It gets said over and over again – kids need meaningful feedback in order to learn. I believe this to my core as an educator. It is essential to learning and a non-threatening way to guide students to improve. Feedback is not high stakes, it is simply a part of the journey to check on progress and guide next steps.
Students appreciate feedback because it communicates so much more than a number or a letter. It is a call to action rather than something that signifies an end to learning. When kids are given specific descriptive feedback, they are motivated by the challenge to grow. No student is lumped into a letter grade category or label…everyone is on the road to success.
As teachers, I believe we want this same type of feedback. I definitely do not want to be assigned a number or letter to guide my progress and development as an instructor. I frequently talk with my students about their learning experiences, what I can do to best serve their needs, as well as how I can improve. If I am to model the behaviors that I seek, growth and change are indispensable for me. I gather additional feedback from observers in my room, whether they be administrators or colleagues. Varied points of view are the best way to chart the course forward with my kids.
One of the reflective activities we completed this year happened when we returned from winter break. I had my students give adjectives that they expected from me in order to improve their learning. I was most surprised when one student asked me for honesty. It is not that I wouldn’t be honest with my students at all times, but he went on to explain. He wanted honesty in feedback. He said that I was one of the only teachers in his experience who ‘told it like it was’. He knew exactly what needed improvement and areas of strength in his work. Sometimes I don’t think educators believe that kids want to know the truth. We sugar coat things to make sure we aren’t hurting anyone’s feelings or inviting a difficult conversation. This was such a great example of how less than accurate or nondescript feedback can be detrimental to our students. I also knew at that moment that we had created a safe environment with a growth mindset.
I am frequently asked how I have enough time to provide feedback to my students. I have a couple of thoughts on this. First of all, I have taken back the time I used to spend calculating points, categories, and weights for countless formative practice grades. This was wasted time for me that is currently spent in a very productive manner. My other consideration is this: If feedback is the most important piece we give our students for their learning, how can I not find the time to do it? Don’t worry, I am human too. I am a wife and mother to a couple of wonderful boys. I drive to soccer practice, help with homework, and put dinner on the table. I do not spend every waking hour of my life giving feedback, but I have found that the time I devote to school now is more worthwhile and rewarding.