Make Feedback Work to Maximize Learning

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Using
seven
techniques

Feedback is crucial to improving student learning and development. It’s a vital instructional technique that cannot be ignored if we intend to maximize learning for every student in our classroom. In fact, unless we give feedback, it’s impossible to avoid leaving some students behind. The challenge in delivering feedback is that it must be properly aligned with learning goals, calibrated to move students to the next level of learning success, and timed to focus attention on what has been accomplished without losing sight of what is yet to be mastered. That’s why our approach has a great deal to do with making our feedback work to the advantage of teaching and learning. If we want the message of our feedback to have maximum impact, we need to be very careful about what we say and how we say it. Fortunately, there are several instructional guidelines and strategies we can use.

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Your primary objective
is to cause or
inspire learning.

First, connect your feedback to the central learning target you are teaching Tweet this. Students need to see the alignment between your feedback and the knowledge and skills you are nurturing through the teaching and learning process. Choose the most crucial learning elements and behaviors as your feedback focus. Resist the temptation to deviate or introduce side elements that might be confused with what is most important to learn.

Second, ground your instructional feedback in the student’s current performance Tweet this. Your feedback needs to be descriptive of what the student has accomplished. At the same time, it needs to outline where gaps in learning and current performance exist relative to the learning goal. Students need to know how they are progressing, what learning gaps remain, and what the desired level of performance looks like and means in terms of their work. Your feedback also needs to include ideas, suggestions, discussion of strategies, and steps students can use to close the gaps you have described.

Third, you need to stop delivering feedback as soon as students understand the essential elements of your message. It is crucial to avoid giving so much feedback that the student becomes overwhelmed or confused and is paralyzed rather than clear about where to focus his or her next efforts.

Fourth, to maximize learning, feedback must be continuous. Students will be less likely to benefit from your efforts if you only provide feedback occasionally or following a test. And if feedback is used only after the learning process is complete, you will not see the benefits instructional feedback can produce. The goal is to provide feedback during the learning process that guides and shapes student action and learning. This goal cannot be accomplished when the feedback comes after the learning process is complete. Also, if students are to adopt, accept, and welcome feedback, receiving it must be common practice in the classroom. It must be expected. Therefore, we must establish a climate and culture where receiving feedback is a “natural and welcomed expectation” and students know that it increases their learning and their opportunities to succeed.

Feedback works
best when
it is timely.

Fifth, feedback must be a part of your instructional planning. You have to work feedback into each lesson plan. That’s because feedback is most effective if offered as soon as possible after the activity in which learning is practiced or demonstrated. You must not “store up” feedback. If you wait, the learning you are trying to stimulate will be forgotten or easily confused. In any case, the impact of your feedback will have been diminished.

Sixth, feedback doesn’t work if it’s judgmental. Therefore, never make statements that judge why a student failed to perform as expected. For instance, even if you think lack of focus, interest, or desire was the reason behind a student’s failure, never make such a charge. The rule is simple: Never guess, always ask. Never tell, always inquire. The minute you guess, your feedback has become judgmental.

Seventh, in order to master the instructional art of feedback, you must make it a two-way street. It is not a time to lecture. Rather, it’s a time to talk and a time to listen. It’s a time to give information and get information. Remember, there may be reasons beyond our knowledge that explain why a student didn’t do well on a task or demonstrate what he or she really knows. We may even learn that some element of our teaching ought to be adjusted. We’ll find our “two-way conversational stance” actually helps the student reveal more as well as listen more intently. And both of these actions can enhance teaching and learning.

The Master Teacher knows
feedback is not about
punishment—it’s about inspiring.

The Master Teacher knows making mistakes is inherent in learning. Likewise, being corrected and having to refocus are a big part of everyone’s development. This is true for students—and it’s true for us. But development and improvement are not about condemning or punishing, or making students hurt. On the contrary, our goal is to help and inspire students to learn and be successful in school.

The Master Teacher knows helping students learn and be successful is our task. Inspiring and guiding them to be more successful is the teaching opportunity within this task. And we can’t maximize the academic performance of students without feedback. That’s why acquiring the instructional skills to get better and better at delivering feedback is vital to success—for us and our students.

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