Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Are You Open to Feedback?

I've been thinking a lot lately about feedback, in particular how we give it and how we gather it. Last month I blogged about my obsession with the feedback I receive from the activity tracker on my Apple watch. I love that the feedback and progress monitoring of my daily activity is INSTANT and easily ACCESSIBLE! This spurred my thinking towards feedback in education. Do we, as teachers and administrators, give feedback to students and teachers in a way that is easily ACCESSIBLE and INSTANT? Do we give feedback in a way that leads to GROWTH? Are we helping students track their progress so they can see their personal growth? Are we encouraging teachers to seek out feedback from one another and reflect on their personal growth? Above all, are we seeking out feedback from those we work with and serve? Each of these questions could be its own blog post; this post is my reflection on seeking feedback from those we serve. 

Back when I was an upper-elementary classroom teacher, one of my favorite strategies to get feedback from my students was on a quarter sheet of paper. Each morning when my students arrived, they wrote one quick reflective sentence to express their thoughts on a) how they felt about yesterday's lesson, b) how their morning was going up to that point, OR c) anything else they felt compelled to share. Most of the time students had the freedom to choose the topic for their reflection sentence, but occasionally I would ask them to reflect on something specific. Students dropped these small slips of paper into a basket in the back of the room. As I read through them (which honestly took no more than 5 minutes because they were truly one sentence reflections), I quickly had a pulse of what was on my students' minds and what was going on in their lives. There were times when the reflections indicated that there was an issue with classroom culture or that several students were struggling with our current math unit, but other times it revealed a student's issue outside of school. Regardless of the topic, more often than not, these little slips of paper were feedback FOR ME from my students. I used this daily feedback to determine what my students needed, emotionally and academically, and how I could better serve them. 
As I think about classrooms today, there are so many ways that teachers can collect feedback from students. First, the teacher needs to decide what they want feedback on (i.e. a lesson, classroom procedures, etc.), and then decide the best method to gather feedback. If the teacher has created a culture of trust, a classroom discussion is a simple way to gather feedback from students about classroom procedures. Class meetings were always my favorite way to get input from students about classroom and campus happenings. The meetings following a few days with a sub always gave me great insight into the classroom while I was away. With all of the emojis we have access to today, teachers could have some emoji cards made and allow students to choose the one that best represents how they feel about a lesson, a concept, a new strategy the teacher used, etc. This would give the teacher feedback in one quick glance. Another way I have seen teachers gather feedback from students is through the use of Exit Tickets at the end of class. (Alice Keeler shows how to use a Google Form template to create an Exit Ticket here.) The example I described above that I used in my classroom could even be digitized with a Google Form, but is not necessary. And don't underestimate the power of a sticky note! Students can write feedback on sticky notes for any topic. Students are almost always willing to give feedback, the teacher only needs to ask and be willing to accept it. If the teacher accepts and responds to feedback, it can be a valuable guide to help the teacher best serve his/her students. Do you encourage teachers to openly accept feedback from their students? Do teachers ask for feedback from students for more than just how well they understand a lesson? 

For those of us who are not classroom teachers, gathering feedback from those we serve is just as important. When I facilitate professional learning opportunities, I try to build in opportunities for feedback throughout my time with the participants. Sticky notes and a designated space for questions and comments is provided for participants to provide feedback. If we're using Google Docs or Slides, I encourage participants to use the comments feature to post comments/questions. During presentations, tools like Padlet, TodaysMeet, Twitter, etc. can be used to provide feedback about the presentation. However I solicit feedback from my participants, it is important that I use it to guide our learning opportunity so that all involved benefit. Even the grunts or cheers from participants provide feedback to me, telling me to move on, slow down, etc. When leading online learning opportunities, providing ways for participants to give feedback is crucial! In the virtual world, I can't gather feedback and adjust my instruction based on their body language or side conversations. Thankfully, tools like Google Hangouts and YouTube Live allow me to create opportunities for face-to-face support for my participants, in addition to other built-in feedback tools that are available in most online learning platforms. Whether in person or virtual, at the end of each learning opportunity I solicit feedback from my participants to be used when preparing for future sessions. This feedback also provides insights if a teacher needs additional support beyond the training session. 

Regardless of how the feedback is gathered, we must be open to feedback and then use it to keep the learning momentum moving in the right direction.