Sunday, February 19, 2017

Feedback: Timely, Specific, and Actionable

It has been an incredibly busy season of writing for me lately. My dissertation is coming together, and in fact, I have finished writing all five chapters! That doesn't mean the work is complete, however. There are ongoing edits, and then the preparation for the defense when there is a "final" document ready. But it feels really, really good to be at this point.

The best part of being "finished" is that there now is THE THING that can be addressed for the edits. My advisor has been fantastic throughout this process: he gives me feedback that is timely, specific, and actionable, and the turn-around for his comments on each draft has been amazing. I am able to see the strengths and weaknesses of different sections of my writing, where the ideas are solid, and where I need to rethink things. Each draft I work through is a little better than the last, and I am confident that the next draft is going to be even better than the last one I submitted. (At this point, it feels like there is always a "next draft"...but I know the time is coming when it's going to be good enough.)

My writing's getting worse, but the writing is getting better...

This experience has me thinking about the way teachers provide feedback to their students.

For feedback to truly be feedback, I believe it must be timely, specific, and actionable. (This isn't just my idea, by the way. Education thought-leader, Rick Wormeli, tweets on these themes regularly, And this article by the inestimable Grant Wiggins includes these kinds of ideas as well: Seven Keys to Effective Feedback.)

Feedback must be timely. If it isn't delivered in a timely fashion, it's more likely a summative judgement. (Comments provided weeks after an assignment is submitted do not really provide feedback...)

Feedback must be specific. If it doesn't get to the specific strengths and weaknesses of the work, it's merely commentary that either builds up or tears down. ("Good job" is not feedback.)

Feedback must be actionable. If it doesn't allow the learner to fix what is broken, it's evaluation, not feedback. Not that evaluation is outside the teacher's domain, of course. But if we are intent on student growth...they need to be able to keep working on it, so they can demonstrate their growth and learning.

This is challenging, and I am definitely pointing the finger at myself here first of all: I recognize that providing effective feedback is a growth area in my own teaching practice.

But that said...after this experience getting really excellent feedback from a mentor, I'm inspired to do better for my own students.

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