Effective feedback, whether you are giving it to teachers or to students has four basic characteristics. Effective feedback is:
Timely: There is a big difference between feedback and evaluation. Evaluation provides an assessment of your performance at a specific place in time. The point of evaluation is judgment – you’re either good or bad, right or wrong, meets standard or below standard, effective or ineffective. Feedback, on the other hand, provides you with ongoing information on how you are doing and how close you are to your goals. Thus, in order for feedback to be effective, we must give people feedback PRIOR to being evaluated so that they have a chance to make adjustments, corrections, or complete changes to their performance and get closer to their ultimate goals.
Targeted: There is also a big difference between feedback and advice. Advice offers suggestions for improvement. Feedback on the other hand provides data on my current performance. It points to specific actions or behaviors and the effect these have on my reaching my ultimate goal or outcome. If you only give me advice, I have no context for your advice because I am not sure how your advice relates to MY performance. By giving me targeted feedback, you show me that you are dialed in to my individual performance rather than offering generic advice (“you need to work harder on your writing”), or even vague praise (“good job.”).
Tangible: Tangible feedback is focused on things we can actually do something about. It is actionable. Thus if a student is struggling with their writing, rather than write a quick “awk” next to an awkwardly constructed sentence, you could write “The way that this sentence is constructed confused me. I got lost with all the different pronouns and couldn’t keep track of who did what to whom.” With “awk.” I am not sure what to do. With the more tangible feedback I know that the key to correcting that sentence is to clear up the pronoun use. The same is true when giving feedback to teachers. Opaque feedback like “the students were not engaged” is a lot less powerful than saying, “When you spent 10 minutes working through one problem on the board, I noticed that although all students were initially paying attention to the board, about 3 minutes into your explanation, I counted 13 of your 28 students who were fidgeting, doodling, passing notes, and talking to other students as your back was turned.”
Tied to Goals: The point of feedback is to give people information about their progress towards a goal. Thus, your feedback needs to have a clear connection to the learning or professional goal and needs to show students or teachers how close they are to achieving that goal and point them to the best next steps they need to take in order to achieve that goal.
Over the next few weeks, I am going to break each of these concepts down a little more and give you a few tips and strategies you can use to make your feedback more timely, targeted, tangible, and tied to a goal. Next week, I’ll show you how you can get feedback to your students or teachers more quickly.