Thursday, March 23, 2006

The dark side of feedback!

  Posted by Picasa These days there are few teachers that don’t include in their teaching vocabulary the phrase ‘feedback’ and, to show they are on the ball, ‘feed forward’! And there are few rooms that don’t have written out (in ‘student friendly language’) ‘learning intentions’. And of course there are ‘negotiated criteria’ and ‘student self assessment’ to be developed. All these techniques are linked to the efficient sounding phrase ‘evidence based teaching’. All very technocratic if hardly original.

The proof is always in the results; in what students can demonstrate and do rather than recorded statistics and fancy graphs. And this ‘proof’, if it is required by those outside the classroom, ought to include attitudinal ‘data’ as well. All too often subjective aspects of learning, such as desire to continue with the activity, are missing.

Too often the processes have replaced substance; learning is essentially about every individual making their own meaning

All these ideas seem to come from literacy projects relating to the ideas about formative assessment led by people like John Hattie. Hattie’s basic research finding was that the single most important way to improve students learning is ‘oodles and oodles of feedback.’ Hardly an original insight; I have observed creative teachers, who really value what students think and can do, using these ideas for decades.

Creative teachers succeeded because of their focus on helping students achieve creative work required them to help with a 'light hand'!. The difference between what creative teachers want and the formative assessment ‘converts’ is this avoidance of conformity – the valuing of individual responses rather than imbedding a way of thinking. And to make things worse many teachers, by applying a heavy handed exemplar criteria based approach to areas such as art, are developing classrooms that reflect teacher’s ideas rather than the imagination of their students.

These dangers were pointed out by Noelene Alcorn, in NZCER Set 1 2005, who wrote that this emphasis on evidence based policy making and teaching, while having value, may as well lead to a narrowing of teaching possibilities. She says this narrow emphasis of issues of ‘evaluation, assessment, and measurement have become a major focus'. By placing student’s success or failure in the hands of the teachers skill of using such techniques could place unnecessary responsibity or ‘scape-goating’ on teachers.

She also mentions that there are a number of other exciting approaches to learning that are available that may be being neglected, and that this ‘new found faith in evidence based teaching needs tempering.’ She is concerned that evidence based teaching is at the expense of ‘creativity imagination and higher order understanding. Teacher creativity has also suffered.’ She continues, ‘imagination and mystery are integral part of our lives. Not all evidence is factual. Education is a life long process concerned with much more than achievement of specified knowledge and skills.’

And in respect to this faith in feedback research has shown that feedback can actually reduce ones capacity for honest self reflection by reinforcing our expectations that others will and should tell us how we are doing and therefore reducing self accountability and belief in ones own ideas.

All this is not to say that these ‘evidence based’ techniques are not valuable, it is just that they should be used with sensitivity and respect for the identity and voice of the students.

If teachers notices that their students writing, art and verbal responses, are becoming ‘clone like’ then it might be time to ‘lighten up’. We may be turning into ourselves into technicians and in the process sacrificing the artistry of teaching and the mystery of learning.

The future requires not just those who can learn efficiently but learners with their talents and passions developed; with the imagination and confidence to their live creatively.


Anonymous said...

You make some important observations. There should be nothing more embarrassing to a teacher than children's writing, art or verbal responses etc, that lack sincerity. These may be examples of teacher influence rather than person expression.

Anonymous said...

Yes, the original and honest thoughts of the child are always more inportant.

Bruce Hammonds said...

It is sincere and original expressions of student creativity and expression that is all to often missing these days in the pressure to prove achievement.

And to be honest it wasn't that common in earlier days - no one listens to creative teachers.

All the 'criteria', 'exemplars', and 'intentions' etc make little difference if the teacher has little awareness of what is exceptional work in any field.

Bruce Hammonds said...

I wished I had referred to a book by Guy Ckaxton 'Hare Brain and Tortoise Mind' before I wrote my blog.

The thing that worries me is all this pre-planned intentional teaching the teacher is supposed to have before teaching. According to Claxton true learning arises from 'not knowing' and that 'coming to know' emerges from the process.

Always asking students to explain what they are doing makes kids believe all learning has to be intentional and that everything that counts has to be rational and 'evidenced'.

Claxton believes that ignorance and confusion are the grounds from which all understanding springs and all this explaining creates poor learners.

We should stop chasing after data and immediate solutions and relax a bit as reflection is where imagination, creativity develop and new ideas emerge.

Teacher intervention needs to be done sparingly. Our best ideas, in the right situations , just pop into our heads.

Anonymous said...

I have personally worked in the feild of caring for peole with mental health problems. I was amazed to see the nursing profession arrive at a home where I worked and try to put in place two things, one evidenced based nursing and nurses know best. The home that I worked in was not perfect but provided significant care to the chronic clients. It was very sucessfull as the community caregivers became significant to the guys in the house , and involved them in their own lives. The guys went back out into the community. The House closed down due to conflict amonsgt the two sets of staff!! Must be some connection to the discussion about teaching methods.

Bruce Hammonds said...

It would seem to me that all people thrive better in a caring environment with caring helpers; a environment linked with the community and focused on recognising ( students , patients whatever) as real people.

So called 'experts' do not always know what is best - they are often locked into a way of doing things that is all too often unquestioned.