Feedback is Universal

My sixth grade daughter struggles with math…a lot. There are myriad reasons that contribute, but the bottom line is she is not finding success, and it tears me apart.

So, I’ve been reflecting…a lot. In the pool when I swim laps, on my bike as I tick off the miles, on the road as I negotiate our two dogs through squirrel infested neighborhoods. I tell her what we need to do through my most helpful concerned mom-isms. I’m emotionally charged and am reacting instinctively wanting to protect her, feeling defensive, all the while trying to stop the bleeding. But, when I take a step back—breathe—and think about how I would approach a student who struggles, say with writing, I realize I have some tools to apply to our situation.

A timely blog post arrived in my Inbox last week from Indent, written by Kate and Maggie Roberts, two evangelists from the Teachers College Reading Writing Project. The post’s focus is on critique. One of the points that stood out to me was:

Giving feedback doesn’t just mean dumping what we think on our students and then walking away. Listening and questioning is just as important as talking.”

Just last week, I’d bombarded my daughter with suggestions and prescriptions and advice; I am chagrined to report I never once asked a discerning question or listened to her ideas, two tenets of conferring I used in my own classroom practice—duh!

Feedback is a Strategy both Robert Marzano (Classroom Instruction that Works) and John Hattie (Visible Learning) tout as high-leverage, meaning that when practiced with fidelity, can lead to exceptional growth in student performance. Conferring is an activity or a means of delivering feedback. To be most effective, according to Marzano, feedback needs to be corrective in nature, timely, and specific to correction.

Descriptive Feedback

The structure of conferring in the classroom follows a predictable (though not always perfect) trajectory. We conduct research while observing students work, taking heart to identify needs then decide on a path of instruction, finally explain and provide an example and reminder or link to using the strategy in the future. Although this framework can be a challenge in a class period with organized chaos bubbling around us, it can be a powerful tool for specific, timely feedback to a student. With classes bursting at the seams, teachers often find success in small group conferring, when you’re able to identify a group (close to proficient?) who may benefit from a strategic intervention that helps them reach a benchmark.

Tovani 2

I suspect giving feedback to my 12-year-old at home will be a bit of a different experience than when I’m in the classroom. Maybe it’s that preteen attitude or the fact that I’m the parent or perhaps it’s the mood she woke up with today. But, I have a protocol to work from, her teacher as back-up, and the Internet for resources. What could possibly go wrong? I’ll keep you (blog)posted on her progress!


4 thoughts on “Feedback is Universal

    1. Bruce Schmidt

      Outstanding post. If we take the time to provide feedback, especially in the form of individual conferencing during guided practice, then we not only provide academic support, but we also forge strong relationships with our kids. I believed the duplicity in this strategy is why it has such a positive impact on student learning. Good stuff.


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