Teacher feedback ~ Student learning?

The natural assumption is that if teachers provide feedback in the way of comments in addition to grades, students will benefit more in the way of learning.  In a recent article by Dylan Wiliam, The Secret of Effective Feedback, he shares research that states this isn’t always the case and in order for feedback to have its desired effect we have to examine what students do with the feedback.

We have been spending the last few years with a focus on assessments in general – formative assessment and feedback specifically.  With the help of in-house professional development and creating a focus on assessments we have made strides toward adding meaning and purpose to assessing students.  The use of formative assessments has increased in classrooms and is being talked about in our teacher resource center and in post observation conferences.  As we got better at using formative assessment strategies we added a focus of what to do with that data after it’s gathered.  For formative assessment to be useful, it has to drive future instruction either with the whole group, small groups and/or individually.  This is not an easy transition but one certainly worth undertaking.  This will continue to be a focus as we move forward with looking more specifically at feedback and creating informative summative assessments.

Providing feedback is beginning to enter into our discussions surrounding assessments.  We have stressed that if an assessment is truly an instrument of learning we must provide the student the opportunity for reflection and feedback on the assessment.  This article regarding feedback is one of those reads that seems like common sense and makes one (me in particular) wonder why we haven’t had this discussion sooner.  My guess would be that many teachers believe that writing comments on student work is going to help the student understand what he/she did wrong.  I suppose it might in some cases – but how do we know?  And shouldn’t the real purpose of feedback be to assure that the student not only understands but can apply the feedback to future learning?  As Dylan Wiliam states, “If our feedback doesn’t change the student in some way, it has probably been a waste of time.”

The article provides numerous ways to add meaning to feedback but two stuck out.  The first being that the feedback should be given in a way that gives the student the opportunity to find what needs to be “fixed” and correct it.  If the teacher provides all of that information in the feedback comments, it leaves little for the student to do other than recognize what was wrong and see how the teacher corrected it.  Chances are that this feedback will not change the student’s future work.  The second was even more in line with something we have continued to focus on in the high school ~ relationships.  The stronger the relationship between the teacher and the student, the more likely the student will be to listen to the feedback being given.  Wiliam refers to it as a trusting relationship.  If the student does not feel that the teacher has his/her best interests in mind, that student will not be as likely to do what needs to be done to improve learning.

Trust is a powerful word.




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