Feedback, Feedforward, FEED ME!

Isn't it so true that we often do not truly appreciate something as a teacher until the tables are turned and we become a learner? Over the past few years we as a school have had quite a focus on the quality of the feedback we give students. We have begun using rubrics, success criteria, WALTs and feedforward. For some of the teachers this has been not been as easy a task as we would have liked, but we are well on our way.

The importance of the whole feedforward debate has become very real to me recently. This year I decided to immerse myself into the world of post graduate studies and am now two thirds of the way through my second paper. The university which I have enrolled in has a handbook outlining all the criteria for which essays are graded on. In total there are five areas of Assessment Criteria including; relevance, coverage, critical thinking, creative thinking and presentation. Within each of the Assessment Criteria there are five levels of achievement; fail, pass, credit, distinction and high distinction. Each of the levels of achievement has two or three statements of clarification or objectives. All in all the college is VERY explicit in their expectations and success criteria for students.

As I sat down to write my first paper I was understandably a little nervous, it was the first assignment I had written in ten or more years and I was completely naive about the level needed for a masters level paper...although I did have the assessment criteria to comfort me AND the lecturer had taken his time to email me his interpretation of the assessment and exactly what he would be looking for while grading this assignment.

On the return of the paper to my surprise I had done relatively well and did even better than just passing, most definitely due to having a clear understanding of what the lecturer was looking for.  HOWEVER, for me the most important part of the reporting back was the good amount of feedback on the areas I which had performed strongly in and the areas I needed to improve on...GREAT! As I began to write my second assignment I had the knowledge of exactly what the lecturer expected of me and the areas which I needed to be more careful in. On the return of the assignment thankfully I found I had improved on my previous grade! Feedforward works!

BUT...then came my second paper. Diligently I sat down to write my second with the comfort an email from my new lecturer to say "Sorry I haven't made contact with you earlier, details about me are in the college handbook, [Lecturer]." Eek, no interpretation of the assessment from his behalf and no idea if the guy had a sense of humour or anything to assist me in writing to him.

Needless to say I was concerned about the grade I would receive as I had little idea as to the lecturer's expectations but was looking forward to the return of my paper so I would gain a little insight to what he was looking for and have a much better understanding of the areas I needed to improve on for the second assignment. Wow, the excitement and anticipation of the return of the paper came crashing down with a generic comment thanking me for the paper however my bibliography was not correctly laid out! FEED ME!!! That was not the worst of it. The worst of it was that the grade he awarded me was not even a grade which the college defined in it's handbook!

I stewed on it for a week or two, not sure what to do and eventually decided that I needed to make contact with the lecturer and asked him for some further information on the areas I did well in (if any), the areas which I needed to improve on for a better grade next time and lastly to highlight the areas of incorrect styling in the bibliography. Unbelievably, the email he returned stated that actually the bibliography was the correct style but that most others completing the paper had not styled the bibliography correctly! What does that mean for me and my baffling grade?

There are times in life which we need to simply learn a lesson and move on! This whole, unpleasant and awkward situation has brought to light the absolute importance of the need for quality feedback/feedforward. Students in our care need direction on how to improve and recognition for areas they are doing well.

Before you sit down and write 'Well Done' in a student's book please consider the scenario above and FEED the STUDENT, it helps them grow!


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