Monday, February 29, 2016

Meaningful Feedback

     A few years ago I learned about the art of feedback. I  was getting my masters online and would submit a plethora of written work. It's at this time I came to understand the value of great feedback and realized how woefully inadequate I am in this area. How can teachers do a better job of giving feedback? How, indeed.
     Teens look forward to hearing how they did on a paper. They covet feedback and positive reinforcement. Who doesn't? During my time as a masters student, I looked for the same thing--meaningful feedback. I had one professor who was a genius in this area. Almost daily I think of her and how well she gave feedback. Then I look at my own feeble attempts at it and grimace.
     I can't speak for any other discipline, but in English, feedback is crucial. My students write--a lot--and if my expectation is for them to improve, their expectation is for me to give valuable feedback. I confess, sometimes I get pressed for time and instead of something meaningful, I go for the standard "nice job" or "good work" or "well written." Just as I'd never let those phrases get by without more explanation from my students, I know I need to expand on them as well.
     Here are a few things I've learned in my quest to improve my feedback to students:
     1. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be timely. Students have the topic on the brain and want to improve their work, but they need feedback from teachers. My credo is if it's important enough for me to assign, it's important enough for me to grade in a reasonable time frame. I'm not doing my students any favors if I procrastinate reviewing their papers. More often than not, any passion they may have had for the topic wanes if I take too long in getting it back to them.
    2. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be specific. I'm trying to eliminate the "nice work" and "good job" comments, replacing them with thoughtful insights about their writing. This may sound easy but it's one of the hardest things I've done as a teacher. The more specific the feedback, the more knowledgeable the student about what exactly needs to be addressed. It's easy to find the errors, but making comments about the good is just as important. Students need to see what they've done right and continue to strive toward achieving that in subsequent work.
    3. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be honest but encouraging. When it comes to this type of writing, some people are masters. They easily weave critique in with praise, finding good in everything as well as pointing out the weaknesses. Some may be honest but leave out the encouraging part. No one wants their work shredded without any positive comments. A colleague of mine is Mr. Positive. He finds good in every situation and every piece of writing. He's a great example to follow, and I find myself asking what type of feedback he'd give a particular work if he were reading it. This has helped me to look for more positives in my students' work which benefits everyone.
     4. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be genuine. Students can spot fluff and almost resent seeing it on their work. For as much time as it takes to type or write something, make your words be heartfelt and genuine. Teens are adept at knowing when teachers are blowing smoke and when they are sincere. Make your comments count.
    5. For feedback to be meaningful, it needs to be personal. I try to encourage my students by noting their improvements from past assignments. Specific improvements. This takes time as sometimes I need to refresh my memory and revisit their work, going back, sometimes, to the beginning of the class. When I can personalize the feedback and note growth by referencing a prior work, students take what I say more to heart. They realize they aren't getting a "canned" teacher response but one that has thought put into it. Students respond to teacher effort.
    I've not come close to mastering the art of feedback, but I strive toward that goal. Eliminating my own canned responses is a step. I've come to realize that the more effort I put into giving quality feedback, the more effort my students give me. And that can make all the difference.


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