Building Feedback Literacy | Steve Barkley

Building Feedback Literacy

Feedback literacy is the ability to effectively receive, interpret, and respond to feedback. It involves understanding the purpose of feedback, identifying the key points, and using the information to improve one’s work. Feedback literacy is essential for students to become reflective empowered learners, who can identify their strengths and areas for improvement. Teachers’ feedback literacy is key for building student success and their own continuous teacher growth.

FeedbackFeedback is one of the most important ways teachers can improve student learning. But regardless of the quality of the feedback teachers give, it’s only useful if students use the guidance.

That statement is the opening sentence in an article in Education Week titled, Here’s How to Give Feedback That Students Will Actually Use.

As I read that sentence, it struck me that the same statement could be made about teachers’ use of feedback that they receive. That thinking was reinforced as I considered these elements that the article suggested for teachers use with students:

  • Make comments specific rather than general. Teachers could say, “use more examples from the text to support this argument,” for example, rather than labeling a student essay as a “weak argument.”

After teachers shared notes that they received from administrators following walkthroughs, I addressed this issue of administrator feedback in a podcast.  The notes teachers received followed this format:

—–“I saw”… a factual statement was made, a positive, something that the administrator was giving praise or approval for.
——– “I wonder…,” a question that was frequently interpreted by teachers as an element of negative feedback. Whatever it was that the administrator wondered about, the teachers read the statement as this is an area that isn’t strong enough.

Without the teacher engaging in a conversation with the observer, it’s unlikely that valuable reflection would be generated from this form of feedback and reflection is key to teacher growth. I interpret this kind of feedback as an attempt to be safe and compliant.

  • “Connect comments to the learning goals and criteria associated with the assignment.”

Wow. That really connects for me as to why walkthrough feedback is unlikely to drive teacher reflection that produces learning and growth. It’s difficult to connect observed behaviors when an understanding of the teacher’s thinking and decision making has not been shared.

Too often, this feedback takes the form of a feedback sandwich, which is seldom impactful in generating reflection for growth.
A little bit of digging led me to some interesting articles. One by Jeff Hayden in Inc magazine was titled, “Why Emotionally Intelligent Leaders Avoid the Feedback Sandwich.”

He wrote, “Most of us were taught to deliver constructive feedback by using the feedback sandwich. Start with a positive, share the negative, and close with the positive. Unfortunately, the feedback sandwich is always tough to swallow.

Hayden describes this thinking behind the feedback sandwich: “I need to give you negative feedback, but first I’ll say something nice so you won’t think I hate you, then I’ll say something nice so you won’t be mad at me when you leave.

The problem with the feedback sandwich is that the people receiving it feel manipulated. And even if at first, they don’t, give it time. Because our positive qualities tend to stay consistent, the same bread eventually starts to taste stale. Research suggests that the feedback sandwich almost always fails to correct negative or subpar behaviors.

  • “Ensure feedback describes what students should do or think about, rather than just evaluating overall quality.”

I like to work with the label of feedforward rather than feedback. The information provided is designed to impact the future.

Coach Team Athlete Basketball Bounce Sport Concept(From How to Give Feedback Lessons From John Wooden)

In the late 1970s two psychologists studied John Wooden, an all time successful college basketball coach, in an effort to learn more about the psychology behind his success. They analyzed over 2,300 of his instructional acts and found:

* 6.7% were compliments
* 6.6% were expressions of displeasure
* 75%+ were information-conveying

Feedback has an assumed intrinsic benefit: It’s supposed to help us know how we’re doing. But what matters is the content of the feedback we’re getting. Rather than praise or criticize the “what,” truly constructive feedback focuses on the “how.” It provides tactical knowledge on ways to improve what you do and how you do it. Without that information, we lack the resources for getting past our “OK plateaus.”

Develop a positive class culture around receiving and using feedback without it being a “failure.”

Consider these comments from Dr Maleka Donaldson, the author of From Oops to Aha.

We all have a philosophy about mistakes. Teachers or not, we have ideas about the role of mistakes, where it’s safe to make them, where it’s not safe to make them, how we like to be talked to about them, how we talk to others about them, but we don’t always make that explicit. I think in general, if you ask almost anyone, they will say, “Mistakes are important, We should make mistakes, That’s part of learning.” But how that is enacted in practice, through non-verbal communication and rules and incentives and rewards in a classroom or in a workplace may communicate a different message. I think if you have self-awareness about it, then you can have the opportunity to potentially tweak what you’re doing because you realize what you’re doing.

Dr. Donaldson’s words certainly apply to those of us coaching teachers…… “If you have a self-awareness about it, then you can have the opportunity to potentially tweak what you’re doing because you realize what you’re doing.” Consider recording some of your coaching conversations and listening to your feedback statements. Do they illustrate feedback literacy?

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