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Out of decades of research about what does and doesn’t work in education, only a small number of ideas are almost universally accepted. Feedback is one of them. We need feedback to learn, and this is true in and out of the classroom. Sometimes the feedback is subtle or so integrated into the experience that we don’t recognize it, but it is there. At other times the feedback is explicit, such as a teacher’s correction or comments on a paper.
When I work with struggling teachers who want to get better, I often find that starting with a feedback plan is a good way to make quick progress. The problem is that we have only so many hours in the day. What teacher has the time to give minutes or hours of feedback to every student every day? The larger the class, the less feasible this seems. That is why I encourage teachers not just to think about how they will give students feedback, but also to think more broadly about a feedback plan. After all, the teacher is a valuable source of feedback, but not the only source.
A simple way to get started on a feedback plan is to think about a mix of the following five sources.
This is the one we usually think about. It can be as simple as the teacher providing verbal or written direction to a learner. Of course, it can also become more complex. The teacher might use checklists, provide rubrics, or record visual or audio feedback as a student progresses on a project.
Learners can help learners by using the same types of feedback listed for the instructor. Of course, some learners may not have much knowledge or ability in the subject yet, so it can be helpful to give learners a guide on how to give good feedback, perhaps even using a rubric or checklist of some sort.
This is the goal—for learners to be able to check their own progress and make the necessary adjustments. Again, some guides or structure may be helpful in certain cases, but as students increase in confidence and competence, they need less direction.
This could be something as simple as a self-paced tutorial (even just an uploaded PowerPoint with a question on one slide and answers on the next). It could also be the use of some sort of practice quiz that gives learners a sense of whether they understand basic concepts or vocabulary. Remember that this is formative, so it need not have a formal grade or mark associated with it. The important part is that it gives individual learners (and the teacher) helpful feedback on how they are doing. There are also any number of new and emerging technologies that offer different types of automated or computer-generated feedback. Consider, for example, the popularity of something like the Fitbit.
Mentor and Outside Adviser Feedback
In this instance, I use mentor to mean someone outside of the classroom. It could be an expert in the field or a family member or colleague who is willing to review the work and give helpful tips or feedback. This also has a way of adding some authenticity to the experience.
There are likely other categories as well, but these five provide a helpful start as one thinks about adding new aspects of feedback while facing the reality that a teacher only has so many hours in the day.
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