While experienced and engaged learners may well enjoy school, there are many who feel that education is something being done to them, and don’t always get why it matters or what their role in the process should or could be. A sense of agency is critical for adults to be happy in their work lives, so why should it be any different for children? Making them feel as if they are part of this process, ensuring ongoing dialogue, should be an integral part of the educational system. One way in which this can be achieved is through the effective use of feedback.
Ruth Dann’s latest book, ‘Developing Feedback for Pupil Learning: Teaching, Learning and Assessment in Schools’ is a research based examination of how to address a pupil’s learning gap – the gap between the knowledge and skills they have today and what they need to do now and next – within the context of feedback. It explores what works, what doesn’t work, for whom and why.
Dann says that feedback is a communicative tool which teachers use to convey what has been achieved and what needs to be done next for learning to progress. It seeks to close a gap between learning (now) and learning (next). Often it is handled in a fairly technical way by teachers, who assume that pupils will understand the feedback messages in the way that the teachers intended. In reality this is often not the case.
In the UK, targets are given (sometimes with pupil input), and there seems to be a prevailing assumption that teachers can exactly frame what pupils will learn by stating desired outcomes more clearly and more often. However, it is evident from the government’s own statistics that the performance of pupils in England has not improved in relation to other countries and certain groups of children repeatedly underperform. Part of the answer embedded in the recent government White Paper (2016) is to strive to find out the answer to ‘what works’.
Ruth Dann says, “Feedback can be seen as a two way process in which the teacher and learner can better understand each other’s priorities and begin to negotiate ways to progress. To some extent it is relational rather than technical. Any feedback designed to shape learning must be acted upon by the learners and made their own. It becomes personal and internal at the point of learning. Therefore feedback, even if focused on curriculum content must be seen by pupils as having relevance and meaning for them.”
She argues that greater attention needs to be given in schools to helping pupils understand why aspects of their future learning is important. Dann suggests they need to envisage themselves as learners with new and increasing knowledge. Encouraging pupils to share their new learning with pupils in lower year groups can potentially have a role here. It can act as revision and consolidation for older pupils but can also provide younger pupils insight into the kind of learners they might wish to be.
In school settings there must be some way in which feedback can be regarded not as a fixed coded message for pupils to act on, but part of a relationship between teachers and learners which has meaning for both. How this might be achieved, relies on teachers and pupil s having trust between each other and the possibility for dialogue about teaching and learning within the school. If you’re interested in developing that process within your school, then this book is a great place to start.
If you or your school are interested in working with the Learn2Think Foundation on developing its Questioning Curriculum – a national curriculum based programme to encourage independent thinking, collaborative action and creative engagement – drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 07958 923 182.
This article first appeared in Education Today Magazine.