TLC – Verbal Feedback
This year as an option for CPD we can join a Teacher and Learning Community (TLCs) at school. The aim of these communities is to improve teachers own practice through collaboration with an overall impact to improve student learning outcomes. The whole school focus of these TLCs is on the area of marking and feedback. My community is specifically looking at developing verbal feedback, something which I’m very interested in due to the practical nature of my subject.
Over the course of the year the group would meet 6 times. The meetings would be mainly collaborative work; discussion, planning and critiquing each others practice. On top of that we would have to co-plan a lesson with a focus on verbal feedback and then also observe that lesson. Finally we would have to bring everything the group had learnt and feedback to the wider school community on a INSET day.
In the initial group meeting we discussed what we thought feedback and verbal feedback was. We were given 6 weeks to do some reading and come back with basic plan of what we would like to look at developing within our own practice and verbal feedback. In our next meeting we would share that with our colleagues within the group and do some collaborative planning.
Background Reading and Research
We were asked to start by looking at the research of John Hattie and the Sutton Trust-EFF Teaching and Learning Toolkit and specifically what they said about feedback. Both rate feedback very highly on the impact it has on student progress, outcomes and learning. Feedback can be written, verbal, notational, testing or use digital technology. The person giving the feedback can be from the teacher, someone taking the role of the teacher or from peers. Due to the nature of my own subject (Physical Education) I’m most interested in verbal feedback from peers. Verbal feedback within core Physical Education is usually the only way feedback is ever given, and it is mainly from student to student. Therefore the feedback I want to concentrate on is a person to person activity that describes the gap between actual and ideal performance and that can be used in someway to close that gap.
Typing ‘research into feedback’ on google and the amount of hits is over 600 million. There seems to be a huge amount of research into the benefits of feedback and not just in the field of education. It seems every profession under the sun has had research carried out about how feedback might improve performance. However there seems to be no real consensus between these pieces of research on the theory behind it and how to approach it, especially on the specific topic of peer verbal feedback. There have been some very good blogs that have attempted to try and bring various useful insights together:
Thank you to him as he kindly pointed me to Shute’s focus on formative feedback which has been an excellent basis of reading for my project http://www.ets.org/Media/Research/pdf/RR-07-11.pdf
Although feedback does seem to have essentially a positive effect on student outcomes, there is a cautionary tale in my reading and backed up by research. Due to the variability in feedback, if approached poorly it can also have no effect or even have a negative effect on performance. Valerie Shute’s review seems to thing that immediate verbal feedback and feedback on physical activities could have a negative effect (not a positive sign for Physical Education).
One of the books on our reading list was the Hidden Lives of Learners by Graham Nuthall. I’d read about this book on other peoples blogs, but hadn’t done so myself. Graham Nuthall suggests, through his research, that we do not fully understand ‘just how powerful the social world of peer relationships is in the shaping how and what students learn.’ Involving peers into the feedback process makes it even harder. In his observations within Primary schools he felt a significant amount of student knowledge comes from peers and a considerable amount of that knowledge is incorrect. Whilst I’m more interested in Secondary school education, my opinion would be that peer culture can have a significant effect on the clarity and accuracy of feedback given. Further reading in this area would be An Ethic of Excellence by Ron Berger.
Draft Project Aims
As a consequence of my reading and also from conversations I’ve had with other teachers within my TLC, I want develop the accuracy, clarity and quality of peer feedback within Physical Education. If I can develop students who can verbally peer assess performance with greater accuracy, clarity and peer feedback, this surely can only have a positive impact on their progress. Involving students as agents of feedback, will require that I spend time within my lessons teaching them how to do this. If peer feedback is going to happen no matter what, is of a high frequency and of a low accuracy as Nuthall suggests, then this needs to be confronted and approached carefully. If it has the potential of having considerable influence on the learning that occurs in the classroom, then interventions that aim to foster correct peer feedback (or at least reduce the lack of accuracy) are needed. These ‘interventions’ then would take the format of me teaching students how to observe, how to accurately describe what they see, how to correctly analyse what they have described and then to offer solutions to their peers on how to improve.
Linked to that I would need to approach the peer culture within my classes. Research shows that feedback from peers can lead to positive affects relating to reputation, but the reverse is also a possibility. Nuthall suggests that there are two ways to address this issue ‘subtly work with it to manage each student’s learning opportunities’ or ‘for the teacher to create a powerful classroom culture that overrides the natural peer culture’. To ensure the work I do with developing feedback interventions is given as much chance to be successful then I also need to ensure that there is a positive relationship between peers.
I shall take these aim to my next TLC meeting. There with another member of staff outside the department, we shall collaborate on devising a clear approach on how I can try to meet these aims. I plan to update my progress of my TLC project through my blog. I’d be very interested to hear from other teachers on their thoughts and ideas about my TLC project. You can contact me on @ImSporticus or email at firstname.lastname@example.org