Effective Feedback

Success FailureFeedback isn’t criticism and feedback isn’t praise.  Feedback tells you specifically what you did well and what if anything would make your learning stronger or better. Good feedback encourages you to keep going even when you feel lost.

Before you learn something new you need to know specifically what you are going to learn and how you will know if you learned it. The most effective feedback is ongoing during learning or as soon as possible after instruction.  For example, I am currently going to a trainer for strength training.  I always thought I could just add a few reps with some weights, do a few sit ups and a few other things and I would be fine. Unfortunately, I ended up hurting myself several times(including a frozen shoulder)and finally just gave up.  I am an avid walker but something told me I still needed to add strength training.  I found a trainer that I really liked and she was excellent at giving feedback.  I had no idea I was holding the weights wrong.  I needed to back up and go slowly.    Before we start something new she always demonstrates what we will do.  I practice with her guiding me and when she catches me doing something wrong she will take hold of my arm for example and guide it. Then I start on my own and she watches me like a hawk to make sure I don’t hurt myself and am using the proper form and timing.  Somethings have taken me a very long time to accomplish.  After several months I have gotten so much stronger.  This kind of coaching with effective, specific and timely feedback is what has made the difference. My trainer lets me know what I am accomplishing too. “You held plank for 30 seconds.  I know you can do more.  You are doing very well with the 5 pound weights. Your form is great.  Lets try the 6 pound weights next time.”

As teachers we give feedback all day long.  If you are a teacher and see that some of your students are stuck, check in with your feedback.  Is it timely? Is it specific? Does it encourage your student to take on new challenges?  For example if you are a kindergarten teacher, you need to employ specific feedback almost immediately.  When I taught kindergarten, I made the mistake of giving a paper back the next day.  A few of the students recognized that it was theirs but most denied it outright!  If you are a high school English teacher you can wait a bit to return something to students with feedback and you may still get results.  Just remember that feedback must be specific.  A grade alone does not support deep learning.  Neither does, “good job!” Comment about what exactly  your student did  well.  Specific feedback on a piece of writing, would be something like, ” I like your idea. You captured my interest in the introduction with your questions and anecdote.”  If you just said good job, your student may not understand that they now know how to write an introduction that captures the audience. The more specific feedback you can give while students are practicing and trying it on their own, the more likely they will be to learn the objective. The more students know what they are doing right and what still needs work, the more likely they will be to challenge themselves to keep going.

If you are the learner, and are struggling with something, think about the kind of feedback your are getting.  Is it timely?  Is it specific? Does it encourage you to take on more challenges or do you just want to give up in frustration.

The other day, I held plank for one minute and ten seconds.  That was record for me.  My shoulders are doing much better and my goal is 10 pound weights with proper form.


What is your learning style?

Educatonal literature has many definitions of learning style. Figuring out what works best for you is an invaluable skill. Learning theory suggests that we are visual, auditory or kinesthetic learners. As a teacher and educator for many years I have found that trying to identify students learning styles in order to determine the best instructional strategies to employ is a tall order.

What I know about instruction has a great influence on my own style. What I have noticed in my students and in myself is that my learning style is different based on the task or content I am trying to learn. For some things I can pick up a book, read the directions and do it. A recipe for example. Anything I have a lot of background knowledge about is easy for me to read, listen to and do it. Things that challenge me more require that I interact with the content in some way. Sketch it out in a mind map, write down what I have learned, or perhaps talk about it with someone. For the most challenging learning, usually something I have little background knowledge about, I need an explanation, a demonstration,  practice that is guided and a chance to use the knowledge in an authentic way.

However, the  most important element of learning for me is getting effective feedback. The more constructive feedback I get along the way the more I learn and the longer I can persist without giving up. Without good  feedback, I can flounder and not be very productive  I need feedback even for easy learning such as following a recipe.  Comments like, wow this tastes great, sends the message that this recipe is worth trying again. Another form of feedback that is equally important is when I make a mistake, perhaps the time I accidentally substituted salt for sugar is a good example! With effective feedback I can learn from my mistakes and persist through frustration

How to deliver effective feedback is the title for another post!


Don’t Take Yourself So Seriously!

Mauka Meadows 008This is a picture of a place on the Big Island of Hawaii.  It is part of a coffee plantation, Mauka Meadows.  I took this picture on a visit with some friends. At the time I was an assistant superintendent of schools. It was a big job and often took a lot out of me. One of our friends said as he looked over this beautiful view, “Everyone needs to come here at least once a year so that you learn not to take yourself so seriously.” It was just the advice I needed at the time. Sometimes we get so caught up in the day to day solving of problems, juggling all sorts of details and events that we forget how to stop and realize that we are only a small part of this amazing planet.  As an educator I am very passionate about the opportunities that education provides.  I want everyone to have a great education!  What my friend was trying to tell me was that I couldn’t do all and change the world by myself. I now know  that we have to work together to create sustainable change.

Sometimes, we really need to get away from our daily routine, step back and see where we fit in the world. Do you have a place to go where you are so amazed by the beauty of nature that it reminds you to be grateful and not take yourself so seriously?  You don’t need to go to Hawaii.  It might be to stand over your sleeping child or having your dog or cat greet you at the door after a long day.

We get caught up in trying to make the world a better place.  We get frustrated by the constraints that stop us from making our vision into a reality.  Every job has constraints.  Ask any of your friends and acquaintances what constraints do they deal with in their work, that makes them crazy.  Everyone has a list.

As part of my new year’s goals I am going to keep a gratitude journal. I will let you know how it goes.  Happy New Year Everyone.

New Year New Learning

I have been absent from blogging for a while. I am ready to begin again. I am excited about taking a course from WordPress, Blogging 101.
Alexander Learns is a  blog is about learning. I have been an educator for 40 years and I am passionate about education and helping and encouraging educators to make the most of their practice.  Teachers and teaching matters. Educators enable students to learn at high levels, to communicate, to collaborate and to create. 

 I am also interested in learning how to help students use their voices through blogging. Many of the posts will be specifically for educators.  Some will be for students, some for parents and some for anyone who is interested in learning something new and sharing learning.