Learning the importance of instant feedback…
When I reflect upon my teaching career, I have grown to understand that one thing we can never underestimate as teachers, leaders, and colleagues is the power of fast feedback. By this I mean the feedback we give to our students, the feedback we give to the teams we lead, and the feedback we give to one another to help each other improve, develop, and overcome challenges.
I have also grown to understand how important it is to respond in the right way to feedback. And by this I mean the feedback our students give us formally and informally, and the feedback we receive from our peers and line managers. Cris Tovani maintains that ‘the feedback students give teachers can be more powerful than the feedback teachers give students.’
Lessons from children….
This Christmas, my eight year old son received his much coveted Xbox 1. Such was his excitement / anxiety on Christmas Eve, he wore two pairs of pants all day (without he or I realising!), and he dragged me to the Gaming Section of Tesco to show me ‘the’ Xbox 1 and how it compared price wise with the PS4. He had worked out how much money he had received for his birthday the week before, and he prepared a contingency plan to save for it in case Father Christmas had felt he was undeserving this year!
Needless to say his excitement on Christmas morning was off the scale! But it was his handling of the ‘grown ups’ during our many games of FIFA football, which fascinated me since.
First of all, to do what Premier League footballers need to do, my son is extremely skilled at manipulating the controller. I am not s0-skilled. Apart from the occasional ‘Mum’…pause and slow sidewards glance, ’What was that?!’ query when I had slide tackled ‘nobody’ or chipped the ball pointlessly and aimlessly into the crowd, for the most part, it was how he praised me or his Granddad when we showed any sign of improvement. ‘That’s better Mum, now what you need to do is hold down that button gently and aim at the goal….Good, you’re getting better, let’s try some training activities to help you improve more.’
Analysing the ‘stats’ was equally as fascinating. We know that by nature many boys and girls and indeed adults are competitive. I believe it is positive for self-improvement when given hard figures to reflect upon and compete against. However, oral or written feedback is needed to support that score in context. ‘Shot accuracy 94%, Mum you scored 12%, just watch me in the next game and how I target my shots’.
He needed these raw figures and grades to visibly check his progress. Whilst I felt that the grading of your skillset in training was rather harsh, when he scored an uncharacteristic ‘F’ for the more difficult dribbling activity, it didn’t deter him from persevering. He could now ‘see’ where he was going wrong and received immediate feedback in doing so. These characteristics of effective learning have been researched and promoted by the likes of John Hattie, and often highlighted as one of the benefits of gamification of learning in classroom contexts when technology is in use.
Through my son’s feedback, I found myself recognising myself improving and understanding where I was improving. And this was in spite of not yet winning a single game – the fact they he let me score a goal (he thinks I don’t know this) on the home side so that I could experience the roar of the crowd was an incentive to keep improving. He gave me a taste of success which immediately boosted my own sense of intrinsic motivation.
Striking this right balance in our feedback as teachers is critical. I learnt that I kept students on track when I gave them fast feedback. If they had put effort into a piece of work, and I didn’t immediately recognise that, I lost them. They lost interest. The motivation levels dwindled. Also, if the feedback was too general and it didn’t recognise the unique features of a student’s work, they knew straight away. And again, motivation dwindled. Thankfully, I was patently aware when I made these unintentional mistakes, often due to the varying pressures of the job, but ultimately recognising students’ efforts (as Carol Dweck maintains), giving fast feedback, and ensuring the nature of that feedback is specific and highlights ‘how’ to improve are absolutely critical.
We know that our role as teachers is to create a supportive classroom ethos, so that pupils feel safe to take risks. Effective feedback is at the core of achieving this. If my son had kept telling me I was rubbish at FIFA (which he did once out of pure frustration), I would have given up and made my excuses, but actually it has been his encouragement and guidance that has literally kept me in the game!
As supply teachers, we may not always have the opportunity to give feedback regularly to the same pupils over a set period of time to witness this surge of intrinsic motivation amongst our pupils. Dr. Grigg provides a training module for TeacherIn on ‘Fast Feedback’ entirely focused on classroom situations in which you, as a supply teacher, may only meet some classes once. Within this session, he gives helpful strategies based on research and best practice, to help you give fast and effective feedback to muster the same results.
Further references and reading:
The following table formulated by the Department for Education and Skills aims to share the best features of oral and written feedback and can serve as a reference point. To give clear and constructive advice on which areas need improvement, oral and written feedback provides the opportunities for teachers.