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Feedback Trumps Grades

Think about your latest app on your smartphone.  I am sure it has asked you more than once to “rate it”. In fact, some of my favorite apps continue to ask me for my feedback about their services.  How about when iOS7 came out?  My students were so excited!  Some of them spent hours updating their phones to get the latest and greatest software.  But a few days later they saw they needed to update to 7.1, and then 7.2, and of course we can’t stop there, so we downloaded 7.3.  One student asked me, “why did they do this?  Wasn’t the update to 7.0 good enough?”  My answer was, “obviously not.  They got feedback from users and improved upon what they already had.”

So, think about it.  Feedback comes in many shapes and forms–and not only on your smart phone apps. Growing up I did a lot of theatre and endured long hours of listening to directors give the actors notes about their performances.  “Make sure to cross on that beat”, “Remember that the lines are to be more rapid at this point”, etc. We see feedback occurring every night on TV with the advent of singing and performing competitions and cooking competitions. People post pictures of themselves hoping for positive feedback from their friends and even strangers.  If feedback isn’t important why are we able to comment on You Tube videos? Facebook posts?  Instagram and Twitter feeds?  Why do Beta versions of software exist?  Why do author’s have editors?  Athletes have coaches? Teachers have mentors? Business men and women have superiors? Why do we allow letters to the editor in newspapers?  Because as a society we truly value feedback.

Think of the last time you took a survey.  It doesn’t need to be a formal survey, but any sort of survey.  “What did you think of that movie?” is a simple survey that requires your feedback.  Feedback is all around us.  Whether we know it or not, we are giving feedback to others in different ways.  Our body language offers feedback.  Our facial expressions; our tone of voice–everything.

So, this brings me to an even bigger question…if feedback is all around us, and we are all giving feedback to each other, why are our students afraid of it?  I recently had a student who asked for help on a paper.  I was walking around the room with a purple pen and wrote some notes on his paper–a correction, a few questions to think about, etc.  His response to my help was “Oh, man!! I didn’t want purple pen on my paper!” I was stunned.  I just told him it was okay and to think about some of the questions I had written.  But at that moment I had an epiphany.  Students don’t appreciate feedback. But why?  Have we created monsters who don’t care about what we have to say?  Do they not see us as helpful experts who want to teach them? No, I don’t think so.  I think we have never taught them that feedback is valuable.  Inherently we know this. We are giving feedback all the time and getting it from our students, but we have never taught them the value of feedback or how to appreciate it and use it.

My first year of teaching I would spend hours grading papers.  I would fix every minute grammar mistake and write an endless amount of comments on students’ papers.  I would hand them back, the students would look at their grades, and then they would put the writing into a school-mandated portfolio.  I would receive the next assignment and go through the same process.  Hours and hours would be spent trying to “teach” my students through my comments. Finally, after banging my head against a wall and realizing that all it did was give me a headache, I realized I needed to teach my students how to appreciate the feedback I was giving them so that they could use it on their future assignments. I created an assignment that had them look at their writing pieces in their portfolios and make judgements about their writing and skills.  I had them write down comments that came up over and over again.  I had them re-write sentences in order to improve them, and I had them change their diction and grammar where necessary. And you know what?  After they realized that they were making the same mistakes over and over again, they took my feedback and stopped making those mistakes.  And eventually their grades went up because they were paying attention to their weak areas and improving upon them.  (Which is what I wanted them to do from the beginning.)  I was obviously going about teaching how to use feedback in the wrong way.  I expected my students to know what to be able to do with the feedback they were given, but they didn’t know.  They were so focused on their grades, that what I had to say was secondary.

The point is this.  We need to teach students to appreciate feedback rather than worry about a grade. Grades are a part of life (I don’t like it, but I get it) and the improved grade will come when the student understands that the feedback they receive from their teacher is valuable.  We need to teach that to our students, not assume that they already appreciate feedback and know what to do with it.

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One thought on “Feedback Trumps Grades

  1. Excellent point. Rather than just throwing around another educational term, you have made it clear how important it is to teach students to apply everyday life to education. Feedback should be the focus of both the teacher and the learner. Grades are too ambiguous. Feedback is concrete, begins a discussion, and encourages change towards improvement and mastery.

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