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April 1, 2022

Show and Tell / Getting GREAT at Feedback

The key to feedback is how it is received by the student.
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Feedback is an important influence on learning. Broadly, the overall effect size for feedback is 0.48. However, not all feedback is equally effective. Several factors can strengthen feedback, especially in knowing where and when to use it. A recent meta-analysis of studies on feedback reported that several factors can make feedback contribute even more to student achievement. For instance, feedback that includes information on the task or processing the task ("Think about what you know about order of operations as you try that problem again") and on self-regulation ("You used that attention strategy we've been talking about, and it's working") is better than feedback that's simply corrective. And feedback is equally useful in oral or written form.
However, a common misunderstanding is that it's all about the amount of feedback given—and the more the better. But the key is actually how the feedback is received by the learner. The relationship between the person giving the feedback and the one receiving it is paramount in terms of how much "gets in."
Here's where both having a solid relationship with a student and delivering feedback in a caring way that sustains the relationship comes in. Consider times in your own life when you received feedback you dismissed. Perhaps you didn't have a trusting relationship with that person and were suspicious of their motives. Or perhaps the feedback was so vague you weren't sure the deliverer was a knowledgeable source of information, an expert who had accurately observed and judged. Even if the feedback was accurate, you likely failed to act on it.

A Focus on Five Dimensions

Looking at models both inside and outside of education that reflect best practices informed by feedback research, we came across a framework that forges trust, helps the hearer sense a positive motive, and is clear and informative. (There are many approaches or systems for feedback that cover these things well, but we can't highlight them all here.) It's the GREAT model developed by LarkApps, a team productivity and engagement company that supports businesses whose employees work remotely but collaborate regularly. This feedback framework identifies five dimensions of good feedback:
  • Growth-oriented: The delivery signals one's intention as constructive, focused on improvement not criticism.
  • Real: Feedback is honest, targeted, and actionable (showing the speaker's grounding in the area in question), not vague or false praise.
  • Empathetic: It combines critique with care and a quest for mutual understanding.
  • Asked-for: The speaker encourages the receiver to ask questions and seek more feedback, after offering brief comments.
  • Timely: It's delivered soon after the task or learning is demonstrated. Feedback gets stale fast.
Let's imagine what sharing one's thoughts on student work, with each dimension in mind, might look like.
Growth-Oriented. Start by stating your purpose for giving feedback in such a way that makes clear your intent is constructive. For instance, a middle school English teacher (we'll call her Kelly) might begin with, "Saylor, I noticed you've been working on your essay revision, and I wanted us to have a chance to discuss some feedback so you can make the most of your additions." By adding the statement that the feedback is for the purpose of strengthening the writing, the teacher signals that it's being given in the spirit of growth, not just correction of an error.

'Real' feedback is information-rich, giving the learner details about what to start doing, continue, or change. It's not simply corrective.

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Real. "Real" feedback is information-rich, giving the learner details about what to start doing, continue, or change. It's not simply corrective ("This one's right, that's wrong"). Rather, it gives the learner information about the task, the process, and perhaps their self-regulation. Kelly might start with what Saylor should continue doing:
You're effectively showing your thinking on paper with your thesis statement. One thing to start doing is to restate one important idea at the beginning of each of the next paragraphs. I suggest you stop adding the thesis statement again at the end of each paragraph—it's not necessary. I have to add, your persistence in making this a polished piece really shows.
Notice Kelly's focus on the thesis statement. It's important not to overwhelm the learner with more feedback than they can process at a given time.
Empathetic. It's easy for feedback to be reduced to "you" directives. Be sure that what you say to a learner also contains "I" messages that foster empathetic listening. In a conversation that could involve feedback that might feel critical to the listener, people often listen more effectively when the person sharing feedback uses this pronoun. Talking about "I" as much as "you" can reduce that defensive clench that might otherwise shut down the conversation. For instance: "I'm still unclear on your thesis statement. I've struggled with formulating a clear thesis in my writing, so I know how hard that is." Or, to affirm something, "As I read your essay, your effective thesis statement helps me to join you in your argument."
Asked For. Effective feedback is a dialogue. Simply blasting a student with lots of feedback isn't likely to foster relationship-building. After providing micro-feedback, ask the learner if they'd like more comments or guidance ("What questions do you have? Is there anything you're confused about?"). Suppose Saylor responds to Kelly: "I thought we were supposed to restate the idea—the thesis—in each paragraph. I know it's on the rubric for this essay. Where do I restate my thesis?" Kelly now recognizes that for Saylor, the instruction wasn't clear. The two of them further discuss restating the thesis in the concluding paragraph of the essay.
Timely. Novice teachers often make the rookie error of saving their best feedback for the end of an assignment, only to witness students checking for the grade and discarding the rest. Imagine if the conversation between Saylor and Kelly hadn't happened until the final draft was submitted. Give comments and guidance at a time when a student can still act on it.

GREAT Feedback in Action

In the video that accompanies this column, you'll see 4th grade teacher Sarah Ortega at Harborside Elementary in Chula Vista, California, offering feedback. Notice that she provides GREAT feedback to two students who have written a first draft of an opinion piece on a topic they chose.
Feedback isn't better just because it's longer; most of these feedback conversations take only a few minutes to complete. But regular doses of GREAT feedback provide the teacher and the student with learning opportunities while fueling a positive relationship.
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Engagement

Show and Tell: April 2022

2 months ago
End Notes

1 Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The power of feedback revisited: A meta-analysis of educational feedback research. Frontiers in Psychology10, 3087.

2 Bletscher, C. G., & Lee, S. (2021). The impact of active empathetic listening on an introductory communication course. College Teaching69(3), 161–168.


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