February is for Feedback. Most of our students, at this point in their learning, would have completed some form of internal testing/exams and would have received some feedback.
Feedback is a big part of the teaching profession as much as it is a part of life. In teaching, in addition to lessons, feedback is also linked to mentoring and coaching relationships as well as exam performance reviews and evaluation of new school systems and processes.
Of course, I could not help but make links to biology again! In biology, negative feedback is of great importance, as the mechanism by which the body, following responses to external or internal stimuli, can return to equilibrium in the quest to maintaining homeostasis. In teaching, negative feedback can provide the criticality we need to make improvements in our lessons so that pupils can make progress.
Sadly, although essential, the same cannot be said for positive feedback responses in biology. This is a means to an end, and a traumatic experience for the body. If we look at a system in homeostasis, a positive feedback loop moves a system further away from the target of equilibrium.
The issue in teaching is not just about the type of feedback we provide but it is as much about its delivery and the way it is received. High expectations are closely linked to feedback, but how do we ensure that our pupils achieve these high expectations and that they do not simply remain high expectations?
Feedback enables individuals to close the gap from where they are to where they need to be. The outcome and success of the feedback depends on how sensitive, motivated, and driven the recipient is, but, in the end, it comes down to a single thing, trust. Trust is the foundation of delivering effective feedback regardless of whether it is positive or negative.
The climate and culture of our classroom reflects the trust we have built.
Delivering high quality feedback is a complex process. Do we set clear goals that can provide a challenge but are achievable in the right conditions? Do we encourage sharing of ideas, or do we have a more competitive approach? Do we encourage controlled failure, or do we see mistakes as a hindrance rather than learning opportunities? For feedback to be effective it needs to be targeted, specific and linked to future goals.
The quality of our feedback is linked to the quality of our thoughts.
Feedback, regardless of whether is critical or encouraging and positive, when delivered correctly, can increase effort, motivation and future outcomes for our learners.
By Marilena Pevreall
Head of Secondary School Teacher Training, University of Buckingham
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