Have you ever gone into a classroom where the instruction was soooo bad, you weren’t sure where to start?
In fact, I used to really struggle to give teachers – particularly struggling teachers – meaningful feedback, especially when there was so much about their practice that needed work.
How do you give struggling teachers feedback that will actually make a difference without overwhelming them with a laundry list of things to improve?
ONE thing feedback.
Here’s how ONE thing feedback works. Instead of giving teachers a laundry list of feedback, you try to drill down to the root cause of their practice. If you can identify the root cause and you can get the teacher focused on that first, you can help the teacher make HUGE gains very quickly.
So how do you figure out the ONE thing?
Here’s the process I use:
First, I list all the things that happened in the classroom good and bad. For instance, my list for a classroom I recently observed looked something like this:
- It took 3 minutes from the time the bell rang to get students in their seats
- The teacher spent 10 minutes doing a warm-up exercise where students were to list 5 characteristics that best described them.
- The goal on the board for the day was, “Students will be able to identify character traits of main character.”
- Several students were off-task during the warm up. Some had heads on desks.
- The warm up was not collected or discussed.
- The teacher spent most of the warm up trying to get a resistant student to work.
- 3 students asked questions during the warm up (procedural). Each time the teacher called the entire class to attention to answer the questions.
- Transition to the main lesson took 6 minutes mostly because students had to get up and get their text from the class bookshelf.
- The teacher read a story aloud from the text. Many students had books closed or heads on desk.
- After the teacher read the story, the teacher asked comprehension questions about the story.
- Several students could not answer the question but the teacher offered them the opportunity to “phone a friend.”
- The teacher then asked students to list the key character traits of the main character on a graphic organizer.
- Students asked procedural questions, “Can we use pencil? Is this due at the end of the period?”
- Students worked on the graphic organizers for the remainder of the period. The teacher circulated and answered questions.
- At the end of the period, the teacher collected the papers.
Next, I go through my list and for each item I ask myself, “If the teacher improved in this one area and everything else stayed the same, does the lesson get significantly better?”
After going through my list, I realized that I was seeing a few patterns.
- There was a clear lack of routines.
- There was very little rigor in the lesson
- There was very little explanation of why students were completing tasks.
So, I used the same question above to determine which of the three factors would make the biggest impact on the teacher’s practice right now.
Can you guess which one I chose?
I decided that of the three factors, the root cause was that the teacher needed to focus on rigorous instruction. Here’s why:
If the teacher had clear routines but still offered very unrigorous activities, the lesson doesn’t get significantly better. And, if the teacher explained why students where completing tasks but continued to give them low-level tasks, the lesson doesn’t improve.
But, if the teacher improved the rigor of the lesson, then the lesson would have more structure and the learning tasks. Plus the learning tasks would make more sense.
So while I may mention the other things during my post-observation conversation, the main focus will be on rigor.
That’s the power of the ONE thing. When you use it right, you can give teachers feedback that will have the biggest impact on their practice.
But there’s another benefit of ONE thing feedback.
ONE thing feedback gets everyone focused and accountable.
When the teacher leaves the conversation, what will he focus on?
When I go back into that teacher’s classroom, what am I going to be looking for?
When I look for support and resources for that teacher, where will I focus?
That’s right, Rigor.
That kind of clarity creates instant accountability.
So, if you want to give more powerful feedback, especially to struggling teachers, ONE thing feedback is the way to go. It not only gives teachers a clear focus, by identifying the ONE thing, you help teachers feedback that will make the biggest difference in their practice.