Giving/Getting Good Feedback Takes ______________ (fill in the blank)

On Sunday evening, at JALT 2013, I’ll be co-facilitating a workshop on student feedback. I think that’s a pretty good thing, mainly because I dig getting feedback from my students.  I don’t do anything fancy.  Usually I end my lessons with a set of 2 open ended statements on the white board and ask the students to complete the statements before they leave the class.  And the open ended statements aren’t really that creative either.  For example:


Two things I thought were a waste of time in today’s class are…

Two things I learned during today’s class are…


While I don’t get the most in depth data from these kinds of open statements, at least feedback like this lets me see which activities were a hit and which not so much.  If I have time at the end of a class, I change it up and write the following on the board:

In today’s class I didn’t like __________ because

A)

B)

Not a huge difference, but enough that I can find out some specific reasons why an activity didn’t go down so well.  That allows me to make some small changes and use the activity again with a modicum of success.  I remember I was doing an activity that required students to draw a picture.  A few of the students wrote on their open ended statements that they hated the activity because 1) they weren’t good at drawing and 2) it took too long to draw.  So the next time I ran the activity, instead telling the students to draw a picture of something, I told them to draw an outline of it instead.  And that cut down on both the pretty-picture-anxiety as well as the time spent drawing in English class.

When I started getting feedback from my students, I think the most common response to the question, “What two parts of today’s lesson didn’t you like?” was “Nothing.”  Page after page of “nothing” and “nothing” and some more “nothing.”  That meant I had “nothing” to work on, which made me feel pretty good.  But it also meant I had “nothing” to work with either.  But I didn’t have to worry for long.  Because students warmed up to the whole idea of feedback pretty quickly and about four months into the school year, they started getting specific.  The other day one of my students wrote, “I don’t like doing simple conversation warm-ups.  It is not challenging.  Please give us some difficult English at the start of class.”  

So what changed?  Why did my students start getting more specific with both their gripes and their compliments?  Maybe it’s because I collected feedback regularly, and not being satisfied with a bunch of “nothings” showed the students that I took what they had to say seriously.  Or maybe it was because I took the weekly feedback, translated it into English, punched it into a spread sheet, and passed it back to the students every Monday.  That way their feedback was fresh in their minds as we kicked off classes and probably a few of them noticed that what they had written the previous week actually led to changes in what was currently happening in class.  

Yeah…maybe it was those things I just wrote, or maybe it was just the fact that my students needed time to practice giving feedback before they could do it well.  It’s not as if they had ever spent significant amounts of time completing open ended statements before.  But if I really want to know, I guess I could make an open ended statement like, “Two reasons I started to give more detailed feedback are,” and find out the next time I collect feedback.
I want to thank members of my PLN who have taken the time to blog about classroom/student feedback.  Here is a short list of some of my favorite posts.  If you have a moment, please leave a comment with links to other posts on feedback you’ve liked.  I’ll add them to the list and be sure to pass them on to the participants in Sunday’s workshop.

“End of Course Feedback” from Ceri Jones at Close Up: a categorizing and processing style of collecting feedback that, in many ways, actually mirrors a language class.

“Payback Time: Lessons From The Harshest Teacher Trainers (My Students)” from Alex Walsh at Alien Teachers : an very detailed teacher/course assessment survey as well as Alex’s personal reflections on the collected data.  A great example of how to take feedback and use it in RP.

Orange is the new please consider stopping” from Michael Griffin at ELT Rants, Reviews and Reflections: Mike is one of my co-facilitators (along with Anna Loseva) on Sunday, and in this post he explains how three colors and the phrases, “please consider stopping,” “please consider doing,” and “please keep doing,” are all you need to gather some wicked feedback.

“Feedback in the hallway” from Josette LeBlanc at Throwing Back Tokens: a post to knock down the idea that feedback has to be anonymous or formal for it to matter.  

“Meeting students’ ever-changing, never-ending needs” from Anne Hendler at Living Learning: a post on how sometimes students themselves aren’t so sure of what they want or even how they feel.

“Teacher intention vs learner reality” from Tyson Seburn at 4C: an empathic, reflective and humorous exploration of how Tyson’s image of what he was doing in an EAP writing lesson and his students’ potential perspective might be very different.

“Feedback goes both ways” from Rose Bard’s Teaching Journal: A rich post on the importance of feedback, regardless of the difficulties that getting such feedback entails and the need for patience as both teachers and students struggle with the hard questions of why and how we learn.

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15 thoughts on “Giving/Getting Good Feedback Takes ______________ (fill in the blank)

  1. I always wonder about the effectiveness of any student feedback. Most often posts I read talk about student feedback as though there were no contradictions, a unified student response. Every time I've gotten feedback, there was never this type of consensus on which to make changes to my activities. Even if I were to respond to the one or two that did suggest they didn't like starting out with warm-up activities, that meant that 10 others "nothing" responses find them find. Which way do we go?Much of the time determining what activities worked and didn't or which aspects of them did or didn't is simply noticeable from student engagement or response to them at the time. I can tell when something's amiss. Maybe it simply comes down to having students feel as though their voice is being heard, whether that results in any changes or not.

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  2. Hi Tyson,This is such a juicy comment I don't even know where to start. I agree that we can often tell if an activity worked or didn't just by watching our students as they engage with the activity (or not). And personally, I find that taking a few minute video clip of an activity usually gives me a clearer idea of what was happening during the class than most student feedback. Your comment reminded me of a post by Anne Hendler which touches on similar ideas (added the link in the post). The fact that there is no real consensus in student feedback, either between students, or even consistency in one students response over time, is definitely problematic.That being said, I do find that open statements like, "Two reasons you I think we did this activity are….," can lead to some important insights into what students are focusing on and how they are learning. What I think I am teaching and what the students are focused on is often times very different and knowing just what is drawing students' attention during any particular activity is pretty useful information.Thanks again for the comment,Kevin

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  3. I'm not convinced. I'm not sure what you or the student is getting out of it. You're in danger of getting people to tell you what you want to hear, and you're making the students feeol uncofortable during the entire lesson. People are rarely comfortable with giving negative feedback to the receiver for fear of the consequences. The interviewer really needs to be impartial, like in a corporate survey.

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  4. Hello Anonymous Commentor,Now this is the kind of comment I really love. Thanks for sharing your strongly felt opinion. And while I appreciate the idea that requesting feedback from students, especially negative feedback, might make them feel uncomfortable, I'd also like to ask if you have ever tried to get such feedback from your students before? My personal experience is that if students have the chance to make suggestions and can see those ideas implemented in the classroom, they are pretty thrilled with the whole situation. In general, I don't really buy into any kinds of blanket rules for what does and doesn't work in a classroom. In some situations, simply asking for feedback might put students in an uncomfortable position, but in a different context, those very same opportunities can give students a sense of control over their classroom situation. Thanks again for the comment,Kevin

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  5. I just wanted to say that I had my 9th graders write feedback for me once–just last month. It worked really well and they were honest. I was impressed by how well it worked. I am already planning to do it again. Perhaps I will do it with my other students, too.

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  6. Hi Anonymous II,Glad to know someone has had a positive feedback experience. I think in many cases, students' willingness to give feedback often depends heavily on a teacher's ability to make them feel safe. It sounds like you have built up the kind of environment where collecting feedback isn't much of a struggle. That's fantastic. If you get a chance leave a follow up comment on how the next round of feedback went, I'd very much like to hear about it.Kevin

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  7. Hi Tyson, Thanks for the links. I remember reading (and very much liking) your post on the intent vs reality of learning and was happy to have a chance to give it another read. And the post comparing your own learning process and what takes place in the classroom is a great piece of reflective writing. Nice to have some more links to add to the post.Kevin

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  8. Hi Rose,Thanks for the link. Your post is a really rich exploration of why feedback matters. It was so good, I found myself laughing happily at the fact that this off the cuff post could have been your source of inspiration. There's a lot of amazing lines in the post, but I really loved this one:"My feedback to my students never aims at them as people, it AIMS at the learning process." A great thing to keep in mind when soliciting classroom feedback of any kind.Thanks again Rose.Kevin

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  9. Giving feedback takes a few minutes of time, but is really worth it. Especially now that cameras on phones and edmodo have replaced "writing down the homework" that last few minutes at the end of a lesson can be out to good use!Getting feedback means that everyone wins. The teacher should be tough enough to take any suggestions that the class make and decide how to act on them.Good luck for the pres.Tara McIlroy

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  10. Hi, there! Thanks for this post on feedback. The way I ask for positive feedback is to ask them to write down their most powerful learning. Thanks for pointing out the disadvantages of open-ended questions. I guess it's helpful when you put choices or putting because to expand their answers.

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  11. Hi Tara,Thanks for the comment. I think you make a great point about tech sometimes freeing up some time during class for feedback. On the flip side, tech also allows us to collect feedback out of class and at the students convenience as well. SurveyMonkey.com and Google Forms (http://www.google.com/google-d-s/createforms.html) are both great ways to let students give feedback anonymously (if that's your thing) or even through email. They also will compile the stats and spit out beautiful charts (if that's your thing).And I agree that if a teacher is looking to improve their practice and make the classroom a richer and more inviting place for learning to take place, they should be prepapred to accept most (but maybe not all…we are human) feedback that comes their way.Kevin

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  12. Hi Rafael,I like the idea of students writing down their most powerful learning. Often times what we think will leave the largest impression doesn't. So knowing what the students take away from a class is a good way to not only reflect, but also prepare for the next lesson as well.I'm not sure giving students a pre-set selection of choices is always good. It's just another way to get feedback. Trying to fit the feedback to the students and what was learned in class is probably the most important step in getting useful feedback. Thanks for the comment,Kevin

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