Warm up this winter with "HOT" Feedback.
As a teacher and a performer at rehearsals, I have seen music directors (and even caught myself) cut off a group of musicians and say "Good", then proceed to tell the group what needs fixed. These sorts of mixed signals are not unique to the rehearsal hall. Pick up a journal in most classrooms and you can find at least a few of "good" "excellent" and "nice work" comments, or even worse, no comments at all.
As teachers' work loads increase, we need to find ways to give useful feedback that will facilitate student progress and growth. We are failing our kids when we don't give them consistent, honest and timely feedback. So, I have put together a treatment for developing effective and HOT feedback. HOT feedback is Honest, Objective and Timely:
This is by far the most important component of your feedback. If the scholar did something well, tell them. If they did not do something correctly, tell them. Kids have very thick skins, and they trust the opinions of their teachers.
To begin with, we can give positive and negative feedback. Positive meaning that we are reinforcing something that is going well and negative meaning that we are identifying something that is not going well. In every completed (and well designed) student task, there will be an element of both, which means there will always be room for growth.
Referring to music literature, it has been shown that there is a high correlation between teacher behavior, student behavior and lesson progress. Teachers who give consistent negative but precise feedback usually have students who not only persist in their music lessons, but also persevere (Piano lessons of beginning students who persist or drop out: teacher behavior, student behavior, and lesson progress. JRME, 2005, 53, pp234-247). This supports the idea being constantly encouraging is not the key to success. Being honest is the most important. In a piano lesson, if a student plays a wrong note or a wrong rhythm, they did not play the piece correctly. Helping the student identify and correct this error by telling them they are wrong is only helping them to improve. Solely celebrating their success will serve to hinder their progress.
When a student does well at a task, identify specifically what they did well and spefically what they did incorrectly. This is where a rubric is helpful. Utilizing a rubric allows the student to focus on only the things they are being graded for. This also affords the teacher the opportunity to correct things outside of the rubric. If a student makes errors outside of the rubric, they will not affect the score. For example, if you are grading a lab report or a historic essay for the acquisition of knowledge or the use of a process, but there are many spelling errors, you could (and I say should) give the student an appropriate grade for their work meeting the rubric, but also mention their spelling errors, emphasizing that this time around it is not being counted.
To continue, don't accept "good enough" as good enough. When a scholar scores very high based on the task or rubric you have given them, you must identify the next steps for that student's progress, even if is something unique from the rest of the class. To continue with the same example, if the assignment mentioned above were perfect in content but had grammatical errors, you could give an additional rubric based on grammar or spelling for the scholar to lean the expectations for that component.
Finally, you must be honest about your mistakes. Kids will learn from you when you make mistakes. Make mistakes on purpose (the same ones you see your kids doing) and fix them. Model how to persevere through a struggle, how to take criticism, and how to learn from your mistakes. We must all model life-long learning.
Don't get your feelings involved
Don't be worried about hurting your students' feelings. Over and over, I hear examples of teachers saying they don't want to give negative feedback because they feel that students will not grow from being wrong. This comes back to honesty- if a student gets it right, they get it right, if they don't, it's wrong. Teaching comes down to helping students find ways of working through this process of being wrong.
I haven't mentioned it yet, because I'm really trying to boil this idea down to its essence, but the other key to great feedback is timeliness, which I think of in two categories: immediacy and timeliness. I view these as two different applications of time to feedback. First, you must give feedback as closely to the occurrence of the response as possible. In the same way you want to know your rating from your principal as soon as she leaves from observing your classroom, you students want to know how they did on their tasks. To continue the comparison, if your principal observes you in October and then doesn't debrief with you until February, they have done you 2 disservices: first you will not remember what thoughts and behaviors you were using to execute the lesson at that time. Secondly, you have continued to practice and learn whatever habits were not contributing to success in your classroom.
Similarly, if you do not give your feedback in a timely fashion, your students will continue practicing whatever it is they are doing because you haven't told them otherwise. To go back to my performing ensemble example, if the director cuts off the group and immediately says "good, now lets go back to the 5th measure," they have immediately told their musicians that what they did was correct. If they were to say nothing, the musicians would continue performing in the same manner. However, if the immediate feedback were precise and honest, it would take immediate effect, "Violins, you are too loud and you are rushing, let's try that again", the group could immediately attempt a different approach and adjust their behavior to create a different response. This must also express consistency. If the violins keep making the same mistake, keep calling them out, assume it is because you have not given them the tools to create the right sound. Never accept "good enough" as good enough.
The second component of Timeliness is the idea of consistency. If you are giving feedback on a skill or task, you must be consistent not only across the class, but also over time. While I just discussed the implications of immediacy in the very short term, consistency is key to success over the long term. As we must give feedback as soon as possible in connection to the event we are responding to, we must also demonstrate that it is important by continuing to give feedback on the topic over the long term.
I hope this Feedback Rehab gets you thinking about how you respond to your students. Every response matters. So, take it one day at a time and remember to keep it HOT.