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Tweaking Feedback for Maximum Results

Feedback becomes real and relevant when the lens for sharing it focuses on strengths and growth potential.

By Lani Aquino

When it comes to positively receiving feedback, there are a lot of boxes that must be ticked for students to find value in this powerful learning tool. Feedback shouldn’t be viewed as a final communication that closes a chapter on learning, but rather it should be viewed as the catalyst to further illuminate the journey. Whether students are excelling or struggling, feedback will only enhance their endeavors and mindset when it is substantive in nature.  

This doesn’t mean that Nice Work! and Good Job! have to be permanently removed from a teacher’s vocabulary. It does mean that these blanketed praise phrases should lose their automaton frequency and/or be accompanied by some descriptive detail that pinpoints what was done nicely or well. Both the timing and the phrasing of feedback play key roles in making this valuable tool an integral part of the learning process.

When should feedback be shared?

Before- While it may seem strange to talk about feedback before the study of a new skill, idea, or concept begins, this is actually an excellent time to get students in the right mindset for learning. This pre-learning feedback can come in the form of feedback from anticipation guides, skills review, and/or portfolio reflection. Helping students see their strengths and skills sets needed for upcoming challenges is a great way to get the ball rolling.

During- The largest amount of feedback should come during the learning process. This feedback can come from innumerable formative assessments and checkpoints. When feedback is given during learning, teachers and students are able to ensure the path to success and mastery are in sight and make any adjustments needed throughout the journey. As more frequent communication is used, students are able to find the value in feedback as an aid to navigate the learning process. Four of Our Favorite Anytime Assessment Tools would fit nicely here or elsewhere within the learning process.

After- In traditional classroom designs, this was often the only time within the learning process that feedback was given. While feedback on a final assessment is valuable, it can’t be the only feedback. It also shouldn’t be the final stopping point on a learning journey. Feedback that is given in the after phase should be directional for moving forward with next steps and/or connecting past concepts to future ones.

How should feedback be phrased?

This is where the tweaking of the blanketed praise phrase is vital. When feedback is generic in nature, students are likely to be unaware of what was done well or nicely. Was the format chosen a successful way to convey information? Were the details on point in clarifying the process? Did the usage of real-world examples sharpen the strength of the argument? Feedback should be connected to the learning and the skills/standards being showcased. Students should be left to wonder whether the teacher thought their handwriting was the Well done! element of the assignment.

Lauren Porosoof delves further into the impact of feedback in How Our Word Choices Can Empower Our Students. Her article in Phi Delta Kappan focuses on the actual verbiage used to share information with students. She shines a light on avoiding race and gender biases when it comes to using adjectives to describe behaviors, work products, or communications, and she notes that adjectives are all subjective assignments based on a teacher’s interpretation. She suggests using a verb that pinpoints an actionable example of the descriptor. Rather than saying Anna is descriptive, saying Anna’s attention to detail helps her in creating succinct visual images for the reader. This added information sheds a much brighter light for students and parents.

Porosoff also points out that nouns offer concrete images to help parents and students visualize the information being shared. Another key part of speech in communicating feedback is the conjunction. When but is used to connect two feedback statements, the first statement shared loses its value. Caleb’s inclusion of details and facts support his argument, but he needs to work on the overall organization of the paper. Simply switching this to read, Caleb’s inclusion of details and facts strongly support his argument, and he needs to work on the overall organization of the paper. The use of and gives equivalent value to each comment. Her thoughts and suggestions for the usage of pronouns in communication to shift the focus from student to teacher are also very enlightening.

Helping students navigate the learning process is a lot easier when impactful feedback is utilized. The days of praise phrase stamps should be a thing of the past. Digital communication and real-time feedback opportunities make joining students on the learning journey much more accessible, and tweaking the when and how of these communications heightens their positive impact.

If you enjoyed the thoughts and ideas shared here, check out the trainings and tools (for teachers and for families) that we offer.

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