Part 4: They make feedback fizz


I don’t know about you, but I’ve been hearing, reading or reflecting on feedback for as long as I can remember.

If I cast my mind back it was actually part of my learning in my first certificated PE subject, “Standard Grade PE” which I sat in S4 (or year 10 for most).

John Hattie (2008), whose decades of research revealed that feedback was among the most powerful influences on student achievement, acknowledges that he has “struggled to understand the concept”

So if an expert struggles, what chance us humble teachers? Maybe I’ve been getting it wrong all this time!

Perhaps this from Wiggins (2012) can get us on track.

The term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking. Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal.

Information about how we’re going as compared against a goal. Simple!

Formative assessment research tells us lots about the negative nature of teachers putting grades on papers and homework, in some cases its even suggested that this can lower student achievement and be detrimental to their progress- going backwards- yikes!

I remember one piece of feedback really clearly that I got on an English paper when I was 16 (1998. It said, “Ross, this is an excellent, interesting piece of work and shows real insight.  If you continue like this you could achieve an ‘A’ pass.”

It’s so interesting that I still remember this so clearly.  For the record, I wasn’t particularly good at English, good enough to get a Higher Grade (VCE) pass (with some effort) but not an ‘A’ student, well not that I thought anyway. Just another note of interest, the piece of work was on drugs in sport- perhaps I had some foresight into what the future would hold!

Interesting also to note that, the piece of work in question had no grade on it, just that comment for me to ponder.  Mrs Kirk, my English teacher, was a superstar teacher.

So if we accept that most (but not all) of the students ‘work’ we see is of a practical nature, movement, skills, fitness standards, games understandings etc. and not necessarily written down. How can feedback be used best to enhance our students learning?  How are the great PE teachers providing feedback?

Decades of education research support the idea that by teaching less and providing more feedback, we can produce greater learning (see Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Hattie, 2008; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001).

This struck me. Less Teaching, more feedback.

So, the great teachers are getting the kids engaged in lots of activity where they are learning, making decisions, problem solving, making mistakes, wondering, and questioning and are there as a sounding board to guide and facilitate their journey to the goal (whatever the goal is)

A little like the types of questions we ask (from my previous blog) it’s important to understand the types of feedback we give. There’s a lot of literature out there on this but as I see it they are;

  1. Ego inflating feedback
  2. Task related feedback
  3. Corrective feedback

PE teachers are renowned for offering loads of ego inflating feedback. It’s so easy to do. We see something, often from a distance, or something we’ve ‘taught’ and been waiting to see and we bellow out “Well done! Great Job! Good girl!” or the likes.

The problem with this is, while it may generate a smile and a good feeling within the student, they may not understand what it was that deserved the praise.

Evidence shows that praise can get in the way of students receiving feedback about the task and their performance (Skipper & Douglas, 2011). When a student hears, “Good girl! But you should ensure the base of your head stand is larger” she certainly hears the first part loud and clear—but this can be the end of the feedback message.

So if ego inflating feedback is often useless by itself and should not be mixed with corrective feedback as it may get lost, our delivery seems all important.

Small disclaimer from me here, the comments from Skipper and Douglas above, suggests that we teachers only have one agenda when giving feedback, to move learning forward.  While this is possibly true for the most part and maybe the most important reason for providing it, in my opinion it should not be our only agenda.

What’s wrong with providing the odd bit of ego inflating feedback to some of our students who need it most?  After all we are there to help them grow in many ways: their self-esteem, their courage and to provide a sense of belonging, not only in ability, knowledge and understanding.  So I say, keep this in mind. A wink, a nod or a simple ‘thumbs up’ could make a student’s day when offered at just the right time.

Task related feedback, while not directly enhancing learning, is so important in maintaining an efficient, safe class environment and also in ensuring expectations about behaviour remain clear.  I’ve watched great teachers use this type of feedback to wonderful effect and observed how there had been lots of prior learning about behaviour, movement around class, transitions between activities, etc.  I still use “well done to the Blue team” and “why am I saying well done to the blue team?” type of comments every day and they really work for reminding them you are waiting (impatiently) on something to happen and reinforcing a positive class culture.

If corrective feedback is the key to enhancing learning and we are giving more of this and teaching less, then how are great teachers delivering it?  I think the answer is: differently all the time.  I heard a great phrase that feedback should be more work for the receiver than the provider.  So like most things in learning it has to do one thing: cause thinking.  Perhaps a question?, perhaps groups are asked to think about why the basket was scored and provide feedback to the defence?, perhaps to say “That was brilliant…YOU tell me why? Combining two types of feedback in one hit with the key message hopefully not getting lost, as they’ve thought of it.

I hear a lot of people say, but how can I give feedback to all the students in my class? There are so many of them!  The fact is, in one lesson you probably can’t, certainly not quality stuff that has genuine follow up.  So we need to empower students as providers of feedback for each other.  As long as we have clearly established the learning intentions and success criteria, there’s no reason why we shouldn’t trust our students to give feedback and activate them as learning resources for each other, it may just get them thinking about their own performance as well.

Let me know your thoughts, how is feedback fizzing in your class?


10 thoughts on “Part 4: They make feedback fizz

  1. Great post Ross! I agree that sometimes that ego inflating feedback should be used for some students, particularly those who have difficulty participating in PE. I think feedback comes naturally to PE teachers as most of us have probably as been in a coaching role. I know when focusing on skill development, I am constantly moving around the class, provide instant feedback to students. No matter how good the feedback may be, I find it can be useless unless it is done in a timely manner. I use peer feedback alot in classes and have spoken to the girls about the feedback sandwich and how it is often more so about how to say something than what you say.

    • Ash, some great points here. Love the feedback sandwich and your message on HOW to deliver as well as a WHAT to deliver. Sounds like your already guiding your students well in their learning, keep it up. Thanks for commenting and enriching the post!

  2. I have spent the last few weeks reflecting back on the interventions I taught through my masters and phd and trying to see how I developed my models-based approach to teaching PE. One thing I reflected on in the last couple of days were the ways in which the Kids – when put into sustained learning teams (in Cooperative Learning and Sport Education) – assessed each other and translated my efforts at explain things and assessing into ‘student talk’ that then made sense. They could also fill in some of the gaps in my teaching (when I took too big a step for example) and after a number of years could out ‘formatively assess’ me. This would be a way of giving feedback to al your class and all it requires is time and trust. Loved the ideas in this blog and it certainly made me think about how I assess at Univesity and how our students assess.

    • Doc,
      The ‘student talk’ is such an interesting aspect to explore. I’m sure there are many times when I’m talking in or at a different level to what they can connect with, however I try to modify. A terrific reminder to constantly sound the students out. I’m glad the post made you think! It means a lot that you took the time to read as I really respect your views. I hope we can continue to connect and am looking forward to reading your latest series as soon as can. Thanks again mate. R

  3. A great blog Ross. You’ve covered a lot of territory in a very short space of your blog. The discussion about feedback seems to have grown lately with educators wanting to try to ensure that their feedback is targeted, meaningful to the learner and hopefully delivered in a timely manner.
    Of course learning is not just about feedback but also about creating an environment where the learner is engaged and focused in the task/game and the teacher’s feedback arrives at the time when it is most needed.
    Have a look at some of the recent ACHPER Active & Healthy magazines to see some articles by Xanthe Salzberger and Mel Hamada on their work with students to improve learning with an emphasis on feedback.

    • Hi Rick,
      great to have your comments! Thanks so much for joining in. I agree that there’s some territory covered here and it’s always a challenge to blog succinctly especially with a ‘chunky’ concept like feedback, there so much NOT in here too! Your comment re timely feedback is a very relevant one and I’ll check out the ACHPER A&H mag. Keep up the good work there. Hope to meet you at #ACHPER2013!

  4. Thanks for blogging about feedback Ross, it is a topic which I, like many other teachers find really interesting. feedback is such a powerful learning tool, it’s important that, as you mention, not just what you provide but how you provide that feedback. When thinking about topics such as feedback I try to relate my own experiences of feedback, and how different types of feedback and the way in which is delivered to me affects my response. As a keen footballer, I appreciate the varied types of feedback I receive both on and off the pitch. Sometimes I need words of encouragement, maybe I just need a pat on the back now and again to increase my confidence, or just an acknowledging smile, sometimes (read: often) I need a team mate to step in and provide me with advice to improve my performance. All are effective forms of feedback for me at different times. The key and most difficult part is figuring out what feedback a child needs and how they need it, at the right time. For me this can be the difference between a ‘good’ teacher and a ‘great’ teacher, and something which I hope experience will help to improve.

    • Hi Mike,
      Thanks for commenting, I’ve heard great things about your work so it’s terrific to connect. It’s definitely good to go back to thinking about how we ourselves respond(ed) to certain feedback and how it was delivered. I’d a long line of soccer coaches who only had one way- the hair dryer! I think as you mention experience certainly helps and a degree of emotional intelligence is also helpful. The great teachers have that bond where, feedback is accepted respectfully and graciously by students because they know you genuinely care. I think we’ll always be getting better at that.

  5. Knowing some creative writing ideas for kids is very necessary if you would like the young minds sharp and artistic. A satire essay is often a work that is certainly meant to poke fun at a particular subject.

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