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September 1, 2017
Vol. 59
No. 9

T.G.I. "Feedback" Friday

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Instructional StrategiesAssessment
In classrooms, teachers are accustomed to hearing administrators ask, "Would you like some feedback?" But when I began hearing my students ask the same question, it completely altered my outlook.
To receive feedback on my practice (especially feedback for growth), I placed a folder inside my classroom with forms asking for one positive comment (or a "YES!" moment) and one thing to think about (a "Consider … " moment). I invited my 5th graders, as well as colleagues, administrators, and visitors, to observe the class and offer feedback. This practice quickly spread.
Soon students were asking adults for feedback when they visited our room. They asked questions about participation and discussion: Did I build on the ideas of my classmates? They also began asking one another feedback-style questions: Was I reading with expression and fluency? We discussed the positive effect that feedback was having on our classroom, and then we took it one step further, to Feedback Friday.

What Is Feedback Friday?

Feedback Friday was a designated time each week when students could sit down with me one-on-one to share their observations. Students were comfortable providing feedback on my teaching practice when I modeled a math problem or shared a piece of my own writing—but I wanted to move past that into what they were thinking and feeling about our classroom. Prior to implementing Feedback Friday, I gave students a specific look-for, something I wanted feedback on. But once we normalized the culture of feedback in our classroom, they understood that I was soliciting feedback to become more effective, not to hear praise. If they offered positive feedback, they also had to give me feedback that fed forward.
Our first Feedback Friday was a huge success, and it quickly evolved. Students could fill out feedback forms at any time (anonymously if they chose) and follow up during our Friday meetings.
Among many other ideas, students have made these suggestions:
  • Offer encouragement or feedback related to student-specific goals.
  • Be more aware of whom I call on in different subject areas (a student pointed out that I rarely call on her during math).
  • Keep up-to-date with things like anchor charts and the class schedule.
  • Utilize one-to-one devices in different ways during math block.
One student also let me know that I unconsciously use a "telling signal" when a student gives me the wrong answer—I tilt my head to the right slightly.

Why Ask Students?

The feedback I received from students was better than any I'd ever received on an evaluation. My peers and administrators meant well but were hesitant to provide comments that could be interpreted as negative. But students weren't afraid to call me out on not-so-great habits or question the purpose of specific lessons or activities. They made me examine my practice in ways that I had never done before—in ways that were sometimes uncomfortable.
It was important for me to model that feedback is a process, not a one-time thing. So I tried to check in with students after a week or two to see if my response to their feedback was noticeable or effective.
I also shared some of the feedback with the class (after getting the student's approval) to discuss whether others agreed. We talked over some of their ideas:
  • I should change seating arrangements more frequently.
  • My mini-lessons should be shorter to allow students more practice time.
  • I should assign less group work and more independent work (or more group work, less independent work).
When students occasionally provided unhelpful feedback—such as comments on my hair or clothes, on schedule changes beyond my control, or on other students—we talked about ways to reframe the statements or offer something new.
There were times when the feedback I received couldn't be acted upon—and I missed an opportunity to communicate that with the class. Students sometimes wanted to know why we used a specific instructional approach—for instance, why we studied social issues in our book clubs or why we had to explain our thinking in math. I regret that I didn't always explain these approaches fully. This wasn't feedback from students trying to get out of work; it was feedback from students who hadn't heard a viable reason why yet. It was my job to provide that.
Feedback Friday transformed our classroom so much that we were able to move past a dedicated "feedback time" and weave feedback into our daily lives. Students learned they could ask, "Would you like some feedback about … ?" if there was something they wanted me to hear. Seeking feedback from my students was the right decision for me, and I encourage other teachers to try it.

Would you like to write for the next "Road Tested" column? Click here for submission details.

Taylor Meredith is an instructional coach at Kipling Elementary School in Deerfield, Illinois.

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