Education Feedback Legacy
In most cases, if you look, there’s a history—an education legacy—good or bad—sometimes successful and sometimes not—education feedback is no exception. When someone says “feedback in class” to me without sharing an understanding of what that actually is, I get a bit ramped up. My initial response is to say, “Feedback? Do you mean asking a question of students and having them raise their hands to respond?” Most times that initially gets silence, but then the feedback I really need, “Yes, well—that’s part of it, but getting feedback from students using technology is the 21st Century way.” That feedback tells me very little to nothing. If kids can still shout out answers, raise hands to participate, and debate very strongly without being tied to a technological device or solution to do it—the century we’re in doesn’t matter. I hate that 21st Century line, because it’s as meaningless as inadequately knowing what feedback should be in education today.
Feedback in Education
Feedback in Education isn’t technologically new either. Tony Cann, who founded Promethean as an interactive whiteboard company more than 30 years ago, knew immediately that even with technology in a classroom, the lack of student feedback—true engaged and personalized interaction didn’t happen. Cann was driven to solve the problem, and continues to do so.
“Teachers have a very difficult job, and it is almost impossible for even the very best to develop the full potential of all those they teach. Technology in the classroom can provide this help by providing feedback in real-time and by providing teachers with superb resources.” ~ Tony Cann
Today, it’s a lot easier, with individual student handhelds and tablets to get better feedback, but I doubt that most educators know how. I also believe that most administrators haven’t figured it out either. The simple answer is to say, “We need some professional development to figure this out!” While that may be true, it’s a bit deeper than that. The kind of professional development needed isn’t the kind that just shares a cool app you can use in class, or the kind that is not much more than a product or solution demo, which talks about simple, easy, letter or number polling answers as feedback. The kind of professional development needed, today, is the kind that creates a new learning environment for social learning and discussion. Getting teachers and students involved in learning and solving solutions in a collaborative way keeps feedback from being a separate and simple entity. Feedback shouldn’t be a separate part unto itself; it should be part of the whole, interactive classroom. Feedback will still be visible, but you shouldn’t have to bang pots to draw attention to it.
I observed a very good, young teacher, who was also a teacher of teachers not too long ago. It was a science lesson, and the teacher was so proud to have a whiteboard and response systems for each student in class. During the lesson, the teacher really didn’t use the whiteboard efficiently, and even though all the students had individual response systems, only a few students participated throughout the class, and some not at all. The lesson concept was very good, but reminded me of a golfer, who has all the equipment and forgets that a swing is needed to hit the ball. This young teacher had all the skills, but didn’t know how to use them with technology in a classroom—yet. The feedback part, for this teacher was similar to most I’ve seen—infrequent, simple number, letter, or true/false responses—and of course the usual class shout outs. And the teacher did seem to call upon the very few individuals who stuck with the lesson.
After the lesson, I had a chance to talk with the teacher, and asked, “ How many students were engaged in your lesson?” I received a very truthful answer that only a few were engaged, and that the use of technology, while it was there, wasn’t used well. It’s easy to get stuck in the technology. I shared a few thoughts, which I think helped. I said, “You’re a good teacher, the lesson concept is important, and you did the best you could do today, but tomorrow you can make this better. And then I shared a few things to try using my favorite question as starter—“Have you thought of this?” I also said, “You haven’t seen the missing part of your lessons yet, because no one has taken you on the field trip there.” As I talked I knew that I was talking not only to this one teacher, who needed to hear it, but also to the others this lead teacher would teach, and needed to hear what I was saying as well.
I shared the new ClassFlow app as a way of better organizing a lesson and increasing the teacher and student interactions throughout a class. I know that was one of the missing links. Beyond that, moving from feedback as simple infrequent responses to more of a social media concept in the classroom was the important takeaway. Again, feedback cannot be a separate part, but must be a connecting part in an interactive collaborative classroom, where all students have a role each minute of class—and not just for a few minutes—for a very few students.
Informative Class Observations
You cannot underestimate the need for informative class observations, even if they’re informally done, where feedback is positive, and includes things for teachers and students to try. Also of high importance is professional development that goes beyond a product or solution, and gets directly to teaching and learning, by using today’s tools collaboratively and truly ubiquitously. All of those things need creative and knowledgeable coaches and mentors, who are not stuck in the “this is the way we always have done it” mold. While there is an education feedback legacy, and it was important, we need to get beyond it, so that what we know, and call future feedback concepts common—and they’re happening now. We do have the technology to do it; we just need to share more widely, and individually, to and with those who haven’t heard, “Have you heard this? Have you tried this? Let me show you how.”
About the Author
Ken Royal is an educator with 34 years of classroom/school and instructional technology teaching experience, as well as a blogger on all things education and education technology. Teaching accomplishments include: 4-time district teacher of the year, Connecticut Middle School Teacher of the Year, as well as Bill and Melinda Gates award for Technology School of Excellence. He is a Promethean storyteller. Follow @KenRoyal on Twitter.