Feedback and I have a love-hate relationship. We’ve had horrendous moments, lowlights including:
- YouTube comments from trolling strangers;
- The parent who threatened to sue me for targeting his daughter by – get this – reminding her of homework due dates;
- A teacher’s constructive feedback of “Wear better clothes” after a PD;
- Blog commenters arguing that I should quit teaching because I misspelled a word.
But, some of my most transformative experiences have come from feedback, such as the colleagues at Quantum Learning, who craved, modeled, and facilitated exceptional feedback. By seeing the power of effective feedback – and growing a tough skin from ineffective feedback – I’ve come to crave answers to the mantra, “Know Thy Impact.”
Which leads to a problem: So much of my time is isolated from colleagues. I often teach in a bubble with an occasional administrator popping in for a semi-annual observation. So I’ve learned to shift my thinking – realizing that one of my greatest sources of feedback is the very focus of my job: Students.
When is the last time you asked your students for feedback – in a way that allowed you to act upon that feedback to improve their learning? Sure, we might give an “end of the semester” evaluation. Or ask for thoughts after a unit or course. But feedback is best when it empowers us to act now.
Here’s how to do feedback better, using a notecard and a tradition:
Step 1: Request it
Each Friday, give your students a note card and ask them to respond to one question:
What can I do to help you learn better?
Obviously, you can do this whenever works for you. However, I choose Fridays because, if the feedback hits me hard (because I’m a human), I have a weekend to process it, brainstorm, and regulate my emotional attachment to the feedback.
Step 2: Address it
On Monday, don’t let the Friday feedback go unmentioned. Explain to students what you gained from their feedback – and how you are going to implement it. And here’s the kicker: Actually implement their suggestions when applicable. Let’s be honest, sometimes kids don’t know what they don’t know. But this is not a space to get defensive and justify away every piece of feedback you receive.
Some of my best shifts in teaching came from suggestions from my students. I’ve re-written assessments, changed my nonverbals, and gotten more creative with instruction – based on hearing directly from my students. Perhaps the best part, though, is seeing how it transforms the culture of a classroom, allowing me to ask for feedback mid-lesson and inviting students to take ownership of their learning.
What if my students can’t give good feedback?
Tip 1: Habituate it
First, give frequent opportunities. We don’t get good at anything by doing it once at the end of a semester, so do everything you can to make time for this practice weekly.
Though this article is based around peer-to-peer feedback, it could easily be adapted for developing a culture of student-to-teacher feedback:
Tip 2: Preface it
To guide my students toward better feedback, before they write, I tell them this:
1. “Nothing” is an illegal answer: If you can’t think of something I can do better, at least tell me what you want me to keep doing.
2. Give suggestions: If you don’t like how something is being done, try to give an idea of how I can do it better.
3. Be kind but fearless: Remember I am a human, so consider wording it in a way that helps me receive and implement it. But I will not take anything out on your personally, so be fearlessly honest.
4. There are non-negotiables: We will read. We will write. You will have assignments and assessments. But how we do those things is up for revision.
Tip 3: Structure it
Structure feedback around key topics or use more specific questions:
What can I do to challenge you with content and help you grow?
What can I do to help you understand challenging content?
How effective is my ability to explain content? What could I change?
How effective is the feedback I give for helping you learn and improve? What could I change?
What can I do to help you see how this content matters for your present and future?
What can I do to help you apply this beyond the classroom?
How effective are the assignments I give for helping you apply your learning? What could I change?
What can I do to help you understand that I believe in your ability to learn in this class?
What can I do to strengthen our relationship?
What can I do to make this class a safe place to learn and be?
Feedback doesn’t have to be caustic. It doesn’t have to be rare. And it doesn’t have to come from our superiors. We can choose to create contexts — and cultures — in which students and teachers help each other grow.
Got ideas on how you create a culture of feedback with your students? Share the wealth in your comments below!