10 tips for providing constructive feedback remotely
At the moment we are being challenged to do everything differently – and that includes providing meaningful feedback to our pupils.
While it’s obvious how much hard work is going into generating remote learning activities, we need to beware the pitfall of merely setting ‘busy work’ (for more on this, see this article from John Hattie). Instead we need to set pupils tasks that are designed to practise what they cannot yet do and then to provide meaningful feedback that moves them closer to their target.
Effective learning cannot exist in a vacuum
It’s also important that we try to keep our pupils connected to their learning community and to each other. Feedback is an ideal mechanism for ensuring that pupils feel seen and heard. Effective learning cannot exist in a vacuum and I would argue that real damage could be done to pupils’ motivation if they are ploughing through their online learning but without receiving useful feedback.
Whether you are delivering lessons online or providing work to be completed remotely, providing feedback will be challenging.
In the online classroom, we will be unable to accurately observe how our comments are being perceived by the pupils and to adapt as we normally would.
For work completed remotely, the challenges are even greater. How do we know exactly which pupils are participating and to what degree? How can we set expectations around accessing and then assessing pupil’s work whilst avoiding unnecessary pressure on pupils and their families?
Avoid the temptation to overload pupils with reams of content
Particular sensitivity will obviously be needed for more vulnerable pupils who may have limited opportunity to learn remotely or who may lack support from home.
Three general principles to bear in mind when giving feedback
- As Dylan Wiliam likes to say, effective feedback improves the person not just the work. We can help to develop growth mindsets in our learners by giving feedback based on the learning process and not just the end product. Ask pupils to ‘show their working’ whenever possible and provide feedback on that process. Help to ensure the longevity and impact of feedback by encouraging pupils to think about the question ‘where and when else might this help you?’
- Metacognition (pupils thinking and talking about their own learning) has a huge effect size. This skill can be cultivated in the feedback process.
- The most important feedback is that which pupils provide to their teacher and not the other way around (John Hattie, Visible Learning for Teachers: Maximizing Impact on Learning, 2011).
Practical strategies to try in the online classroom
Avoid the temptation to overload pupils with reams of content. Instead, focus the lessons around common misconceptions and the trickiest concepts. The Pareto (80:20) principle would suggest that 20% of a curriculum powers progress through the other 80%. At this time, I would recommend concentrating your efforts on this ‘golden’ 20%.
- Centralise success criteria and ensure that these are explored at the start of any unit/lesson and referred to frequently within the teaching.
- Bring feedback into the lesson e.g. by displaying two anonymous model answers and asking pupils to critique and compare them. Discuss which is most successful and why.
- Live marking of anonymous answers (or exemplars that you have produced) is a highly effective feedback strategy. Explain where and why you are awarding marks as you go. Next, ask pupils to consider their own work alongside the exemplar that you have just marked and to select up to three targets for them to address immediately in their own work. Invite them to complete their corrections in another coloured pen thus rendering them more obvious and more memorable for the pupils.
- Up-levelling – model exactly how to improve a piece of anonymous work, annotating and explaining as you do so. Invite suggestions from pupils if appropriate. Next, ask pupils to replicate what you have just done. They should make two or three positive changes to their own work, again using a different colour to signal where they have done so.
For work completed remotely
Realistically, we may receive a barrage of work from some pupils and none at all from others. Make feedback more manageable by requesting that work is submitted in a standard format and by a particular day each week. Explain to pupils when they can expect to hear back from you.
- Using whatever technology suits best, encourage pupils to share with you the work that they have completed but ensure that is this manageable e.g. ‘Send me two pieces of work that you are proud of this week’.
- Again, clear expectations will support effective feedback. Ensure that success criteria are clearly presented from the outset. These may be rather more generic than usual e.g. Read one chapter of the book daily and write a summary. This allows pupils to track their own progress.
- For each piece of work, encourage pupils to mark their own work and to label where they have included the specific success criteria. You could go further and invite them to suggest their own EBI (Even Better If) comment. Although you may still add teacher comments, pupils’ self-annotation means that they often identity – and correct – omissions and errors before they submit their work. Metacognitive reflection in action.
- Provide access to a piece of completed work that you have marked or up-levelled (see above). This could be a piece of clearly annotated work showing what scored and why or, in some cases, a video with commentary would have maximum impact. Invite pupils to look at the example carefully and to choose two or three similar improvements or targets to apply to their own work.
Feedback Friday – incentivise pupils’ engagement throughout the week by explaining that on a Friday you will be ‘revealing’ the scores which you are awarding for particular tasks. Ensure that these link to the success criteria shared with pupils previously. Think gamification: keep the tone light thus encouraging pupils to check in and see how many points (or similar) they have accrued in that week.
- e.g. One chapter read each day plus short summary produced = 10 points per day
- Two maths worksheets completed and self marked = 50 points
- Great artwork produced = 20 points
- Daily online login = 15 points per day
You can obviously tailor both the complexity of the tasks and the scoring system to suit your class but do encourage pupils to track and record the points they accrue as this really helps to validates their participation.
- Ensure that you seek feedback from the pupils. As we are not there to witness the subtle cues communicated by pupils whilst they work in the way we usually would, we need to build in more mechanisms for pupils to communicate with us.
This could take the form of an online EXIT card (‘Tell me one thing you have found tricky this week/lesson’) or perhaps a diagnostic hinge (challenge) question that reflects the key learning of the week and allows you to see quickly who may still be struggling. Do not forget that many parents may well be struggling to help their children too so a parent version of the ‘Exit card’ may be equally useful and, undoubtedly, much appreciated.