It’s no secret that timely, actionable feedback is one of the hallmarks of effective instruction. Giving kids what they need within the time frame in which they can actually (and will actually) do something with it is crucial to their learning. In this sense, I would propose that it’s far more important that our feedback be engaging than our “instruction”. Better yet, consider that the feedback actually is instruction.
Our Own Kids
The way to make our feedback engaging is to ensure that it is as direct and descriptive as possible, and comes at the most opportune time. Timely, actionable, descriptive feedback empowers students. This has never not been the case. Feedback that engages the learner in a way that helps her redirect her thinking has always been the most effective. It’s what we do with our own kids, especially when they’re little. It’s how they learn. We don’t “get back to them by the end of the week” or “give them 7 out 10” as they’re running toward the street, trying to balance on their bike for the first time, or trying to navigate life as a teenager.
But with 30 kids in our classrooms, it’s not easy to treat each kid like our own. Granted, not every learning situation is as urgent as a child running toward the street, but learning is far more urgent than we treat it most of the time. Nevertheless, helping us provide timely, actionable–engaging–feedback is one of the roles that technology is playing in our classrooms today if we let it. Prior to the proliferation of digital technology in our classrooms, it was more difficult. Now there’s no excuse other than our own fears and sense of intimidation, and neither of those is a good one. The argument that there’s not enough time doesn’t work either, because we have to give feedback one way or another. If we’re not, we’re not teaching.
The alternative is to give untimely feedback, or unactionable feedback…or, worse yet, untimely, unactionable feedback (which we like to sometimes disguise with phrases like “grading based on completion”). It’s more harmful than we might think. Imagine the student who is doing 30 problems, all wrong. What he’s done is not only wasted his time, but developed patterns of thinking that need to be undone. This ends up costing him, and us, his teachers, far more time than the 30 problems took him. This is especially the case when you consider that we could have given him enough feedback after the very first problem that would have set him on the right course.
Closing the Feedback Gap
Across our district, teachers are closing the feedback gap by incorporating tools like Khan Academy, with its hints and immediate feedback replete with sound effects and animations (although that’s not what makes it engaging, contrary to popular belief: it’s the what and when that makes it engaging). Teachers are also using Google tools to give tips and comments on students’ documents, presentations and spreadsheets as they work on them. Teachers are using iLearn (Moodle) to build automated feedback into questions so students can get tailored responses based on their answer choice, with the option of re-answering the question at a penalty if they get it wrong on the first try, as well as using rubrics to grade assignments.
The fact of the matter is we can be better with technology than we can without it. We need to employ technology, among other ways, to give engaging feedback. We need to empower learners in our classrooms and at home with the same diligence and level of care as our own kids.
The Tech Coaches can help you think of ways to do this, along with ideas to help manage your time and work efficiently with and through the technology. Contact the Tech Coaches today!