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Feedback reflections

Recently, I have read ‘The Feedback Pendulum’ by Michael Chiles which analyses different types of feedback and its research based effectiveness. As the author says ‘Power of feedback is determined by the power of follow-up’. 

There is a great deal of research on feedback with many studies showing that it has very high effects on learning (metacognition), but caution is needed as some studies also indicate that feedback can have a negative effect or even make things worse (EEF report). Therefore it is important to understand the potential benefits and limitations of it.


The problem most teachers encounter is that we can spend a long time on writing/giving feedback to our students only to discover that it didn’t have the desired impact. Often, because of the pressure for results, students are mostly heavily interested in how many marks they scored or what grade they have achieved and just skim the comments we provided on how to improve, deepen and develop their work/learning further.


Many of us have spent hours and hours on marking and writing lengthy feedback comments because it was demanded by our school’s marking policy with the perception of “the more detailed comment you have provided the better”, in assumption that this will impart a high quality feedback which will then consequently have a high impact on students learning and progress! 

However, there is finally a shift in the thinking, a recognition that feedback is not about how much you write in a student’s book but how effective it is in securing students learning and moving them forward. 


The problem with long written feedback is, a teacher setting too many targets on how to improve and develop students’ work which causes cognitive overload! Students often don’t know what to focus on first. So focussing on development of one structure (tense, WO, verb endings…) is more productive and manageable. The focus is also on the importance to reduce teachers’ work load with regards to marking and on how and what type of feedback we bestow on our learners in order for it to have the desired impact. Most schools are now moving away from ‘marking policy’ to ‘feedback strategy’ which aims to support students learning but also teachers well-being.


I believe that feedback should be provided when and as necessary and not to timescale. In fact, in the classroom we provide feedback constantly, whether it is through our body language, gestures, facial expressions or verbally. It is a critical element, without it how will students know whether they know or don’t know the material of study? How will they and the teacher know how to close the gap in their knowledge? It assists with reviewing and reinforcing what our learners have learnt. 


In Language learning on a classroom level – when introducing new language or structures it is crucial that our students know if they are pronouncing the sounds and constructing new structures correctly. In this case immediate feedback – corrective feedback which requires little time is essential especially in terms of metacognition – it needs to be quick and accurate. Dependent on task, this type of feedback also supports development of procedural skills and is more powerful at the task level. Feedback is also important for correct answers not just incorrect as it reinforces and confirms knowledge and keeps students motivated as well. 

Corrective feedback through indirect error correction using prompts can get students to correct themselves (i.e. in German WO with perfect tense, opinions with ‘weil’ or in speaking asking ‘Wie bitte?’) and recall correct application in the future.


Elaborative feedback – explaining why an answer is correct – for example in grammatical structures, formation of tenses, word order, genders, conjugation of verbs, declension – is beneficial for students’ transfer knowledge to new context and topics.

Like in any subject also in languages classroom, reflection is extremely important, the more learners spend on reflecting on their learning the more automatic it will become – in L2 acquisition we are striving for the automacity – all our tasks, if well planned, are geared to guide our students to develop this skill, however it takes a long time and lot of work. 


Delayed feedback – often provided next lesson, as research says is beneficial for long-term retention as it reduces interference – allows the initial mistake to be forgotten and then re-encoded with no interference. It also aids the transfer of learning. It involves greater degree of processing therefore it is more powerful at the process level.

Making mistakes is ok, it is how we learn, it supports the development of learner’s metacognition. Giving constructive advice how a student can move forward and achieve his/her goal has the potential to double the impact of learning.

These are the types of feedback that I have been exploring in my classroom:


Verbal feedback: 

  1. ‘live’ in class during the teaching process – immediate/corrective – we do this all the time!

  2. using digital tools such as: Qwiqr which I have been using for feedback on our written CAE and my students liked it very much as they felt it was personal – the paper had 4 sections for foundation and 3 sessions for higher – each of my recoding was around 5 mins – there is no way I could write so much and frankly I doubt my students would be keen on reading long text. I have chosen one or two elements of the paper I wanted them to focus on improving (the ones which would have the highest impact on their grade in this case) and provided them with concrete point(s) – structure(s) and vocabulary they needed to apply to move their work forward. There are other tools teachers use; amongst others vocaroo, onenote, flipgrid or mote… essentially all very similar in their purpose.

Whole class feedback: this is something we are exploring as a department in more depth at the moment to make feedback more effective and ensuring students engage with it as we have found writing long individual comments was very time consuming – had a huge impact on workload but only small impact on students’ learning!

We designed 2 customised templates that we are starting to use – one for year 7 and the second for year 8-11 covering structures and content.

                                                                 Examples of whole class feedback

An excellent example of feedback template on assessment has been designed by Elena Diaz @TeacheryDiaz who used her 20 keys as feedback criteria – it is very thorough and provides a clear guidance and steps for students to follow. I have been permitted to adapt her keys (originally in Spanish to German) and below you can see her original version with a link to her blog where you can download the templates (click on her template) and my slightly adapted version.

 Elena’s assessment feedback template

Adapted template

Peer and self-assessment: as M. Chiles discusses in his opening chapter there are three feedback triggers of truth, identity and relationship to consider. When I trialled it myself, my experience has been similar to his. 

Either the feedback is positive because students are friends so they have positive relationship or if they are not there might be other issues/conflicts and student will request a second opinion via the teacher. Students often don’t see their peers as an expert so they question the validity or quality of the feedback. 

I, personally don’t think it is wise to ask students to provide a peer feedback on an assessment – high stakes with marks or grades awarded – students are not the experts. However, as suggested in the book we could ask them to provide ‘guided peer feedback’ to support and enhance each others learning. 

Previously, when I was dabbling into peer feedback myself, I didn’t provide a clear structure for peer feedback in my classroom, this is something I will be addressing in my practice to see whether my classes would benefit from it. I also think it is important to think and plan which students to pair up together in order to make it as effective as possible, walk students through the process, making sure they know what the criteria are and give them plenty of opportunities to practise.


LIFT (Learner Initiated Feedback Technique) is a strategy mentioned in the new Smith/Conti book on Memory What every language teacher should know – which I find intriguing – it is a good example of a metacognitive strategy – students write annotations/questions in their work regarding grammatical accuracy of their task (i.e. should I use ‘mit dem Auto’ or ‘bei dem Auto’) when expressing how they travelled. 

This informs us – teachers about our students’ difficulties and encourages a conversation which should make the correction more memorable.


During the remote teaching, I as many of us have, been using what I call ‘acknowledgement feedback’ – positive comment (Great detailed work! etc.) in response to the work the student has submitted, certificate for the hard work and effort – normally classed as an example of ineffective feedback as it doesn’t move learning forward. However, in the current situation this type of feedback plays an important role to keep students motivated as well as acknowledging their hard work and effort in such difficult times – we can not possibly mark every single piece of work submitted to us in detail, but it is important to ensure our students know their work is read and that it matters. It helps with building student – teacher relationships.


In conclusion, it is important to consider feedback from the perspective of the receiver as well. As mentioned earlier, it can have not just positive but also a negative impact on our learners which can consequently impact self-efficacy, confidence and motivation. 


I look forward to your comments and constructive feedback 😃.


References:


Michael Chiles: The Feedback Pendulum

Steve Smith/Gianfranco Conti: Memory – What every language teacher should know

thinkingdiaz.wordpress.com – assessment feedback template

https://rewithmrsmcgee.wordpress.com – original feedback loop – ours is an adaptation.

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