little harder on that." A smiley face. A big red X. These are all examples of feedback teachers give.
Perhaps you've given such feedback yourself. But have you ever wondered what students are learning from such feedback? This issue of Educational
Leadership looks at the qualities of effective—and ineffective—feedback and considers how teachers can improve the feedback they give so that students
The Keys to Feedback
In his article, "Seven Keys to Effective Feedback" (p. 11), Grant Wiggins writes that feedback is not a value judgment, nor is it advice. Rather, feedback is
information about the progress a person is making toward a goal. It might include direct observations of the direct results of one's actions, as when a tennis player observes
whether she has kept the ball on the court. Or it may include observations from an outsider, as when a reader tells a writer how an essay made him feel.
Read the following statements. Which ones fit Wiggins's definition of feedback?
- Your picture is so beautiful!
- You need to redo these three problems.
- I had trouble understanding what you were saying at the start of your speech.
- Next time, remember to run a spell-check before turning in your paper.
- Why did you choose those examples to prove your point?
- You'll need to run faster on the next lap to beat your best time.
Wiggins says that effective feedback is goal-referenced, tangible and transparent, actionable, user-friendly, timely, ongoing, and consistent.
- How well do you incorporate these seven keys to effective feedback in your teaching? What are some strategies you use to make sure your feedback includes these
- Which of these seven keys do you find most difficult to incorporate into your feedback? Choose one or two of these qualities and develop a plan for incorporating that
quality into your feedback.
Feedback That Fizzles
Feedback may be one of the most powerful influences on student learning, but not all feedback is created equal. In some cases, feedback can actually make things worse.
- In "Preventing Feedback Fizzle" (p. 25), Susan Brookhart shares examples of feedback that do not promote student learning. In one example (p. 26), a
math teacher marks a problem incorrect even though the student solved the problem correctly. The teacher was looking for evidence that the student understood inverse
operations, and because the student did not follow the directions to show her work, the teacher could not determine whether the student met the objective. Where did the teacher in
this example go wrong, and how might the teacher have improved his feedback?
- In "How Am I Doing?" (p. 36), Jan Chappuis offers three examples of feedback that a teacher might give on a 10th grade social studies paper (see fig.
3, p. 40). The first is an example of feedback that does all the thinking for the students; the second and third offer some guidance but require students to identify and correct their
own errors. How do you respond to grammatical errors in student writing? How do you think your students would respond to the types of feedback Chappuis recommends?
Finding the Time
Every teacher knows that feedback takes time, but can it also save time? Douglas Fisher and Nancy Frey, in "Making Time for Feedback" (p. 42), show how
teachers can give feedback more efficiently and avoid wasting instructional time on material most students already know.
- Fisher and Frey make a distinction between mistakes and errors. Mistakes are usually a result of carelessness or inattention, not a lack of knowledge. Errors, on the
other hand, come about because students don't know how to do the work correctly. How can you tell the difference between errors and mistakes? How can understanding
the difference between errors and mistakes help you save time?
- In a video discussion of this article, Fisher tells how error analysis of a set of essays
showed that most of the problems with using evidence were clustered among students in 4th period. How does knowing this save a teacher time? What similar lessons might a
teacher draw from the error analysis rubric Fisher and Frey include with their article (p. 45)? How do you determine which students in your classes need additional instruction? If
you're not already using a system for cataloging errors like the one Fisher and Frey describe, how might such a system make your planning more effective and efficient?
- What tips do you have for making time to give more and better feedback?
Learning from Students
Feedback is not just about students learning from the teacher. Teachers also need feedback from students. By listening to a student, Cris Tovani ("Feedback Is a
Two-Way Street," p. 48) learned that the student's attendance problems had nothing to do with student tardiness and everything to do with a scheduling glitch that
put him in two classes at the same time. Carol Ann Tomlinson ("What Heather Taught Me," p. 88) learned after the fact that one of her most gifted students did not
feel Tomlinson helped her become a better writer. And when principal Gregory Kaster ("Learning from the True Customers," p. 68) sought feedback from his
students, he found out that the bathroom misbehavior was a bigger concern than bullying.
- What surprising lessons have you learned from your students? How did those lessons affect your teaching?
- How do you know that your students are learning? What kind of feedback, both formal and informal, do you seek from them? And how do you respond to this