Feedback is a Good Thing. We are told this, and in lots of ways I’m certain it’s true. The research shows it, and the EEF Toolkit says it’s the one of the most cost-effective forms of ‘intervention’. It ought to be at the crux of what we’re trying to do. The comparison to the tennis coach is made often: that need to try something and have instant formative advice about what to do to improve.
Except… we do that all the time already, don’t we?
The problem is – as is so often the way – in the interpretation. It seems that for Ofsted, and probably SLTs across the country trying to satiate Ofsted, that feedback appears in a red pen1, and preferably with a response, or even better ‘a dialogue’. Imagine all those terrible schools where they’ve previously had no dialogue. Quiet.
What if things were reversed? Imagine the research showed that feedback were a Bad Thing. That Ofsted were tasked with the responsibility of rooting out feedback wherever it be found.2 How quickly might your classrooom be damned for excessive feedback? For even if all our red pens1 were taken away, aren’t our classrooms filled with feedback? Could you really get rid of all of these:
- “Look at question 4 again.”
- “Everybody stop… let’s look at this again.”
- “Have you checked for full stops?”
- “Check your own answers to questions 1 to 4 before you move on”
- “Are you sure…?”
- “Now, when we tried this yesterday…”
- “What would happen if…?”
- “Check your column addition.”
- “Is there a better word than…”
- “Does that sentence make sense to you?”
- “How could you make this better / easier for the reader / more frightening / more precise…?”
- “Can you expand on that?”
- “Can you use mathematical / scientific / geographical language to explain that in more detail?”
- “Who got 34?”
- “What happens to the decimal point?”
- “Take another look at this paragraph / sentence.”
- “Have you met all the success criteria?”
- “You tell me.”
- Checking your answer with a partner
- Tapping on the book next to the missing capital letter
- A raised eyebrow
- A smile
- Placing a dictionary / thesaurus on the desk
I’m sure there are a thousand more verbal and non-verbal cues we use every day. In fact, it’s a miracle that with ratios of 1:30 or more that so much individual feedback can be incorporated. I’d like to see a tennis coach compete with that.
No-one, to my knowledge, yet sells a “Non-verbal feedback given” stamper, but if we were to use these two stampers in real-time, with real frequency, the stamper companies would be selling them by the million. And that’s before we even begin to think about that most important of feedback cycles that goes on in the teacher’s mind (They’re not getting this; I need to explain that bit again; What other representation could I use?; Right, those groups are ready, these need something else…)
It’s just a matter of what you’re looking for.
1 Pen colours other than red are available.
2 I apologise for any inadvertent corruption of the subjunctive mood here; I only learned it in French.
All feedback welcome, naturally, non-verbal or otherwise.