The Power of Feedback and a Culture of High Expectations

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I am sure many of you will remember the video that Caroline used in the autumn term, during the CPD session she led on feedback. You simply must take the time to watch the video if you have not seen it before. I have added my reflections on the power of feedback and a culture of high expectations at HWCS.

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‘Austin’s Butterfly’ is a celebration of one student’s progress, but it is an apt example of the power of ‘critique‘ and well-supported feedback, from both peers and the teacher. It also celebrates how a culture of high expectations and crafting and drafting can have a transformative effect on learning. This particular butterfly represents students having a mindset rooted in effort, perseverance and a commitment to deliberate practice. OFSTED, might call it a “thirst for knowledge“, Carol Dweck a ‘Growth Mindset’, Angela Duckworth – ‘GRIT’ – or more flatly – a commitment to hard work!

There are lots of things to take from this video:

1) The nature of effective critique. Most obviously, Ron is showing that critique that is kind, helpful and very specific, focused on a well-defined outcome is immensely powerful.  He is also showing that children can learn to do this.  Austin improved his butterfly based on feedback from his peers.

Lesson: It pays to give feedback in this fashion as teacher but also to teach students how to give feedback.  Not only does it help the recipient, it helps them to crystallise their understanding of what success looks like.  Let’s teach critique better and use it more.

2) The value of re-drafting.  Imagine if the teacher had just left it at draft one! Or even number three? There was more to come from Austin but he could have been allowed to stop short, to move on to something else before he’d fully explored this particular process. How often do we do that?  I’d suggest that too often we accept work from a student that is mediocre..far short of their best…and don’t enable them or insist that they go further.   Re-drafting or, more generally, improving work is under-rated.  Austin found out that he could draw a superb butterfly; the teacher found out that he could too – because he was given time and space to continually improve.  In fact he went back a bit in order to move forward… that was part of the process.

Obviously, with that experience or real success, you’d hope he could achieve a higher standard within fewer re-drafts on his next effort.  However, if he’d only done draft one or two of the butterfly, he’d have had a weaker platform of experience from which to base future work on.

Lesson: Let’s not accept mediocre efforts and move on.  Perhaps, as part of an approach to differentiation, some of our students could benefit from doing fewer pieces of work..with more time to re-draft selected samples of work until it is absolutely brilliant.  That would give them the experience of success as well as a message about standards and expectations.  If we settle for mediocrity, can we ever expect those students to dazzle?

3) The growth-mindset aspect.  The thing that strikes me most about this video is the contrast between Austin’s first and last drafts and the way that changes your perception of this unknown first-grader.  Presented with the first draft.. you might think that that was what Austin could do; that was him.  Presented with the final draft, you’d think he was a very much more talented young boy.  But it is the same boy… the final draft was always in him; it just needed to find a way out – with some help from his friends.

How often do we pigeon-hole students, fixing them into a category of attainment and more or less expecting their work to reinforce that pre-determined view? Do we challenge students enough when they hand in mediocre work and say ‘no – you are capable of so much more than that..let’s see what else you can do?’  I think that too often, we allow students to under-sell themselves; and so they do.

Lesson:  Let’s’ think about the possibility that every student  is a possible Austin.  With some judicious feedback, could we be getting Tiger Swallow Tails drawn like a scientist from each of them instead of the infantile sketches of a first grader?  Let’s challenge our early impressions of students and give them more time to produce work of the highest they know what it feels like; so they get that sense of achievement and get a taste for more.

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