I read an excellent article this week (Wiggins, Grant. Seven Keys to Effective Feedback. Educational Leadership, September 2012, pp 11-16 http://www.ascd.org/publications/educational-leadership/sept12/vol70/num01/Seven-Keys-to-Effective-Feedback.aspx). Two things in particular struck me as relevant: two different kinds of feedback that are useful and the difference between feedback and advice.
Many times we receive feedback simply from being in a situation that has a goal or challenge to solve. When I teach a great lesson I get positive feedback from engaged students. When I teach a lousy lesson I also get feedback from students: yawning, fidgeting, not answering questions, disengaged. When I am building something in the tech lab and it keeps falling apart, I am getting immediate feedback and I continue to try things until my structure is stable. In volleyball, every time the ball doesn’t clear the net, I have to think about how I could get it do so. Immediate feedback. How many of the activities that you set up in your classroom provide for that kind of feedback?
I also can get feedback from others. When I share my work with someone else or have a coach or ask someone their opinion, I am looking for feedback. Usually I want feedback that will make me think about my challenge and help me to improve. I want the “sweet spot” of feedback: not too much or too little, it has to timely and relevant to the task at hand, and I want the opportunity to apply it immediately.
Wiggins states: Less teaching, more feedback equals better results. What are some ways that we can incorporate feedback into our lessons on a regular basis? Small group work with the teacher is one, but Wiggins talks about small group work among students as also being effective feedback. When students work in groups to solve a challenging problem or discuss an issue, they are getting continuous feedback from their peers: Did what I said make sense? Does my thinking mesh with the group’s thinking? Do I understand things better now? Can you tell me that part again? I don’t understand what you are saying. When students work in groups they are able to use the conversation as feedback to strengthen and deepen their understanding.
Wiggins also differentiates between feedback and advice:AdviceFeedbackYou need to put more examples in your report.When I read your report I didn’t understand how levers are incorporated into daily living.You need to identify the speaker when you write dialogueWhen I read your story it was very engaging but I got confused with who was speaking.Don’t forget to put the units in the answer for your math problem.I don’t understand how big this patio is.
When we provide more feedback and less advice, we are helping students to take charge of their own learning and to make decisions which will improve their work. While sometimes advice is the right thing to offer, too much advice without nonevaluative, descriptive feedback can make students dependent on the teacher always telling them what to do.