I think it’s safe to say that no one likes to feel ignored.
I used to spend hours commenting on students’ work, only to feel ignored when they didn’t do anything with the feedback. I couldn’t understand why so many researchers and practitioners put student feedback on such a high pedestal—it didn’t seem to work! The same frustrations occurred when I tried to engage students in peer or self-feedback. It seemed like a waste of time, and I found myself omitting these exercises from my unit or lesson plans.
Eventually, I learned how to adjust my thinking and actions so the student feedback processes I was using—peer to peer, student to self, and teacher to student—had a positive impact. I didn’t feel ignored anymore. More importantly, the feedback fueled students’ success, well-being, and agency.
Inspired by John Hattie’s feedback levels in “The power of feedback” (start at the 14:40 mark), I’d like to share five game changers that helped me and my students get to a place where I could love feedback processes. As always, I hope this information helps you celebrate what you already do and inspires at least one next step.
The student feedback game changers:
- Frame of mind
- Foundations for responsive action
Frame of mind and foundations for responsive action
It was a hard pill to swallow, but I had to acknowledge that students were ignoring my feedback because I was asking them to take giant leaps without a safety net. Early in my career, I underestimated how much vulnerability effective student feedback processes require. No wonder my students ignored feedback! For students and adults alike, a common reaction to feeling vulnerable is to avoid or ignore a task.
As I described in “It’s time to embrace assessment empowerment,” I had to do a lot of work to shift my frame of mind from being a learner manager to being a learner empowerer. Next, I had to build the foundations of responsive learning cycles—especially embracing learner context and strengthening learning culture. These are practices that grow safe, human-centered learning spaces and relationships. Without these foundations in place, student feedback processes can be a disaster.
What do two of these foundational practices look like in action? Here is a quick recap from previous blog posts in this series:
These practices create a social and emotional safety net that makes students (and educators!) less likely to avoid student-to-self, peer-to-peer, and teacher-to-student feedback processes. Everyone is more likely to engage, which means fewer power struggles and more learning success, well-being, and self-determination.
For more ideas that build foundations for success with feedback processes (which is really all about engaging learners in collecting and acting on evidence of learning), check out “Proof is powerful: How to show students evidence they’re learning.”
Focus and flow
Even with the right frame of mind and foundations for responsive action, you might find that students ignore feedback if it’s not related to learning goals or if it’s given too late in the learning journey. If that’s the case, you probably need better focus and flow—which you can get by clarifying learning paths and identifying quality assessment processes.
Students were ignoring my feedback because I was asking them to take giant leaps without a safety net.
Learning paths are a way to break down large learning goals, such as content standards, into visible routes for success. Routes for success include identifying the quality assessment processes needed along the way to check understanding (formative assessment) and then ultimately certify learning (summative assessment). Seeing these routes and processes can help students and educators find focus as well as flow.
With a learning path laid out before them, students and educators can see what kind of guidance and kudos they’ll need, determine when they’ll need it, and then choose the right student feedback strategies and tools that align with the learning goal. When goals, paths, and actions are visible, aligned, and well-paced, students are much less likely to view feedback as a “gotcha” or something to be ignored. They can see that the mechanisms in place along the learning journey, including feedback processes, are designed to support their success.
Here’s an example: In my previous blog post, “These 5 principles can help you empower students with learning paths,” I described a learning path for an eighth-grade civics learning goal that challenged students to explain the roles and responsibilities of citizens. The learning path guided students to first build content knowledge, then build skills for crafting written or verbal explanations. I worked with students to choose feedback strategies and tools that fit the goal and learning journey. Rather than waiting until the end of the learning journey to provide feedback, I embedded it in my unit and lesson plans.
For feedback that fit the earlier phases of learning (the knowledge-building part of the journey), as I described in “Inspiring learners to act on formative evidence,” we used sentence frames to debrief Kahoot! or Quizlet results. Earlier in my career, I totally skipped these smaller feedback opportunities. I made assumptions that students would know what the knowledge results meant and what to do. They didn’t. We had to start small—even silly—to build up to more complicated and vulnerable student feedback processes.
Later in the learning journey, as students practiced crafting explanations, we used a quality criteria checklist to give stars-and-stairs feedback first on examples that I provided. With practice, the eighth graders could apply the quality criteria checklist via the stars-and-stairs strategy to peers’ examples as well as their own. On the summative classroom assessment at the end of the learning journey, students could use the feedback processes that we practiced to self-assess, which saved me hours of grading, propelled their learning success, and promoted self-efficacy.
Here’s a suggested action step: With an upcoming learning goal and path in mind, review the strategies listed in the Providing feedback strategies toolkit. Identify one or two strategies that could help with student feedback processes needed in the earlier phases of the learning journey (such as content-knowledge-building stages). Next, identify one or two more strategies that could help with feedback processes in the later phases of the learning journey (such as skill-building and application stages).
Generating student feedback is just half the adventure. Feedback is a form of data, and as I wrote in “Inspiring learners to act on formative assessment evidence,” we have to make sure we partner with students to apply it in swift, timely, and appropriate ways. When these opportunities are skipped, students are more likely to ignore or avoid feedback.
You might find that students ignore feedback if it’s not related to learning goals or if it’s given too late in the learning journey.
Notice that in the eighth-grade social studies example above, I embedded student feedback processes during the learning journey. This included using the feedback to take action right away—in the same class period or the one right after—based on the guidance and kudos students received from their peers, from me, or from themselves. To acknowledge our follow-through, we would verbally debrief by sharing out feedback that we gave or received, as well as how we applied the feedback. This helped us close the student feedback process and underscore the point of all our hard work together: moving learning forward.
I also made sure to model using students’ feedback to improve. For example, I prompted students to give me stars and stairs for how I could improve the Kahoot! and Quizlet knowledge-building games. They could see how I trusted them and valued their feedback. They could see that I was not ignoring them, so they were less likely to ignore me!
Investing the time to embed student feedback strategies, tools, and follow-through during the learning journey paid dividends. Because we intentionally created a whole learning team in which students supported each other with feedback processes, I didn’t have stacks of unattended papers. More importantly, students gained knowledge, skills, confidence, and agency.
Take the next step
I like to dive into endeavors headfirst, and teaching was no exception. I initially dove into teaching and learning processes in a way that skipped student feedback foundations and other important considerations. When I noticed that students were ignoring my feedback or disengaging during peer feedback exercises, I had to back up and rethink my approach.
The five feedback game changers described here sum up how I partnered with my students to reinvest time, energy, and attention. As a result, my students and I engaged as a learning team and didn’t ignore each other’s feedback. It’s a great feeling! The improved learning outcomes are nice, too.
Consider using the five feedback game changers as a focus for self-feedback. What do you already do well? What’s your next step? Who can help you with the next step?