Mr David Rawson, Head of Department—English
Professionals are often told that being able to give and receive feedback is an essential career skill. A glance down our LinkedIn newsfeeds or through professional magazines will reveal myriad information on topics ranging from how to give difficult feedback (and how to do so remotely in these COVID times) to eliciting actionable feedback from managers and colleagues. We are encouraged to feedback on our online grocery order, and, when we were able to travel safely before the pandemic, I was even surveyed about my experience of using an airport bathroom in Singapore! In what seems like an endless cycle of giving and receiving feedback, it’s no wonder we become numb to it—or ignore it altogether.
So how might we stop our students becoming complacent about feedback and instead embrace it as useful and necessary? At the heart of our School-wide approach to teaching and learning is our recognition of feedback as a powerful lever for improving student outcomes and promoting future learning (Hattie & Timperley, 2007; QCAA, 2019; Wiliam, 2016). In the subject of English, it’s no surprise that students stand to gain a great deal from their teacher’s close engagement with their writing. Our annotations might help a student identify a single wayward comma at the micro-level, for example, or reveal a missed opportunity in a piece of textual evidence that inspires a student’s new flight into previously unchartered literary territory. Regardless of the scope, teacher feedback models the important lesson that good writing is rarely churned out in a single sitting, and that mastery takes practice and persistence.
Yet, for all its advantages, high-quality feedback also brings challenges for our students. It has the potential to erode confidence, or create the perception that success is unattainable. In the junior years—and especially in Year 7—students can sometimes be overwhelmed or affronted by high-quality feedback, viewing their teacher’s engagement with their work through a deficit lens of error. Pivotal to their success in the senior school—where assessment outcomes determine an Australian Tertiary Admissions Rank (ATAR) and final examinations are externally set—is the ability to understand and apply teacher advice, and to ultimately self-regulate as recipients and givers of feedback (Brooks et al, 2021).
How do we dismantle the idea that feedback is something to fear? It all starts with assisting students to navigate and grapple with feedback. Our Noticing Learning approach in Year 7 is designed to de-emphasise grades as a marker of success, and to promote personal bests, self-improvement, and a joy of learning as worthy goals. We teach girls where to look for feedback, and assist them in developing strategies for translating advice from a drafting sheet into purposeful revisions of their drafts. In and beyond Year 7, we’ve endeavoured to normalise feedback by creating opportunities for self- and peer-review of work, always as part of a safe and supportive classroom environment (Wiliam, 2016). Of course, we look at examples of excellent work to demonstrate possible approaches and model what success looks like—essential to student self-regulation (Brooks et al, 2021)—but we increasingly have girls critique imperfect work to make feedback a kind of learning activity in itself. This exercise helps create a classroom culture where thinking is visible and students assume greater responsibility for assessing the learning (Ritchart and Perkins, 2008)—an essential part of Harvard University’s Cultures of Thinking framework, which helps inform pedagogy at Girls Grammar.
Research has long told us that feedback is most effective when it is: timely and immediately follows the test of a new skill (Hattie & Timperley, 2007); targeted to students’ growth edges in a way that meets girls where they are in their learning (Hattie & Clarke, 2019; Wiliam, 2016); and transparent so that students can understand it unambiguously (Masters, 2013). When the conditions are right, we know from experience that the rest is up to the girls. Their willingness to be vulnerable by embracing feedback as a friend is key. While it can be tempting to become defensive in the face of advice, relishing the opportunity to engage with feedback is a game-changer. The advice we offer on student work is always designed to support growth—an intellectual investment in our young people as they progress through the various stages of their learning apprenticeship at BGGS.
Thriving in this kind of feedback-rich environment comes with considerable practice and persistence, but there are some simple strategies that can assist:
- Be a generous feedback-giver by contributing actively to peer-feedback activities. Reliable, critical friends offer honest feedback and concrete strategies for improvement; they don’t simply report the good things.
- Maximise opportunities for high-quality feedback by submitting well-considered task proposals and complete drafts.
- Consider feedback on drafts and assessment as just the start of the conversation. In English, we actively encourage our students to make time to pore over our advice with us. The discussions are fruitful when girls bring their questions to better understand the feedback.
- Even top-scoring work can be improved. Celebrate successes but remember that subject mastery comes from deep understanding. Look for clues in the annotations or feedback about areas to develop.
- For families at home, couple conversations about results with a focus on feedback. Encourage your daughters to tell the story of their feedback, and see if they can articulate the precise, actionable ways they might improve. In this way, feedback also becomes a feed-forward process.
We all benefit from a learning community where students are open and responsive to feedback on their work, and where teachers expect to receive student feedback too. When respectful relationships are in place, we can use feedback as a non-threatening tool to begin the process of dismantling students’ fears around imperfection and work towards subject mastery.
Brooks, C., Burton, R., van der Kleij, F., Carroll, A., Olave, K., & Hattie, J (2021). “From fixing the work to improving the learner: An initial evaluation of a professional learning intervention using a new student-centred feedback model.” Studies in Educational Evaluation, 68, 1-12. Doi: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.stueduc.2020.100943
Hattie, J., & Clarke, S. (2019). Visible Learning: Feedback, Routledge, Abingdon, UK.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). “The power of feedback.” Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81–112.
Queensland Curriculum and Assessment Authority (2019). Feedback: Prep – Year 10. Retrieved from: https://www.qcaa.qld.edu.au/downloads/aciq/general-resources/assessment/ac_p-10_feedback.pdf
Masters, G. (2013). Reforming education assessment: Imperatives, principles and challenges (Australian Education Review No. 57). Retrieved from: http://research.acer.edu.au/aer/12/
Ritchhart, R., & Perkins, D. (2008). “Making thinking visible.” Educational Leadership, 65(5), 57–61.
William, D. (2016). “The Secret of Effective Feedback.” Educational Leadership, 73(7), 10-15.
Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). “The Power of Feedback Revisited: A Meta-Analysis of Educational Feedback Research.” Frontiers in Psychology, 10(3087). doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03087