There are few terms more batted about the world of education quite like “feedback”. We look for feedback from mentors and administrators, we give feedback to other teachers and students and, if we’re lucky, the feedback we give and receive changes the outcome we experience in the classroom. However, few feedback sessions actually result in improved instruction because they lack transparency, positivity, immediacy or measurability.
What Is Feedback?
The term feedback is defined as helpful information or constructive criticism that is given to someone to say what can be done to improve a performance, product or service. While many people feel that any praise or evaluation falls under the umbrella, true feedback is important information on how we are doing in our attempts to attain a goal. Put into that perspective, feedback takes on a whole new meaning. No longer meaningless praise, it is additional knowledge, information or training on how to do better in the classroom. As a result, feedback must include three things – positive affirmation & transparency, immediacy and modeling measurability and effective behavior. These three things are also known as “The Wow”, “The Now” and “The How”.
Sometimes the positive things we see during classroom observation are obvious. Students are engaged, the teacher is prepared and enthusiastic and genuine learning takes place. In these cases, it is easy to offer specific, positive reinforcement for what you see. Even in situations where the lesson did not go as planned and outcomes were not where they should be, it is essential to lead a feedback session with something positive. Be honest, but lead every feedback with a “Wow!” burst of positivity.
After every race whether it’s her best or worst performance my daughter is greeted with a “great job, the 400 is very tough race.” Even if it was the worst race of her life, I always lead with something she did well, even if it’s her stretching. She is then open and receptive to the constructive criticism and suggestions for improvement she will receive.
It is impossible to give accurate feedback or be receptive to change about classroom outcomes when the experience in question happened weeks ago. That is why it is essential that feedback be as timely as possible in order to affect change. Imagine being able to sit with a teacher and talk about a lesson that happened yesterday while it is fresh in both of your minds. Imagine being able to ask about how the students remembered the material today in order to determine whether true learning had taken place. Timely feedback makes both of these reinforcing conversations powerful.
Not only does timely feedback help both parties to recall the experience accurately, it also encourages the development of difficult procedural skills while preventing the reinforcement of faulty approaches. Should a teacher use a faulty procedure in the classroom or spend instructional time ineffectively, timely feedback can redirect their approach to help them become more efficient almost immediately. New teachers will especially find timely feedback helpful as they are developing their instructional practices. Rather than having to break bad habits, they can stay on the right track throughout their career with only adjustments along the way.
“The How” is where the rubber meets the road. Research into how students receive feedback in the classroom has shown that they cannot convert feedback into action without some form of working knowledge of the concepts they are trying to master. The same can be said about teachers receiving feedback about their instruction. That is why it is important to model the behavior you are trying to achieve. If you want them to ask open ended questions, model several that would have been appropriate in that setting to get them thinking about how to reformulate their questions to students.
Once they have a model for concept mastery, it is essential to offer measurable ways for the teacher to see improvement. As administrators, we’ve become so focused on the standards that we actually forget about the students when we try to measure outcomes. Measurable ways to see improvement are not always standardized test scores. They can be seen in concept mastery or classroom application measures that are created for that teacher in that environment.
Learning in a classroom is not just something that occurs among students, but among teachers and administrators as well. The Wow, Now and How of teacher feedback turns the instructional, albeit sometimes nebulous, process of giving feedback into a structured, effective method of learning. In its application, transparency, offering positive praise and instructional modeling with immediacy can turn regular feedback experiences into a way to improve overall instruction.