Mirror, Mirror On The Wall – Two Overlooked Feedback Tips for ALL

Mirror, Mirror On The Wall – Two Overlooked Feedback Tips for ALL

It’s that time again! Time to look in the mirror and see what impact YOU are making.

No one likes to give their all to something and not know if their efforts were worthwhile. Not me, not you, and not even your students. Being able to look in the mirror and ask, “MIRROR, MIRROR on the wall, am I making a difference AT ALL?” is a HUGE gift-giving habit. It brings reassurance, confidence, and … well, you’ll see.

Looking in the mirror has never been THIS rewarding. Let’s lean in and take a look.

The Research

This is the third in a series focusing on the impact you are having on your student’s learning. Today, it’s all about HOW you deliver FEEDBACK to your students.

The research tells us that being a reflective teacher (aka looking in the mirror) leads to better teaching and student performance.

With an effect size of 0.70, giving students feedback is a high-impact habit for all teachers to develop (Hattie, 2017). There are many ways to deliver feedback, each with their own levels of effectiveness.

Feedback can be given in written form – a comment on top of an assignment, or detailed feedback throughout. Sometimes feedback is delivered verbally, directly to the student. Feedback can be a visual, non-verbal cue – a thumbs up, nod of the head, or an encouraging eyebrow raise.

Reflective teachers have modified some of these traditional strategies to receive feedback as well. “Nod your head if you understand the instructions for this next activity.” “Show me a thumbs up if you are feeling ready for our quiz tomorrow; thumbs sideways if you’re not quite ready; thumbs down if you are feeling lost.”

Not all forms of feedback have an impressive impact (or effect size) on student learning. Take, for example, the all-too-common phrase, “Good job!” Technically, that is feedback. But the research on that phrase yields a meager 0.14 effect size (Hattie & Timperley, 2007). Not specific and not impressive. How do you improve upon that?

Adding specificity to your feedback bumps the impact up to an impressive effect size of 0.74 (Marzano, 1998). So, take that “good job” and tack on a:

  • “Your paper’s introduction was SO engaging.”
  • “Solid explanation of a molecule; I totally understood it.”
  • “I can tell you put a lot of effort into the details of your sculpture.”

Want to take your feedback to a whole new level?

In addition to your specificity, add WHY that will be beneficial to the student either personally or in school. For example:

  • “Your introduction was engaging. That kind of writing will pique the interest of those reading your college application essays.”
  • “Solid explanation of a molecule. Being able to explain complicated concepts will help you in physics next year.”
  • “I can tell you put a lot of effort into the details of your sculpture. That’s the kind of effort that will help you excel in middle school.”

Adding the WHY to your feedback (called attributions) boosts your impact to a sky-high effect size of 1.42 (Dweck, 2013). As you can see, there are many layers to explore in the world of feedback. Exceptional teachers have discovered the power of feedback AND the significance of HOW the feedback is delivered. Let’s keep adding to your knowledge.

Here are two questions to consider as you look in the mirror and reflect on your own effectiveness with feedback. You will notice a shift in perspective about feedback – it is not all about the student and their performance.

In fact, EXCEPTIONAL teachers SEEK feedback on their practice just as much (if not more) than they give feedback to students. Are you ready to take that impactful leap into the realm of excellent teachers? I think so!

1. Am I a feedback fanatic who gets, gives, and helps students understand feedback? (Students often ask, “How am I doing?”)

For starters, students should be receiving feedback in some form EVERY DAY. Ongoing feedback (called formative feedback) has an effect size of 0.90 (Sadler, 1989). The same is true for you – seek it out, daily! Consider ways to diversify your format for giving student feedback. In fact, people implement feedback more when it is delivered face-to-face rather than written or digital formats (Roghanizad & Bohns, 2017).

Want to get better?

  • Create time to have one-on-one, face-to-face conversations about feedback with your students. When doing station learning, have your desk be one of the stations. Instead of them working on a task, use the time to give and ask for specific feedback on your teaching and their learning. Another option: during independent work time, have short 3-5-minute conferences with students about feedback.
  • Ask your students to answer questions like: “What specifically do I do that makes it easier for you to learn?” and “I tend to be most engaged in class when you ______________.”

2. Am I an assessor to discover my impact and design next steps? (Students often ask, “Does my teacher know what to do?”)

Imagine a teacher working through a stack of papers to grade. The teacher whose internal dialogue sounds like, “Wow! They clearly did not understand what I taught them” will be far less effective than the teacher who thinks, “Wow! I clearly did not teach this well.”

The first teacher is placing responsibility for the lack of learning on the students. Whereas the second teacher sees the students’ performance as a reflection of her own teaching.

Exceptional teachers avoid the common pitfall that ALL assessments are for students and contribute somehow to their grade. Join the club of being a true learner and create assessment tools that are ONLY for your learning and development.

Want to get better?

  • Give a mini-assignment, quiz, ticket-out-the-door, or another form of assessment solely for the purpose to assess YOUR impact on student learning. Use the results of that informal assessment to guide what you do next with your students.
  • Be sure students are producing evidence of their learning EVERY DAY in your class. These small, daily assignments will help you spot student misunderstandings and/or mastery.
  • If you’re a big planner and like to have your unit or year mapped out well in advance, schedule a buffer day with every unit to allow for clarifying any topics you discover needs more attention. Never let your love for schedules overpower your love for student learning.

Changing your feedback habits will take a bit of focused effort. Here are some strategies to make it easier for you:

  • Post a reminder in your classroom or on your desk. It could say, “Good job. ______” as a way to invite more information than just good job.” You might put a sign up that says, “Be specific” or “What does my student’s behavior tell me about my teaching today?”
  • Create a chart for you to track whether you give students (or the class) some form of feedback every day. Once you check 5 boxes in a row … congrats! You just earned yourself ________ (insert meaningful reward for you – an extra show on Netflix over the weekend, a special treat, or relaxing bath).
  • Set up a challenge with one of your teacher friends. The first one to miss a day of receiving feedback from students owes the other a random act of kindness. Social accountability has been shown to improve goal achievement (Travers, Morisano, & Locke, 2015).
Dweck, C. S. (2013). Self-theories: Their role in motivation, personality, and development. Psychology press.
Hattie, J. (December 2017). Hattie’s 2018 updated list of factors related to student achievement: 252 influences and effect sizes (Cohen’s d). Retrieved from http://www.visiblelearning.org
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of educational research, 77(1), 81-112.
Marzano, R. J. (1998). A theory-based meta-analysis of research on instruction.
Roghanizad, M. M., and Bohns, V. K. (2017). Ask in person: you’re less persuasive than you think over email. J. Exp. Soc. Psychol. 69, 223–226.
Sadler, D. R. (1989). Formative assessment and the design of instructional systems. Instructional science, 18(2), 119-144.
Travers, C. J., Morisano, D., & Locke, E. A. (2015). Self‐reflection, growth goals, and academic outcomes: A qualitative study. British Journal of Educational Psychology, 85(2), 224-241.
Eric Jensen is a former teacher with a real love of learning. He grew up in San Diego and attended public schools. While his academic background is in English and human development, he has a real love of educational neuroscience. For over 20 years, he has been connecting the research with practical classroom applications.

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