Chapter Five

Building Better Classrooms Through Feedback

Best practices for giving feedback

 Giving feedback is important – so how do you do it right? Think of it like a muscle that requires exercise to grow or a skill that needs practice to master. And it’s a skill that’s needed not just by teachers, but by administrators too.

 No matter who gives feedback to whom, and regardless of whether the feedback is positive or negative in nature, the most effective feedback shares some common ground: 

It’s goal-oriented: Feedback in service of a specific goal that’s been discussed between everyone involved can spark motivation to improve.

It’s specific: Effective feedback relates to a specific expectation, behavior, response, task or example to help the recipient make a clear connection between action, consequence and next steps.

It’s actionable: A “Good job!” or “Oops – wrong answer!” aren’t actionable because they don’t provide any information about why or what to do next. 

It’s non-judgmental: It’s easier to receive feedback when it’s framed in terms of observable evidence rather than opinion, and when it avoids words like “good,” “bad,” “right” or “wrong”

 It’s timely: Feedback is most effective when it’s delivered close to the event or behavior in question, while the memory is still fresh. 

It’s constructive: Not to be confused with praise, constructive feedback focuses on achieving a positive outcome, reinforces helpful behaviors and offers encouragement and support. 

It’s simple: Sharing too much detail or getting too technical can leave the recipient feeling overwhelmed or cause them to tune out entirely.

It’s delivered appropriately: Some feedback is best delivered to groups; some is best delivered one-on-one. Keep respect for others, the content of the feedback and the goals it connects to in mind when planning where and how to give it.

 It’s accurate: Any data gathered and used to provide feedback should be correct, consistent and trustworthy.

It’s ongoing: Feedback is most effective when it’s put into practice, so it’s important to circle back frequently and check in on how performance has changed. 

It’s two-way: Rather than simply telling someone what to do next, effective feedback encourages taking ownership over improvement and planning next steps as part of a discussion.

 

Structuring teacher-to-student feedback 

Positive or negative, the way we deliver feedback matters. Research shows that students appreciate and benefit from feedback – even if it’s correcting a mistake – as long as it helps them improve. And when teachers take the time to give thoughtful feedback and guidance to students, it sends a clear message that they care.

Feedback is most effective when teachers use a variety of methods for delivery. Teachers can accomplish this by building multiple formats of feedback into their lesson plans, including:

  • Numerical grades
  • Grading rubrics
  • Teacher comments
  • Written notes
  • One-on-one conversations
  • Report cards

So what techniques can teachers use to make sure feedback resonates with students? Here are a few of our favorite techniques.

The sandwich method

This technique gets its name from the way it sandwiches constructive feedback between two positive observations about a students’ strengths. Meant to keep the recipient engaged and encouraged, the conversation goes like this:

  • “I like…” (a positive observation that warms up the discussion and set the student up to receive feedback)
  • “I wonder…” (the meat of the conversation: a point the student can improve)
  • “I like…” (a positive message that encourages the student to keep trying)

Feedback forms

Sometimes, consistency is key! In addition to standardized grades and rubrics, teachers, parents, administrators and students can work together to create feedback forms that can be used across assignments and projects. This technique sets expectations about the kinds of feedback students will receive, creates a routine around giving (and receiving) feedback and makes it easier to measure progress as the year goes on.

Integrated into lessons

Not all feedback needs to be addressed one-on-one. Sometimes it makes sense to include it in an upcoming learning activity or lesson. For example, if many students missed a question on a quiz, teachers can address the gap in a class discussion or adjust a future lesson to revisit and reinforce the core concepts (without calling out names or embarrassing students, of course!). 

Facilitative feedback

Building on a directive “correct/incorrect” response, teachers can provide scaffolded prompts and examples to help students identify their own errors and find the correct path. Simply asking students questions about their performance or behavior can build critical thinking and self-reflection skills, too. For example, teachers might ask questions like these to get their students thinking:

  • “What would happen if…”
  • “Why do you think…”
  • How else might you…”

 Student-led feedback

Feedback doesn’t have to be a top-down exercise where teachers define the areas that require attention and what the next steps should be. By asking students what they would like more feedback on, what areas they would like to improve and how they think they’re progressing so far, teachers create a more collaborative environment where the student’s voice matters. 

Structuring administrator-to-teacher feedback

 Just like students, teachers need feedback to hone their classroom skills! Feedback from administrators to teachers often happens at end-of-year performance evaluations, but in order to be most helpful, both should work together on a continuous basis.

Many principals report that effective teacher feedback begins in the classroom, with frequent and regular visits to observe teachers in action as they deliver their school’s curriculum. Principals and school leaders can start this process with a pre-conference that gives teachers the opportunity to outline what will happen during that day’s lesson and pinpoint specific areas where they’d appreciate targeted feedback. After class, the teacher and observer debrief what happened and discuss what they can do better next time.

Teacher feedback can be delivered in many forms, including:

  • Personal learning plans
  • End-of-year evaluations
  • Observation forms from classroom visits
  • Regular in-person meetings

 How might a feedback conversation with a teacher look? Here’s an example from Paul Bambrick-Santoyo’s Leverage Leadership: A Practical Guide to Building Exceptional Schools:

Open with precise praise

Share an observation with the teacher about something specific that impressed you during a classroom visit, an area where they’ve improved since your last visit or an encouraging trend you’ve noticed within their classroom.

Probe deeper

Pose an open-ended question about a core issue the teacher can improve, based on your observation. Questions like “how did it feel to…” can help teachers self-reflect on their own progress and challenges.

Identify the problem and create an action step

From that moment of self-reflection, and using evidence from the lesson, guide the teacher to self-identify a challenge they noticed. Questions like “what happened next…” and “how did that affect…” can help guide this conversation. From there, encourage teachers to create a concrete action they can take to address it.

Practice

Give teachers a chance to try their solution out ahead of time by practicing it with you, as you coach them to further refine it.

Plan ahead

Ask teachers ahead of time to bring a few future lesson plans to your meeting. Then, you can work together to find opportunities to incorporate their new action step into those future lessons. 

Set a timeline

At the end of the meeting, agree on an implementation timeline and follow up to make sure progress is on track.