Feedback that’s “Just in Time”

Feedback drives learning. But as we learned in a previous post, not all feedback is productive. In this post, we’ll look at how to go about providing feedback to learners that they can, and hopefully will, actually use!

I have not-so-fond memories of taking home a stack of students’ writing, faced with the task of providing feedback to help move their learning forward. I had 36 students that year — needless to say, the task seemed overwhelming! Furthermore, when I did burn the midnight oil and got through all those lovely narratives, I was frustrated the next day as I realized that my learners were not chomping at the bit to see what I had suggested, nor did many take the feedback into account in their next writing task. In fact, sometimes I would find those products, with my carefully worded feedback, being pushed by the custodian’s broom at the end of the day.

It would be easy to react to this anecdote by deciding that feedback isn’t worth the teacher’s effort, but I would suggest that there is much more to learn here, so let’s dig a little deeper.

First, let’s talk about timing. Students submitted their work, and the work was returned with feedback the next day. Timing seems not to be the issue here…but it is — in the sense that learners were receiving feedback at the end of the learning cycle. The assignment was being graded, with no opportunity to make further improvements. My theory was that if I gave them feedback on this assignment, they would apply it the next time. However, for many learners, ‘the next time’ is too far removed from the feedback, and so all that effort on my part was lost.

A few paragraphs back, I said “students were showing their learning” – in my plan, the task was summative – for grades. But students “show their learning” whenever they do any task, for any reason. That made me rethink my beliefs about what a task is. I used to think that there were ‘learning tasks’ – things I would ask learners to do for the purpose of practising a skill, rehearsing or expanding knowledge, or exploring a concept — and tasks that are meant for evaluating the learning — ‘assessment tasks’. However, when I thought about it, I realized that all tasks are assessment tasks, in the sense that all tasks permit educators a window into students’ knowledge, skills, and thinking.

It’s during the performance of a task – any task related to the curriculum expectations — that learners need and likely will welcome feedback. The most timely feedback is descriptive information that is available in the moment, while the learner is actively engaged in the task.

Consider this scenario: Learners are working on a task intended to introduce, explore, practise, master, or consolidate a concept or skill. While they are actively engaged, they receive oral feedback that identifies what they are doing well, what they need to work on next, and how to go about making an improvement. Either or both the student and teacher document this feedback information in some way.

There are three important points to note here:

The learner is receiving feedback that is timely, pertinent to where they are in the learning at that precise moment, that will help them move forward in the learning.

The feedback is being documented for future reference by the learner, which can remind them of how they need to focus their learning efforts, or, if they have mastered the skill or concept, will be a record for them of their success.

The feedback, as documented, is also information that the educator can access in the future, which may inform the student’s grade, based on the professional judgement of the educator.

green runner smallOne last thought…and a call to action! Do you give written or oral feedback? Is the feedback provided during the learning, while the learner still has a chance to act on it and improve? Why not make a simple change tomorrow by planning structured opportunities to provide oral feedback, and ways for that feedback to be captured ‘in the moment’. We’ve got some ideas on how to do that too…here and here. Post a comment to let us know how it goes.

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