Effective communication is crucial in education and feedback is superficially an extension of this idea. But this would completely miss the nuanced interaction between the teacher and students.
This article first appeared in the June 2015 Edition of UKEdMagazine
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Marking and feedback are intrinsically linked and form part of an educator’s wider assessment strategy. I would draw the distinction that marking refers to the practical identification of errors and the search for acquired or consolidated skills or concepts. Feedback begins when the reviewer, whether teacher or peer, begins to engage with the learner about their learning and initiates communication about how the learning him or herself may improve the work or how their past errors may form targets for future developments. Feedback, whether written or verbally conducted, formally or informally, during a lesson or away from the students, is the act of engaging the learner in discourse about their learning, encompassing past progress, present focus and needs, and future areas of development and elicit the student’s response. In Visible Learning (bit.ly/uked15jun77) Hattie writes, “It was only when I discovered that feedback was most powerful when it is from student to the teacher that I started to understand it better.”
The methods and requirements of feedback will differ greatly between different teaching contexts. For example, the manner in which feedback is conducted by a primary school practitioner will differ from how it is initiated by secondary colleagues, where science educators may choose different feedback techniques to foreign language specialists. An important idea stems from the realisation that effective feedback consists of a continuing evolving discussion and reflection about the learner, of their work, what aspects to development next and what they need to move forward, both materially and in terms of support from the teacher. Gill and Thomson (bit.ly/uked15jun78) write, ‘Understanding what constitutes an improvement and why it counts is the most neglected area of student feedback.’ They continue by stating that it is vital that the pupils have access to models of improvement for similar work and gain an understanding of why particular improvements were selected by the teacher to highlight and examine the wider trajectory of learning. Therefore, the teacher needs to develop a learning environment and routines that allow for this continual conversation and synchronisation between teacher and pupil.
It is easy to frame learning in terms of an individual piece of work and it is essential that any feedback should reflect on the objectives and success criteria set out at the beginning of the lesson or task. However, the teacher should put the current lesson and learning into the wider continuum of learning over the longer term, so not just reflecting on what has come before, but also allowing the student to co-construct future learning and ensure they understand their next step. While the teacher has an overview of the curriculum as a whole and is able to assess the student’s needs to a large degree, it is highly beneficial for learners and for the teacher to have this interaction to discuss their work and where it fits into their wider learning.
Naturally, within a busy school and an even busier curriculum, it is vital that appropriate time is invested. This is where written feedback can be of most value. A piece of work should be seen as a working document which gradually moves towards an advanced state, allowing students to dispel errors and improve their understanding, knowledge and skills in an editorial collaboration between pupil, teacher, and other members of the class.
In my own teaching I have found that the benefits of verbal feedback vastly outweigh the short amount of lesson time taken to engage with the students in feedback dialogue. This type of feedback can be categorised in two ways. Firstly, there is the continual oral feedback that punctuates a lesson as the learning is happening. This is multi-directional and each member of the class, including the teacher, is continuously gathering information as the interplay of dialogue permeates the lesson. Each comment further develops understanding by consolidating an idea, or exposing an error or misunderstanding which can be developed. While this can appear random and can be achieved to a certain extent in a reaction to an idea or error as it arises, the teacher should be able to predict many possible sources of error during the planning stage of the lesson, informed by profession knowledge, past experience and previous feedback from the student themselves.
The second form of verbal feedback is usually…
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Xiong Fu is a teacher of Mandarin from Essex who works in a London school. Find her on Twitter at @xiongxiaofu