So in clearing out the attic recently, it was my great pleasure, as an historian, to discover my old creative writing book from academic year 1989-1990. I remember distinctly the weekly Creative Writing task that our class teacher, Mr Gee, would set us weekly.
Of course, now I was able to look at this treasured book through the seasoned eyes of a teacher. It got me thinking about the feedback that Mr Gee gave me and also the impact that feedback has. His words ‘good boy’ to my ghost story is not the kind of feedback we would see in today’s education world. It’s fairly old-fashioned and there’s no kind of target to work on and no response from me! However, it’s worth noting that I would regard Mr Gee as one of the greatest teachers I had. However, he was certainly ‘old-school’.
As teachers, we are privileged to be able to give feedback. The feedback I got from my teachers still sticks in my mind to this day. My art teacher said I was ‘enthusiastic with weakish skills’. My Biology teacher said I had the ‘brain of an earthworm’ after a particularly disappointing test result on bones! My French teacher in my Sixth Form school report said “His expression is still basic and crippled by anglicisms, otherwise keen”. Surely, we must remember when we give feedback or how we interact with students has real impact. We should use this power wisely.
We live in a feedback world. A world where our students get continuous feedback on their lives through social media and electronic devices. It strikes me that much of this feedback is instantaneous and most of it is confirmational feedback such as likes on Facebook or Instagram. Therefore, the handwritten feedback we give students now, often a long time after the piece of work has been completed, perhaps seems as outdated to them as the ‘good boy’ comment seems to me now!
So, where does this leave us with feedback? Feedback is hard and challenging to get right. All the evidence suggests this. However, when we get it right it has enormous power to have impact and affect student progress. I like to stick to the maxim of Dylan Wiliam that ‘feedback should cause thinking’. A healthy combination of well thought out peer, self and teacher assessment can help this. I’ve blogged on the power of self-assessment mixed with high expectations here. I feel the power of apps such as Explain Everything have the power to be used to make feedback even more relevant and useful for students.
So, whenever we give feedback we must regard it as a privilege and we must make it relevant to students, allow them to reflect carefully and remember the power of our words and actions – they will be remembered.