Starting Student Feedback Loops
A feedback loop is a process of checking for and affirming understanding that is specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on a learning target.
Feedback has been in the spotlight lately. Gone are the days of feedback scrawled below a letter grade, the days of red-inked papers and assignments. What was once final is now formative. As an educator (and person), my feedback approach has changed. I used to provide what I called feedback to my students on final assignments, writing pieces, and projects. Even though I had provided thoughtful suggestions for improvement, I was not seeing visible improvement in their subsequent work. I decided to take a closer look to understand where my feedback process was failing.
I read educational researcher John Hattie, author of Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning. He identifies feedback as a classroom practice with one of the highest effect rates on student learning and achievement. Hattie cautions that not all feedback is effective and that student-to-student feedback loops can also provide misguided feedback.
And then I read Dylan Wiliam, author of Embedded Formative Assessment, who says:
Reading this, I was confident that our classroom community of practice and growth would support a culture of feedback, and I was inspired to try student feedback loops.
What Are Student Feedback Loops?
A feedback loop is a process that aims to move learning forward through feedback. Ideally, this feedback loop would happen frequently, in all subject areas. This is one way to structure the process:
1. Begin With an Aim
An aim is a learning target or essential question that is unpacked from the standards, a part of a learning progression that is clearly communicated to the students at the beginning of each lesson.
2. Feedback Exchange
Feedback should be specific, non-evaluative, manageable, and focused on the aim. If the aim for the day is that readers should structure reasons to develop a compelling argument in a research-based essay, all feedback exchanged should be focused on that aim. I used the heart and brain strategy to support effective feedback exchanges (more on that below).
3. Revision and Application
In order for feedback to be effective, students must be given time to revise and apply their new understandings or ideas. Susan Brookhart and Connie Moss, authors of Advancing Formative Assessment in Every Classroom: A Guide for Instructional Leaders, speak of the Golden Second Opportunity, that moment when feedback is grasped and applied. When a student takes the feedback, makes changes to his or her work, and as a result moves a step closer to meeting the desired learning of the day's aim, then the loop has started. It is authentic, purposeful learning. The teacher begins the process, but the student owns it.
Closing the loop is time to reflect on the aim. Did students meet the desired learning of the day's aim? Could they move to a different level of proficiency? Could they ask for more feedback? Are there any other areas to revise?
In student feedback loops, students are the ones who drive this process. The teacher supports the students by clearly defining a structure for feedback, modeling effective feedback, highlighting critical student feedback, and participating when necessary.
Heart and Brain Feedback
The structure that has worked best for my fifth grade students has been the heart and brain strategy. Provide one piece of feedback for each:
This addresses something that you liked or loved, something that really stuck with you in a positive way. Related to the aim, the heart is something that worked well, be used as an example or a mentor to others. For example: "The way that you structured your reasons from broad to narrow really worked. It created a compelling argument that made me think in a new way."
This is something to try or consider revising. Related to the aim, the brain is a suggestion for specific growth, change, or improvement. For example: "Have you thought about using repetition here to make this stand out?"
This strategy keeps things simple and actionable. As a class, we brainstorm the language we can use to ensure that feedback is non-evaluative and feeds forward.
Everyone benefits: students who receive feedback, students who give feedback, and anyone who listens to the feedback. Even when giving feedback, students are focused on the aim of the day. Throughout the process, students may identify areas of growth in their own work, find peer examples as models, and take ownership over their work. As a teacher, my instruction is informed through these feedback loops. Listening to these loops tells me if I need to revisit a certain aim or set my expectations higher. I can pull exemplars and students to model their thinking aloud. All learners benefit from effective feedback loops.
Where to Start?
Reflect as a teacher. Start small. Think aloud while you model. Ask students for feedback, point out effective attributes, and revise. Start your first feedback loop as a whole class. Reflect as a class. Your classroom community will keep feedback loops in their hearts and brains as they grow and explore.