Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Feedback -v- feedforward

In his book Coaching for Performance, John Whitmore identifies 5 levels of feedback.  He writes that the first 4 of these produce only minimal short-term improvement at best, and can even cause a decline in performance and self esteem.

  • Personal criticism such as "you're useless" - this is devastating to self-esteem and confidence and will surely make future performance even worse.
  • Judgement such as "your work/performance is awful" - while this is directed at the work rather than at the person this is also very damaging to self-esteem and still provides no information that can be used for improvement.
  • Opinion of the work - avoids criticism and provides some information about what needs to be improved, but still keeps ownership in the hands of the person providing the feedback.
  • A question about how the person feels about his/her work - this hands over ownership to the person being coached, but will tend to result in a value judgement about the work on the part of the teacher.
  • A question asking for a description of the work - the person being coached can give a detailed and non-judgmental description of his/her performance based on thought and reason - it compels the person being coached to be involved and to articulate a response.  This process raises awareness, helps someone learn how to evaluate his or her own work and thereby gives ownership of the performance and the assessment of it to the teacher being observed and coached.  This leads to the person being coached taking responsibility for the standard of the work.
Now here's the interesting thing.  All of this is feedback - all of it relates to the past.  However the thing that improves performance isn't necessarily reflecting on the past, but being aware of what is happening in the present.  For this you need feedforward.  Feedforward means tell the person being coached beforehand the question that you will ask afterwards, so that they can be aware in the present.  For example a coach might say to a teacher, "After the next observation I am going to ask you ....."

Appraisal systems almost always focus on the past.  Whitmore writes that "when they categorize only past performance and not future potential, or are judgmental and not descriptive, they are beneficial to no one."

Original artwork by an ASB student

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