“The Secret of Effective Feedback”
In a recent article about effective feedback, Dylan Wiliam asserts that “The only important thing about feedback is what students do with it”. He discusses a central problem with feedback is that the teacher often does the “intellectual heavy lifting”.
The article ends with – possibly – the most important point:
The only thing that matters is what the student does with the feedback. If the feedback you’re giving your students is producing more of what you want, it’s probably good feedback. But if your feedback is getting you less of what you want, it probably needs to change.
One part of the article explores the way that students can be asked to revise assessed pieces of work and resubmit them: the feedback does improve the work but the student does not learn very much.
Most of the time, however, the student work we’re looking at is not important in and of itself, but rather for what it can tell us about students—what they can do now, what they might be able to do in the future, or what they need to do next. Looking at student work is essentially an assessment process. We give our students tasks, and from their responses we draw conclusions about the students and their learning needs.
When we realize that most of the time the focus of feedback should be on changing the student rather than changing the work, we can give much more purposeful feedback. If our feedback doesn’t change the student in some way, it has probably been a waste of time.
Wiliam talks about assigning tasks that enable teachers to understand a student’s thinking: “Designing tasks that, in Ritchhart and Perkins’s (2008) phrase, “make thinking visible” takes time, but front-loading the work in this way makes it much more likely that we’ll provide useful feedback.”
Another approach is to make responding to feedback into a task in itself (what he calls “detective work”):
In a previous article in Educational Leadership (Wiliam, 2012), I mentioned Charlotte Kerrigan, a language arts teacher who sometimes responds to her students’ essays by writing her comments on strips of paper. She then gives each group of four students their four essays, along with the four strips of paper. The group’s task is to figure out which comments apply to which essays.
Or consider a math teacher who provides feedback on 20 solved equations. Rather than telling the student which equations are incorrect, the teacher can instead say, “Five of these are incorrect. Find them and fix them.”
He also insists that the most productive approach to feedback is to develop students’ ability to give themselves feedback:
It’s important, therefore, to develop students’ capacity for self-assessment. At the same time, we need to remember that it can be emotionally challenging to assess one’s own work, Therefore, I recommend starting with samples of anonymous student work, and asking students to describe what feedback they would give the creator of the work. After that, students can move on to the work of actual peers, and finally, to self-assessment.
To start with, a simple approach, sometimes called “plus, minus, interesting,” is all that is needed. At the end of a task, ask students to identify something they found easy about the task, something they found challenging or difficult, and something they found interesting. Such reflection develops language skills and helps the students become clear about what areas they need to work on.
SOURCE: Educational Leadership