The Role of Feedback

 

On a daily basis, I will receive comments on several of my blog posts. Sometimes, it is a legitimate person adding critical or positive feedback to something they read. Much of the time, the comments are spam. They always amuse me because of the language (or lack thereof) that is used.

For example, here is a comment that was recently left:

I’ve been browsing online more than three hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It’s pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the Internet will be a lot more useful than ever.

Another:

It is truly a great and useful piece of information. I’m satisfied that you just shared this useful information with us. Please stay us up to date like this. Thank you for sharing.

And one more for good measure:

Thanks for the sensible critique. Me and my neighbor were just preparing to do some research on this. We got a grab a book from our local library but I think I learned more clear from this post. I am very glad to see such magnificent info being shared freely out there.

While the spam comments always make me laugh aloud, they also cause me to think about the role of feedback in our lives.

There was a time, when as a first year teacher, I put “great job” stickers on student writing. This sort of feedback did not move student writing forward, nor provide any sort of useful feedback for students. While I thought I was doing the right thing, I was not. This was akin to the spammers who share comments intended to look like feedback. While I at least get a laugh from the spam comments, the students were not gaining anything valuable from the stickers.

Feedback can play a crucial role in the learning process when done right. Try these strategies for improving the feedback loop with your students:

Make it frequent and timely. We’ve all been overwhelmed with a stack of writing assignments that need to be graded. When it takes a week for a student to get critical feedback, the comments lose their meaning during that time. Be sure to offer feedback to students on a regular basis soon after they complete an assignment. Consider a schedule for collecting and assessing student writing. Collect the writing notebooks of 5 students each day, in order to provide timely feedback. Or use the Comments function in Google Docs to provide suggestions or critical feedback on a student’s digital piece.

Make it specific. Every student has received a “nice job” or smiley face as feedback. The key to meaningful feedback is to make it specific. Give students something distinct that they should focus on. Don’t just say “Try a different opening.” Ask the student how to change the opening sentence to better draw the reader in. Grant Wiggins told a story about a student who asked his teacher at the end of the year, Why did you keep writing the word “Vag-oo” on my papers all year? The teacher then realized that just the word “vague” was not specific enough in terms of feedback.

Make it useful. Before providing feedback, ask yourself how the comments you make will help students. While observing a recent lesson where students were involved in the design loop, I watched as the teacher asked simple questions about the student design. Each question was designed to help the student reflect on the design in order to improve it. Practical suggestions that improve student work will always be more well received than highly technical criticisms. Give students steps to take to move forward. Provide them with specific actions to take based on your feedback. What will you try next in order to improve?

What type of strategies do you use when providing students with feedback? Share your ideas in the comments section below.

 

Rich (@RACzyz)

 

References:
Grant Wiggins. Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. September 2012.

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