Descriptive Feedback… on the receiving end

It’s all about the HOW-TO improve.

As an Assessment & Evaluation Consultant for a number of years, I have had the opportunity to structure and facilitate numerous workshops focusing on the effective delivery of descriptive feedback for our students.

But now, I’m on the receiving end. This time, I’m the student. Receiving descriptive feedback on my own personal writing as I work towards completing my thesis.

I feel that I can connect more closely to what our students must be feeling when they are handed their work, marked with all sorts of comments.  As I was handed back my draft, I felt the rush of intense curiosity, wonder, fear, excitement and more questions as I skimmed and scanned quickly for the gist of what had been written about my work. Then, I read the feedback for a second time, taking in a few more details of each suggestion that was offered. And finally, I forced myself to slow down and re-read the feedback for a third time, this time stopping and reflecting on each word in an attempt to understand what I had to do next.  It made me wonder how well we teach our students to value the feedback they receive and how to act upon it.  I believe this is a skill we need to make sure we incorporate into our teaching.

It was refreshing to note that the comments I received contained all the important areas we work on as teachers with our students: strengths, areas to improve, and next steps.  In terms of how valuable highlighting the strengths are, I must admit that I re-read the beginning page quite often in order to remind myself… “Kelly, you have clearly done a lot of work on this proposal. I enjoyed reading your work and learning about this topic.”  These simple statements made me feel that my work was valued and respected.  Acknowledgement of strengths, made me WANT to listen to the suggestions for revisions.

The specific areas to improve were quite intense.  At first, I was both excited and very overwhelmed with all the suggestions.  So I began gaining control by turning the feedback into an organized list based on each suggestion that was given to me. The list ended up having 43 action items that ranged from a 5 minute task (e.g., define transformative learning) to a 2-3 day task (Research Socrates’ view of active learners engaged in critical inquiry through interaction). I must be honest and share that I stared at the list for about a month, perhaps even feeling a little paralyzed to begin, but I was definitely thinking about the content all the time. I will consider it my “reflective learning” time and a necessary part of the process for me.

During this reflective learning time, what intrigued me the most, was how the quality of “next step feedback” varied and as a result, impacted my learning.  There were next steps that were simple and concise:

  • Include more peer-reviewed articles about this topic.
  • Explain how you came up with your coding template.
  • Define these terms.

And then there were next steps that went much deeper.  Suggestions that seemed to challenge my thinking and push me into further learning, while at the same time providing me with “how to find the answers”:

  • What makes this form of communication completely new?  You need to draw more from your source & push the point further.
  • You’ll need to explicitly outline your search techniques in how you explain the methodology of your lit review.  Lieberman & Mace (2010) is an article you will want to check out.  You’ll also want to check out Kassens-Noor, E. (2012), Gerstein, J. (2011).
  • Kelly, you should make a case for using this particular model.  What makes it a strong model?  Why have you chosen to use this one instead of another one?
  • Outline the similarities & difference between these terms.  Remember, Dewey would take issue with the way in which DuFour’s ideas are used to facilitate data-driven decision-making.
  • Say more about teaching presence here, Kelly.  Also, point out what does Swan’s lens add to the academic arena of higher learning.
  • Again, Kelly, you’ll have to make a strong case for choosing to use this particular model … & you can start to make that case here in your lit review & then you can return to it in your methodology.
  • Appendix B is quite interesting, Kelly.  How did you design it?  Did you draw from research?  You need to explain this process & make a case for the template you have designed.
These were the comments that I valued the most. The ones that pushed me to learn further.

It made me wonder, that as teachers, we may give valid information about strengths and areas to improve, and even offer appropriate next steps.  But how rich are our next steps? Do our next steps include questions to clarify, further reading suggestions and enough how-to information for our learners?  I know it’s something I’ll be focussing my efforts on a little more for our students, when I’m on the delivery end of descriptive feedback.

Have you considered descriptive feedback from the receiving end lately?

About Kelly-Ann Power

Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board Vice-Principal View all posts by Kelly-Ann Power

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