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Purposeful and Timely Feedback

 Do you strive to give your students purposeful and timely feedback? Do you find it difficult to give regular feedback amongst everything else that is happening in your classroom? It’s tricky right? 

As educators and lifelong learners ourselves, we know that feedback is essential to supporting student learning and growth. For us to give better feedback, it is important we understand why effective feedback is so crucial and how we can ensure we are giving relevant and timely feedback to our students.  

What is feedback on learning?

Simply put, feedback on learning is communication with a student about the learning that is taking place and how things are going for them. It can be formal or as part of summative assessment, however, more often than not, feedback is formative in nature and takes place through informal conversation and interaction. 

It is an exercise that involves asking questions, giving advice, reflecting, presenting, justifying and inquiring. It can be a chat in passing, a collaborative activity or a written note. It can be a sticker, a stamp or a pat on the back. It can be a high-five or student-led conference. It can happen one-to-one, in small groups, as a whole class or with parents. Your teaching style and context will determine what feedback looks like in your classroom.

Why is feedback on learning so important?

Effective teachers are always giving feedback in some way, shape or form, but have you taken the time to reflect on why it is so important? Regardless of what age you teach or your context, feedback is an evergreen element of any supportive classroom. And here is why. 

Benefits to students

Feedback interactions, give students an opportunity to reflect on their learning. Enough time to reflect on a task is as powerful as the actual time spent completing a task. In fact, I would argue that it is more important. Giving time to reflect, before, during and after learning allows a student to make sense of, and contextualise the learning that is taking place. It allows students to step back a little, think, contemplate and apply prior knowledge to new learning. 

Perhaps the most important reason to get alongside students and give them feedback is to encourage them, make them feel safe and supported. Providing a learning environment where students are able to be themselves, take risks and think outside the box, allows them to practice and master valuable transferable skills.

Benefits to teachers

Teacher-to-student feedback is a double edged sword. While there are many positive implications for the student, there are also some handy benefits for teachers too. Firstly, it is a chance for the teacher to understand if a student is grasping the concept or task through formative assessment. Checking in early and asking a few simple questions, gives assurance to the teacher that they are on the right track from the start. 

Also, each feedback interaction is an opportunity for a teacher to better understand the students thinking and approach to a task. Knowing how your students learn is fundamental to ensure they succeed. Knowing why they have approached a task in a particular way, allows the teacher to differentiate future learning to suit their students. 

How do we give purposeful and timely feedback?

Ok. So we know that feedback is important and we know that it’s part of every quality teacher’s DNA. But how do we ensure that our feedback is timed to perfection? And how do we keep it relevant?

Simply put, the best time to give feedback is when learning is happening or as soon as possible after. This is true for learners of all ages. Yes even adults! This (in part) is what makes feedback relevant. If it is not fresh in the mind of the learner, it will be less effective in enabling reflection or to share thoughts and feelings. 

Also, if it happened long ago, it could be too late for a student to recall the learning that took place and build upon that new knowledge. A chance to consolidate understanding could be easily missed if feedback is not timely.

Apart from great timing, keeping feedback purposeful requires a well-thought out approach. Giving a high-five might be a wonderful experience, but is that helping the student to understand exactly what they are doing well. Likewise, a long winded chat that critically analyses a students formation of the letter ‘w’ could take them out of flow, when perhaps a sticker or a thumbs up will do the job. 

Regardless of the approach, the goal here is for the student to understand what they are doing well and/or what needs more attention. To have a meaningful conversation about their progress towards a goal, they first need to know what that goal is.

Take the time to set and display learning goals and success criteria. Communicate these with your students, so that when you give them a stamp or a pat on the back for great work, they know they are successful at what they were aiming for. Having a shared understanding of the learning goals, helps keep classroom learning targeted and feedback timely and relevant. 

Feedback for growth

We know that feedback is essential to supporting student learning and growth. All educators give feedback, but not all of them give regular, purposeful and timely feedback. Reflecting on your own feedback strategy is a great way to understand how effective your feedback is and the impact it is having (or could have) on you and your students.