I thought about that a couple of days ago during my last day with the teachers at Farristown Middle School. We have already finished our study of Cris Tovani’s So What Do they Really Know? and spent this final meeting looking at teachers’ application of Tovani’s ideas. Every teacher brought a set of student work with feedback on it and walked the group through their feedback practice. The rest of us had the chance to ask questions about the feedback we saw and find opportunities to strengthen our own feedback practice by “recycling” what works. Importantly, we used Tovani’s instruction, especially from her chapter “Feedback that Fortifies,” as a lens for our observations and a filter for our language.
We took from Tovani the following “truisms”:
- Feedback should be timely (we struggled with how to quantify that - it's always daunting)
- Feedback should occur regularly
- Feedback should be given in student-friendly terms (a Farristown math teacher handles this well by using students’ names as she writes to them)
- Feedback should promote revision in the work students are doing and/or the thinking they need to do going forward
- Feedback should connect to (and inspire) minilessons
- Feedback should occur throughout the work process (only at the end, in response to summative work, is too late to do students any real good)
- Feedback should balance positive comments and statements suggesting areas for growth
- Grades are not feedback
By the time we met on Friday, teachers had heard these ideas several times. But the deliberate move from theory to practice clearly resonated with teachers. They took a risk by exposing themselves to their colleagues. The ideas they shared were their own, things that worked with their students. The questions they asked of each other were prompted by real concerns and a shared desire to engage ever-more effectively with their own students. It was clear that they had been influenced by Tovani, and equally clear that they had adapted her ideas to the needs, learning styles, experiences and voices of their students. When they shared the work students had done, their responses to that work, and the difference it made to student learning, they showed that they owned the practice of feedback. By that ultimate moment in our time together, it wasn’t Tovani talking any longer, the wisdom we gained from each other on Friday is theirs.