Ever do a great job on something yet no one says anything about it? Put your all into a work project, only to have your boss murmur, “Nice work” in passing? Everyone needs feedback, good and bad. Especially students. Feedback is one of the more tenuous aspects of teaching. It’s a dance between some positive comments to a critical (but not negative) review of the work. This delicate balance is a fine ballet put on by some teachers and an Elaine-dance (think Seinfeld) by others. I fall somewhere in between.
Several years ago I attended grad school. There was a LOT of writing. Don’t get me wrong; I love to write, but the volume even taxed me. However, one of the greatest lessons learned during that time was the importance of quality feedback. How did I learn that? By being on the receiving end. After turning in papers or written work, I looked forward to getting my stuff returned, not so much for the grade but for the comments made by the professors. To be honest, some modeled much stronger feedback than others. It set a standard for what I did and didn’t want to do in my own classroom.
So what is feedback for learning? I think it’s a way as a teacher to guide students in the learning process. At the end of the day when I’m still correcting papers, it’s tempting to write “Nice work” or “Good job” at the end of a paper. But then I remind myself how inadequate that would have been for me had I gotten comments like that in my own work. The words I received from teachers prompted me to deeper thinking or consideration of new ways to approach something. In other words, it was valuable feedback. Words I could put into practice. Words I could use.
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Since getting my masters, my approach to feedback has changed. It’s still not great, but it’s a lot better than previously. I try to think of what I would like to receive from a teacher—instruction as to how to improve a piece of writing structurally, insights/connections/ questions that arise as a result of something I’ve written, or comments about the effectiveness of my writing. I try to base my feedback on these three things.
Feedback is an ever-improving area in my teaching realm. I spend time thinking about what I’m saying because it’s so important. I’ve seen quality feedback motivate students and lazy feedback stall them in their writing. So what’s a teacher to do when giving their comments? Look for the good first. Comment on what needs improvement. Finally, look for the good, overall, in the project. Teens are just like adults. We all respond to feedback. The better it is, the better the response.
No matter what, giving students my best in this area requires effort. Concentrated effort. When I get tired of reading papers and want to take the easy way, I remember my anticipation in grad school to getting back my assignments. And that makes all the difference.