Feedback……collaborative or punitive?

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When I take a picture I get instant feedback on how I did. I can determine the exposure, color, framing, all within a second of taking that picture. Some might look at this as instant gratification, but I look at it through the lens of learning. You see, I really didn’t like taking pictures until digital really came about. I would use a film camera, spend the money to get the film developed, and then be disgusted with what I ended up with. My pictures were horrible, nothing to write home about, and my attitude wasn’t much better. The feedback I received from those pictures taken with film was disheartening, especially since the feedback would come about 4-5 days after taking any picture. 4-5 days is a long time to wait to learn from a mistake or learn from a success. I couldn’t capitalize on what I did to get any better. The feedback just took too long.

How do our students learn if we always give them feedback the same way or on the same topic? How can we, as educators, make feedback be a huge part of our culture?

Now let’s compare photography to education. We all know feedback is an important piece of any lesson, yet how many teachers wait to provide feedback until the end of class or until a paper is handed in, graded, and handed back. How many teachers wait to provide feedback until they grade a worksheet and then complain about why a student isn’t getting better? Do students really get better when they get a piece of paper back with a red number? How often do teachers look at a summative assessment and think that they have wasted their time? We are missing the chance to provide instant feedback like I get with digital compared to film. Film provides feedback like a graded paper, digital provides it like a comment or question does in the moment of learning. You can turn a student’s learning on a dime with a directed question or comment on one specific piece of learning. Do you do this with your students? I know that it’s taken me a while to finally piece it together and I am still learning.

The feedback just took too long…….

You can turn a student’s learning on a dime with a directed question or comment on one specific piece of learning.

People comment all the time on my pictures about how I have a knack for it, how wonderful the color is, how great the composition is. What they don’t see is the journey it has taken, the feedback I needed, and the countless at bats that were required to hone my skill. I am not an amazing photographer, I enjoy it, and I look forward to continually increasing my ability. We need to work with students on providing feedback quickly, in the moment, to make the biggest impact. No teacher should ever think that they are better off waiting until a student hands a paper in to provide feedback. In my opinion we perform educational malpractice every time we let a teachable moment go AND every time we do something for a student. Would I have learned how to take pictures by having someone do it for me? If someone did it for me I wouldn’t have ever boughten in to the learning. If I did it with help then I become engaged to the feedback I receive. It would have taken me a long time to learn about photography if I used film, a very long time simply because in the moment I wasn’t receiving the feedback I needed. I would have to wait, stew on what the pictures would look like, and then try to remember what I did or didn’t do. Digital is like feedback in the moment, high quality and…. life changing. Feedback is what makes us better, but it all depends on how that feedback is given.

What they don’t see is the journey it has taken, the feedback I needed, and the countless at bats that were required to hone my skill.

There’s something called a histogram on my camera that helps me to see the lights and darks of an image. If I were to go by the book and make all my pictures be within that histogram’s boundaries I wouldn’t be growing as a photographer. Listening to one source (the teacher) doesn’t make us better. Listening to multiple sources, combining feedback, and deciding on the next steps is what makes us better. I learned quickly that if my picture showed to many darks or lights it wouldn’t look good. I took that feedback and decided for myself how to make my photography better. If I just let the histogram dictate my picture taking then I’d end up sputtering as a photographer since different situations call for different amounts of light. How do our students learn if we always give them feedback the same way or on the same topic? How can we, as educators, make feedback be a huge part of our culture? We say we do it, but when we look at our lessons, is it the teachers giving the feedback, the students, or is it both?

Here’s the deal with feedback, it needs to be collaborative, not punitive. Think about who gives the feedback most often in the classroom…… if you guessed the teacher then how can we change that? Do we want students to see teachers as the know it all in learning, the knowledge givers? Or do we want students to see teachers as collaborators where both parties are learning from each other? Going back to photography, I think of my camera as the teacher and myself as a student. I have to give feedback to the camera by adjusting the settings and in turn get feedback from the pictures the camera shows me. It’s a collaborative effort that allows for me to decide to get better. I have boughten in to the feedback the camera gives me and the camera is receptive to the feedback I give it. Just like we want our classrooms to be, collaborative and authentic where teachers and students learn from each other, apply feedback to help them all grow as learners.

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The impact one word, one comment, one picture can make on a learner is incredibly diverse. It can stretch a learning moment into a learning hour, day, week, month, or year. Just one direct comment from either a teacher or student can change the path a student takes. We need to involve our students in feedback, providing the opportunities to engage and learn from each other. Feedback is a thing of beauty when students begin to think about how they can phrase comments and questions to give to their learning partners. A teacher can’t be in different areas at the same time, but a teacher’s modeling of feedback can be. The culture of feedback must be driven from day one, where students and teachers feel safe to question each other, to comment on work, to think about what might make them better. Bill Ferriter has a great post on peer feedback through observation. You need to give it a read. ASCD and Edutopia all have great pieces on feedback too. How can you create a culture of feedback? How can we make our feedback more digital compared to film? What will make the biggest impact on a student’s learning, a comment from a peer, a comment from a teacher, or from both?

Learning is a collaborative effort and without authentic feedback, in the moment, we begin to make a culture that sees the teacher as the knowledge keeper, not the knowledge seeker. We want students to to see teachers as knowledge seekers, learning along with them. Feedback provides for that, positive talk that can change the minds of our students. Education is at a cross roads, a path can be built with one word, or a highway can be built with a collaborative culture. I know the place I want to be, do you?? Think about the impact your words will have on students, the impact the words students will have on you, and the impact feedback will have on us all. Do you want to wait 5 days to get a picture back or 1 second? How will you learn the best? How will your students learn the best?


2 Comments Add yours

  1. Dr. Darci says:

    Hi Andrew,

    I’ve recently been interested in thinking about the real purpose of feedback. I’ve found Wiggins (2012) article very helpful in looking at what feedback should (and should not) be. I was enlightened to realize that good feedback isn’t advice and it isn’t evaluative. The best feedback is actionable (describe what you see) and it is user-friendly. And I agree with you, feedback should be a discussion between instructor and student with the sole purpose of improvement of thinking and of the final product. Thanks so much for a great post. ~Darci

    Wiggins, G. (2012). Seven keys to effective feedback Educational Leadership, 70(1), 10-16.

    1. andrewtk10 says:

      Thanks for commenting! We all need to have a culture where feedback is inherent in all we do. The idea that feedback is not advice is an incredible jump for many educators and students. I don’t want to give advice to students, I want to provide timely feedback that helps them make their own plans, their own reflections, their own successes. Their learning is not my learning, it’s their own. That learning comes from a culture of feedback, without that quality we will have the same education system we’ve had for years, and it hasn’t been successful.

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