How many types of feedback do you use in the classroom, and how are each evaluated during observation?
For the last 3 or 4 years, I’ve been dipping in and out on the research on feedback. My goal? To influence the narrative on ‘written marking’ across UK schools in a bid to also influence classroom observers who seek to reliably evaluate learning.
In 2018, I had a research project approved by UCL. One year later, Mark Quinn and I published the Verbal Feedback Project (September 2019); we were delighted with the response and how its findings have slowly rippled across the profession. Over the last two years, I have been sharing the methods and the findings with every school I work with.
Alongside this research, part of my work has been supporting schools to refine their teaching and learning policies. I do this to help schools develop a degree of coherence and consistency (if the latter is ever achievable). From the insights I have gained from working with schools across the world, I have collected almost 200 teaching and learning policies – the good, the bad and the ugly!
Developing in my working life as an academic, learning how to research, to define and evaluate is an essential part of a doctoral journey. Much of this work is influencing my thinking as an education leader, and as a consequence, is clearly started to support many of the schools that I work with. Only this week, received this lovely email from the headteacher in Wales.
“I just wanted to share how far [the policy has] come thanks to your intervention. You’ve changed 500 children’s progress and 40 teachers’ work-life balance (and performance!).”
Last week, I returned to two pieces of research on Learning versus Performance Soderstrom and Bjork (2015), and The Power of Feedback (Coe, 2006). Both very important pieces of research for anyone who has the privilege to be able to visit other classroom teachers and observe their lessons.
In the latter piece, Coe references Bloom (1979), but not Bloom’s Taxonomy. Instead, Bloom’s feedback variables worth listing below and unpicking. I’ve shared them here to support school leaders who conduct classroom observations and aim to draw reliable conclusions about the learning going on.
16 feedback influences at work…
Let’s take a look at the following 16 feedback variables; how many do you think you could observe during the lesson?
- The characteristic of the task, and any distinction between motivation and effort and its links to performance.
- How feedback is presented; especially goal-setting
- Ego-involvement (E.g. competition)
- Norm-referenced and self-referenced
- Informational or controlling
- Positive or negative feedback
- Timing (immediate or delayed)
- General or focused
- Credibility (containing accurate information)
- Level of involvement
- Self-efficacy and self-esteem. Studies reveal that students with high self-esteem improved with positive feedback compared to those with low self-esteem (Ilgen et al, 1979).
- Attributions for success and failure
- Locus of control (Rotter, 1966); the differences between individuals and their expectations about the relationship between their own behaviour and the reinforcement they receive
- Achievement orientation and,
- Receptiveness and performance adequacy.
Most school leaders and teachers will be able to tell you that feedback matters, but few are sure about what type of feedback and what conditions make any feedback episode, beneficial to performance.
Squashing the ‘written feedback’ bias…
From an observational perspective, most schools and inspection processes value written feedback is the most reliable, probably because it’s the most pragmatic to monitor. When compared to verbal feedback, easily captured in the moment, is much more difficult to evaluate particularly if the observer is not in the room when it is happening ‘live’.
If we take ‘general or focused’ from the above list to critique in more detail. How do we distinguish in our classrooms which is being used? If you are a school leader observing another teacher, how do you evaluate this? What does a practical technique look like for teachers? Do we have any quantitative or qualitative data to show the differences?
In summary, when we use the term feedback, it is important that we define which type. How it is being used? By whom, in which scenario, and to who? Then, if we distinguish whether the school policy advocates written, verbal, live or non-verbal feedback for example, we should equally consider the classroom influences at large which make any preferred strategy successful or not.
In my opinion, whilst written feedback has a place, it’s certainly time to squash its prevalence in school teaching and learning policies. It’s time to think differently, and widen our beliefs about what feedback is, what makes it successful and more importantly, how to evaluate feedback in schools.
When providing feedback to a student, how it is presented and received, the level of involvement for the student as well as its timing, are just a small number of influences a teacher and observer must factor in to the teaching and learning process.