|Feedback Worksheet for Faculty|
by Chuck Bagley, MA, CAGS, Granite State College Director of Faculty Development, Lecturer
Adapted from “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” by Dr. Grant Wiggins
What is Feedback, anyway?
Harvard Ed.D. Grant Wiggins provides these insights on feedback:
Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. Advice, evaluation, grades—none of these provide the descriptive information that students need to reach their goals. Decades of education research support the idea that by teaching less and providing more feedback, we can produce greater learning (see Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Hattie, 2008; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).
How to do it?
Dr. Wiggins goes on to suggest:
Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent. Compare the typical lecture-driven course, which often produces less-than-optimal learning, with the peer instruction model developed by Eric Mazur (2009) at Harvard. He hardly lectures at all to his 200 introductory physics students; instead, he gives them problems to think about individually and then discuss in small groups. This system, he writes, “provides frequent and continuous feedback (to both the students and the instructor) about the level of understanding of the subject being discussed” (p. 51), producing gains in both conceptual understanding of the subject and problem-solving skills. Less “teaching,” more feedback equals better results.
Dr. Wiggins outlines these seven steps for providing effective feedback that you can use as a worksheet to ensure your feedback is as effective as possible:
- Goal-Referenced: effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about his or her actions. Information becomes feedback if, and only if, I am trying to cause something and the information tells me whether I am on track or need to change course. If some aspect of my writing isn’t working, I need to know.
- Tangible and Transparent: any useful feedback system involves not only a clear goal, but also tangible results related to the goal. Even as little children, we learn from such tangible feedback. That’s how we learn to walk; to hold a spoon; and to understand that certain words magically yield food, drink, or a change of clothes from big people. The best feedback is so tangible that anyone who has a goal can learn from it.
- Actionable: effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information. Thus, “Good job!” and “You did that wrong” and B+ are not feedback at all. We can easily imagine the learners asking themselves in response to these comments, What specifically should I do more or less of next time, based on this information? No idea. They don’t know what was “good” or “wrong” about what they did. In my experience as a teacher of teachers, I have always found such pure feedback to be accepted and welcomed. Effective coaches also know that in complex performance situations, actionable feedback about what went right is as important as feedback about what didn’t work.
- User-Friendly: even if feedback is specific and accurate in the eyes of experts or bystanders, it is not of much value if the user cannot understand it or is overwhelmed by it. Highly technical feedback will seem odd and confusing to a novice. Describing a baseball swing to a 6-year-old in terms of torque and other physics concepts will not likely yield a better hitter. Too much feedback is also counterproductive; better to help the performer concentrate on only one or two key elements of performance than to create a buzz of information coming in from all sides.Expert coaches uniformly avoid overloading performers with too much or too technical information. They tell the performers one important thing they noticed that, if changed, will likely yield immediate and noticeable improvement (“I was confused about who was talking in the dialogue you wrote in this paragraph”). They don’t offer advice until they make sure the performer understands the importance of what they saw.
- Timely: in most cases, the sooner I get feedback, the better. I don’t want to wait for hours or days to find out whether my students were attentive and whether they learned, or which part of my written story works and which part doesn’t. I say “in most cases” to allow for situations like playing a piano piece in a recital. I don’t want my teacher or the audience barking out feedback as I perform. That’s why it is more precise to say that good feedback is “timely” rather than “immediate.” A great problem in education, however, is untimely feedback. Vital feedback on key performances often comes days, weeks, or even months after the performance—think of writing and handing in papers or getting back results on standardized tests. As educators, we should work overtime to figure out ways to ensure that students get more timely feedback and opportunities to use it while the attempt and effects are still fresh in their minds.
- Ongoing: adjusting our performance depends on not only receiving feedback but also having opportunities to use it. What makes any assessment in education formative is not merely that it precedes summative assessments, but that the performer has opportunities, if results are less than optimal, to reshape the performance to better achieve the goal. In summative assessment, the feedback comes too late; the performance is over. It is telling, too, that performers are often judged on their ability to adjust in light of feedback. The ability to quickly adapt one’s performance is a mark of all great achievers and problem solvers in a wide array of fields. Or, as many little league coaches say, “The problem is not making errors; you will all miss many balls in the field, and that’s part of learning. The problem is when you don’t learn from the errors.”
- Consistent: to be useful, feedback must be consistent. Clearly, performers can only adjust their performance successfully if the information fed back to them is stable, accurate, and trustworthy.
- Progress Toward a Goal: in light of these key characteristics of helpful feedback, gear feedback to long-term goals.
“But There’s No Time!”
Dr. Wiggins offers this advice for our busy, overloaded schedules:
Although the universal teacher lament that there’s no time for such feedback is understandable, remember that “no time to give and use feedback” actually means “no time to cause learning.” As we have seen, research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning. And there are numerous ways—through technology, peers, and other teachers—that students can get the feedback they need. So try it out. Less teaching, more feedback. Less feedback that comes only from you, and more tangible feedback designed into the performance itself. And, of course, send me some feedback on this article at firstname.lastname@example.org.
You are encouraged to review Grant’s entire article, “Seven Keys to Effective Feedback” as well as Grant’s follow up blog, “On Feedback: 13 practical examples per your requests.”
- Bransford, J. D., Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (Eds.). (2000). How people learn: Brain, mind, experience, and school. Washington, DC: National Academy Press.
- Hattie, J. (2008). Visible learning: A synthesis of over 800 meta-analyses relating to achievement. New York: Routledge.
- Marzano, R., Pickering, D., & Pollock, J. (2001). Classroom instruction that works: Research-based strategies for increasing student achievement. Alexandria, VA: ASCD.
- Mazur, E. (2009, January 2). Farewell, lecture? Science, 323, 50–51.