I recently re-read an article from 2016 by Dylan William called “The Secret of Effective Feedback.” Over the past several years we’ve consistently found that feedback is one of the best ways teachers can improve students’ learning. With that in mind, I’d like to review William’s work and point teachers to some awesome resources we offer that can transform how they engage their students.
William’s begins with what should be a fairly obvious point, “Feedback is only successful if students use it to improve their performance.” This seems intuitive, yet many studies have shown that students often learn less when teachers provide feedback. So how do we make sense of these seemingly contradictory facts?
The key to success is ensuring that the feedback is actually useful for the student. As William’s writes, “The apparently simple process of looking at student work and then giving useful feedback turns out to be much more difficult than most people imagine. We could make the whole process considerably more effective by understanding one central idea: The only important thing about feedback is what students do with it.”
I want to hold on that last sentence as it validates much of the work we’ve done here at Opportunity Education. Feedback is an essential part of engaging students and improving learning outcomes, but as William’s makes clear, “The student work we’re looking at is not important in and of itself, but rather for what it can tell us about students—what they can do now, what they might be able to do in the future, or what they need to do next.”
The only important thing about feedback is what students do with it.
Once we understand that the purpose of any piece of feedback is to encourage students to do something with it that improves their learning, the next question becomes, How? How do we use feedback not only to understand where our students currently stand, but as a useful means of advancing their learning forward?
William’s suggests several approaches. These include designing projects to make students’ thinking visible; making the act of feedback a piece of detective work; helping students develop the critical thinking skills needed to perform self-assessments; and, most importantly, establishing a trusting relationship with students.
If you’d like to learn more about engaging your students with effective feedback, you can check out the white paper on the subject that we published earlier this year. We also have some free, easy-to-implement resources on feedback available on our website.
Lastly, we’ll be releasing a software tool called Feedback Forward early in the new year. This free browser extension will empower you to give meaningful, real-time feedback to your students. The program will integrate seamlessly into existing LMS and grade books, and will transform how you engage your students.