Thursday, August 4, 2011

Differentiated Feedback

I'm on the final chapter of our holiday reading now.  It's about giving feedback to different sorts of learners.  This got me thinking about teachers as different types of learners too and how perhaps a one-book-fits-all approach doesn't really meet our needs.  It's great to have a common book that we are all reading and that we can discuss on our return to school, however the needs of the teachers just a few years into teaching and those who have already been giving the type of feedback advocated in this book for 20+ years obviously differ too.  Perhaps a selection of good professional reading on feedback would have been better - giving us the choice of what book we wanted to read - we could still have had great discussions based on the different books we had read and perhaps used the discussions more like a jigsaw activity.  Choosing which book to read for professional development can be very powerful.  For example at ISA we used to get "Birthday Books".  On our birthday we went to the Lower School Head's office and she had a box of professional books for us to choose from.  I loved choosing those books - I have all of them still, signed each year by our Head - and I go back and dip into them often.  These are the books that I chose based on what was relevant for my professional needs at the time and for the goals that I wanted to work on.

Anyway, back to the reflection on Chapter 7!  This chapter refers to the fact that good communication depends on the sender, the receiver and the message itself.  If students don't hear and understand the message then they can't use it for improvement.

Giving feedback to successful students:
Students who are interested and engaged in learning need feedback about the task, the process and the specific knowledge and skills they have demonstrated.  From this they can do their own self-assessments and draw their own conclusions about how best to study or work on an assignment.  They are in control of their own learning and this feeling of empowerment is very motivating.  Focusing on the process is best for successful students.

Giving feedback to struggling students:
These students also need feedback on the process - they need to see how it connects to the results they have achieved.  These students need to be able to compare their work with the learning targets so that they can continue to make progress in achieving their goals.  The focus for struggling students should be on what they are doing, not on what they haven't yet managed to do:  this gives the message that improvement is possible.  One good way of doing this is to compare a student's current work with his or her previous performance.  These students need to focus on small steps for improvement.  Even if they need to improve in many areas, these need to be broken down into small, manageable goals.  Focusing on the big picture may just leave these students overwhelmed or cause them to give up.  Some struggling students lack self-confidence and the feedback will need to deal with these negative feelings first otherwise the student will not really "hear" or be able to understand or use the feedback.

Photo Credit:  ♫ ♪♪ by Piulet AttributionNoncommercialNo Derivative Works 


  1. hi! what is the name of the book? thanks!

  2. The book is called How to Give Effective Feedback to your Students by Susan M Brookhart.
    Here's a link to it: