Recipes surprise me. Not the end result, although the idea of making a recipe without knowing the end result is kind of cool. The surprise comes from not knowing what steps are next. I don’t plan ahead. I look at each step as its own project. It makes preparation time exciting and fun. I jump into a recipe not even knowing if I will be able to finish it. When I find important items, it is like winning an Olympic medal. Even though I have never won an Olympic medal, I can only assume the feeling is the same.
There are times when I realize that I am out of exotic ingredients like Tahitian tomatoes, blue chocolate, or eggs. I end up improvising or adding bacon. These last-minute adjustments sometimes work, but usually turn out as terribly as you’d think, leaving me with either a bland, boring meal or an inedible culinary crime. At least I have a general guideline of what to expect and hours of experience. I have some sort of dish in mind that allows me to prepare for any gaps in my spice cabinet. If I make a mistake, I can consult the instructions and know how to fix it. The recipe gives me clear feedback, not only of expectations, but of how to fix problems.
Imagine how students feel when they look down at a project and see a score, but nothing else. They may learn what a 90 looks like, but they have no idea why it is a 90 and how they could receive a higher grade. It is like they are flying blind with no idea of a destination.
Purposeful feedback may be the most important part of the instructional experience. It is where so much individualized teaching occurs. It gives you an opportunity to take a student’s work and provide personalized comments on how they can improve.
Effective feedback should be designed to lead a student to a goal. It should not tell them exactly how to get there. Rather, it allows them to compare their own work to the desired final product in order for them to determine what they need to do in order to complete the task.
Students should be the major driver in how to get to that point. Student discussions, of their own work and others, are much more powerful than a teacher telling them what to do.
Use prompting questions in feedback that lead to the students thinking about not only the final project, but the steps to reach that end.
Specific Feedback vs. General
Feedback should be detailed. Let the students know what aspects of the assignment you would like them to focus on, and let them know why. Saying, “How can this be better” is a nice question to ask, but if they knew how it could be better, wouldn’t they already do it? Ask them specific questions about their work. “What can you do to the first paragraph to make it more descriptive?”, “What parts of your subject’s life do you think are most important?”, or “How does this map compare to ones you see in the book?” are examples of detailed questions that point out a specific area for the students to look at without giving them the answer.
Overall, feedback should be clear. If the students don’t get any information from the feedback, they will likely tune it out and look at it as just a grade or a comment. It will end up tucked away in a weekly folder or locker, and the students will not benefit from it.
A recipe really is just instructions to self-direct ourselves to a delicious meal. Feedback in the classroom serves as instructions to teach students a specific concept. As students step off of the path, feedback guides them, but does not take them, to the goal. In short, it is when learning happens.
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