Make your Feedback more Productive

Providing feedback for learning is complex. If it feels easy all the time, then I suggest it is time to take a step back and consider whether your feedback is having a healthy impact. Feedback is not just about learning and improvement, it is about people. As a result, it can have far reaching impacts on another person. We need to make sure that our feedback is working in the right ways.

We all know that feedback provides opportunities for learning and reflection. The feedback process deepens understanding of skills and practices necessary for learning.

However, often feedback is not very effective. It is easy to get caught up in the feedback message itself that you are trying to convey, with no connection to the goals themselves — and not putting the onus back on the other person to change.

Do you want to become better at providing feedback?

There are key understandings that need to be in place first to ensure that our feedback is meaningful and productive. I cannot promise that you will never make mistakes, but I can state with confidence that if you think about the following key ideas, you will become better at providing feedback.

While there are also many different ways to deliver feedback at any given moment, we don’t know how the ‘other’ will perceive that feedback. We must consider the other to anticipate the effectiveness of our feedback. If the other does not perceive it well, then it will have no impact. Therefore, it is essential to have a clear plan to hone the feedback so that it promotes meaningful improvement.

What do we need to consider?

First and foremost, building relationships is key to providing solid feedback. When you have relationships, you have more opportunity to become attuned to the needs of learners, and also of the feelings and behaviours that the feedback could be triggering. You also learn how to deliver feedback in nuanced ways that allow it to be perceived in more productive ways. Feedback can elicit negative psychological triggers for many people, including children who feel unsafe. Therefore, in working up to providing quality feedback, relationship-building needs to be built into the fabric of the system.

Next, feedback must be purposeful. Two components that are essential include:

  • setting clear learning goals
  • designing worthwhile and meaningful work.

Both components are essential for creating the necessary frameworks for providing effective feedback. Once these components have been planned with the learning needs in mind, and the needs of the company or system.

Goals are more effective when they can be personalized, and also incorporate performance tasks, and broader understandings of how the work all ties together for the greater good. It is always a great idea to have employees, students or learners keep track of key goals somewhere. Tracking is a great way to obtain feedback about past performance as well. Reflecting on this will take learning to even deeper levels.

Feedback as Microscope, Snapshot & Telescope

According to Brookhart (2005), there are three different ways that we can look at giving feedback. The first is feedback from the lens of a microscope. Here we are thinking deeper about the content of our message, and we can ask ourselves questions including:

  • Is my feedback evaluative or descriptive?
  • What are the needs of the person who will be hearing the feedback?
  • How might they react? How do I know?
  • Is my feedback timely?
  • Does the feedback contain the correct amount of information?
  • What goals is the feedback truly connected with? The person? Their goals? The task? The process?
  • Is my feedback positive and clear? Specific, but not too specific?

Second, zooming out a bit, we look at our feedback from the lens of a snapshot, and we ask ourselves different questions including:

  • what am I learning with and from my students?

Finally, we can zoom out even further and consider our feedback from the lens of a telescope. The big picture. Here, we are seeking evidence of improvement. This is where clear connections to the overall goals become instrumental for reflection and planning next steps.

  • What are the goals?
  • What will be considered appropriate and relevant?
  • How will the feedback be followed up on?
  • How will it be tracked?
  • How will it influence future work and improvement?

Placing learning goals and corresponding success criteria into a checklist for learners to record next steps is a strategy that has worked well for me in the past. This checklist can provide a guideline to these ends.

Anticipating what we already know

Anticipating how others will respond is a great tool that can help us prepare with several strategies. If questions cause distress, then perhaps prompts will work better. Sometimes it may be better to have a system in place for everyone including contributing to system-wide plans where connections to goals and evidence of learning are made explicit to everyone. Some people may need gentle conversations to start . And some may require more time to implement changes. Consider this model as a framework that you can use to think about how someone will process feedback:

The Transtheoretical Change theory by Prochaska & DiClemente provides us with a great illustration of the stages of change. Keeping this in mind can help us to understand where someone is at in terms of readiness to use feedback effectively.

The stages are:

1. Precontemplation Stage: Here, the learner has not considered that the learning goals have anything to do with them. They may not see a need for change or improvement yet. Feedback here may need to focus on providing reasons for why the goals are important, or helping them to set more personalized and meaningful learning goals.

2. Contemplation Stage: The learner is starting to think about the feedback. They are becoming motivated. They may need to hear it a few more times, or have more opportunities to see why it is important.

3. Determination Stage: The learner is taking ownership of the feedback, and preparing to make the change. They are willing to access supports, get organized, and making plans to move forward.

4. Action Stage: The feedback is having an impact. There is evidence of learning and improvement. Perhaps sales or scores are increasing, perhaps morale is on the rise, stronger growth mindsets are being cultivated. The learner may still need a lot of practice, reinforcement and encouragement.

5. Maintenance Stage: How do we get the changes to go deep? Transfer to long-term memory? Foster new habits? Promote new skills? A new set of strategies may be necessary here to maintain motivation — even during the difficult times. Motivation is not constant, so how can we help those who falter here and there?

Perhaps it sounds daunting to think about some of the types of feedback that an educator It is essential to build relationships, identify learning needs and set strong and meaningful learning goals. Also, think about whether your feedback will be given through a microscope, snapshot, or telescope lens. Understand that not everyone will be in the same place at the same time, therefore, feedback will not be received in the same ways by everyone. Consider the different ways that feedback can be delivered and shared, cultivated and reinforced to encourage success, and always consider what others will do with the feedback.

Keep these key ideas in mind, and your feedback will become more productive and purposeful — mistakes guaranteed.