What next? My feedback journey

When I get overwhelmed I stop and ask myself, “What’s the next right thing?” I don’t make a gigantic to-do list, which has a tendency to make me either shut down completely or flit from item to item unable to settle and focus on any one task. When I just think about what I need to do next, I make slow but steady progress and then at some point I can think about the to-do list, which has gone from massive to manageable.

I am reading Visible Learning: Feedback by John Hattie and Shirley Clarke because I know how important effective feedback is for learning, and I know that I can do it better. While the book illustrates many research informed principles, there is one that keeps rattling around my brain. Feedback is meant to close the gap between where a student is and where a student needs to be. The best feedback tells a student where to go next to close that gap. I have often thought it was my duty to provide as much information as possible to the student so that they would know what they had to do. What I really should be telling each student is what to do next.

I have individual feedback sessions scheduled with my juniors once a cycle. I used to have a written assignment due at that appointment, which I would grade with the student there, providing comments for how they could revise for a higher grade. Not that many students took me up on it. In fact, the ones who did were the ones who needed the least help. I was helping some students, but mainly the ones who only needed to tweak a few things. This year, I have taken the approach of having a draft due at these meetings where I provide feedback but no grade. The students are then supposed to revise the work and submit it for a grade. I think this is a step in the right direction.

I have been trying to remind myself not to overwhelm, but instead to tell students what to do next. I want everyone to take steps to close their gap, not just those who are almost there anyway. I think I need to develop the concept of the feedback session further to make it more of a two way street where students can provide me with feedback on their learning in those meetings, too. For the next cycle, I am inviting students to use the time in any of a few different ways, depending on where they are on their journey. They can ask questions, discuss an article, or show me an outline or a draft of a summary.

A student with many revisions to make is likely overwhelmed. I should help that student by sharing with them the voice that visits me when I am drowning . “What’s the next right thing?”


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