Writing Workshop News

Issue 30: The Importance of Timely Feedback

"Most of all, for feedback to be effective, it must move learning forward in a positive way, be ongoing, and happen in a timely manner close to the actual teaching/learning experience." ~ Regie Routman

I vividly remember those nights as a classroom teacher when I simply "took my bag for a walk." Do any of you know what I am referring to? Those were the evenings I had every intention of reading and making comments on every student's paper, but in the end, I simply dragged my bag home and set it next to the couch where it sat the rest of the night, papers untouched. I'm ashamed to admit it, but sometimes those "walks" happened repeatedly. Too tired, too busy, too overwhelmed. . . I'm sure I always had a "good" reason. The bottom line? Sometimes my students would go days, even weeks, without feedback, even though I knew acknowledging the ways my writers were improving while helping them consider what their next steps might be would do more to accelerate their learning than anything else. Yet I often chipped away at the less demanding assignments because they took less time and were easier to grade. Then when I finally did take the time to provide feedback, I'd hand back students' papers only to find them looking at me with bewilderment, trying desperately to remember what the piece was about and when they had written it, no longer caring because so much time had passed. Obviously, I needed to make some changes.

To begin, I needed to truly understand what feedback was. According to Grant Wiggins in Seven Keys to Effective Feedback, ". . . feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal." For example, I shoot a basketball with the goal of scoring 2 points. I try a new chocolate chip cookie recipe and hear from Taylor that he loves it because the cookies are soft and chewy while Brandt tells me he likes my old recipe better because it doesn't contain nuts. Wiggins provides other specific examples of effective feedback:

  • "A friend tells me, 'You know, when you put it that way and speak in that softer tone of voice, it makes me feel better.'"
  • "A reader comments on my short story, 'The first few paragraphs kept my full attention. The scene painted was vivid and interesting. But then the dialogue became hard to follow; as a reader, I was confused about who was talking, and the sequence of actions was puzzling, so I became less engaged.'"

So just how do we ensure we are providing effective feedback that will move our students forward as learners? Ultimately, feedback should be timely. "As educators, we should work overtime to figure out ways to ensure that students get more timely feedback and opportunities to use it while the attempt and effects are still fresh in their minds. Before you say that this is impossible, remember that feedback does not need to come only from the teacher. . ." (Wiggins 2012) Yet with all the new initiatives, state testing, and demands on teachers' and students' time, how do we make providing effective feedback a priority? Wiggins's response? ". . . remember that 'no time to give and use feedback' actually means 'no time to cause learning.' As we have seen, research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning."

Next week, we'll revisit feedback, focusing on how to make it user-friendly and actionable.

Teachers' Corner

Are you doing something that's inspiring the writers and readers in your classroom? Have you personally read a book or written something that YOU'D like to share? Please send me your ideas, your thoughts about books, your pieces of writing, your strategies for working with students. I'll share them here as inspirations for other teachers!