Forced feedback or found feedback?


One of the it words of education today and probably something most educators around the world seem to agree about – that feedback impacts learning. But I wonder if our obsession with feedback has us so focused on the potential impact of feedback, that we are forgetting to question the context and conditions of that feedback.

This tweet from @justintarte provoked my thinking about this:

Screen Shot 2016-07-26 at 11.22.12 AM

Are we forcing our feedback upon students or are we empowering students to own their learning and find feedback in order to help themselves grow and improve?

This got me thinking about training I received last year to become an instructional coach for teachers. The biggest takeaway from the course was that instructional coaching needed to be optional in order to be most effective. Teachers needed to seek out a coach by choice because feedback for their teaching was more powerful and impactful when it was something they were looking for on their own accord. Something done by them, not something done to them.

…gathered, not given.

…found, not forced.

This means the difference between a coach scheduling a meeting with a teacher and telling them “here is what you need to do in order to get better” and a teacher requesting a meeting with a coach and asking them “what can I do to get better?”

So if we acknowledge and protect that for adult-learners, why are we not doing the same for child-learners?

As teachers, are we scheduling a conference with students and telling them “here is what you need to do in order to get better” unsolicited? Or are we empowering students and creating conditions where students request conferences with teachers (and beyond)  so they can ask “what can I do to get better?”

If we believe that feedback is most effective when sought out by the learners themselves, the question for educators then needs to move away from “Are you giving your students feedback?” and towards “How are you empowering your students to understand the purpose and process of gathering feedback?”

“What do you notice?” A first step down the path towards inquiry

Last year I was new to the PYP and inquiry in general. I was excited to transform my classroom into an inquiry wonderland!!!

But how?

I wasn’t sure. So I started to do some professional research. I was learning the benefits of inquiry. I was learning about the theory behind it. I was learning about all the research surrounding it… the advocates for it…  the downfalls of not using it…

I agree!

I believe in it!

I want to do it!

but how?

Then one day, I took my first small step towards inquiry.  I discovered the power of the question “What do you notice?” and the more I used it, the more I found even more ways to use it!

Here’s how it went:

I wanted to teach the short a vowel sound. It was a curriculum expectations and I was still  in the mindset that I needed to “cover it”. BUT I wanted to do it in an inquiry-based way – so I took a shot at it. I put a list of words that had the short a vowel sound on a piece of chart paper. Then I asked “What do you notice?” and I was fascinated at the range of responses I collected!

  • They are all words
  • Some of the words have tall letters but not all of them
  • All the words have less than 5 letters
  • There is a pattern of big word, small word, big word, small word
  • The letters are blue
  • All of the words have an ‘a’
  • None of the words have an ‘o’
  • You can use all the words in a sentence
  • They all have the sound “ahh”

Bingo! They discovered what I had wanted them to! But along the way they also discovered many other interesting things that I wasn’t expecting. We got to talk about the form of letters (tall, small, letters that fall). We got to talk about repeating patterns.  We talked about what made the words the same and different. We got to talk about how the words can be used.  We then focused on their discovery of the “ahh” sound.  From there we were able to name what sounds it was (short a), add other words we know that have that sound to the list, and then find words around our room that we could also add to the list. (This was fascinating as it brought up a debate about adding a word that has an ‘a’ but doesn’t make the ‘ahh’ sound!)

So it was a small victory, but I felt energized and empowered to try the same approach in other ways.

For Math:

  • I posted a hundreds chart and asked “What do you notice?”
  • I showed a pattern and asked “What do you notice?”
  • I passed around a 3D shape and asked “What do you notice?”
  • I showed a 2-digit and 3-digit number and asked “What do you notice?”

For Writing:

  • I posted a sentence and asked “What do you notice?”
  • I showed a list of adjectives and asked “What do you notice?”
  • I showed a paragraph and asked “What do you notice?”
  • I showed the inside of a non-fiction book and asked “What did you notice?”


Obviously I still had a lot to learn about inquiry-based learning but I had found a small opening which helped me begin to slowly unravel the mystery of “but how”? I had felt that for the first time in my teaching career I had guided my students to discovering something on their own instead of just telling them what it was.

It was amazing to see the huge difference in learning potential by simply changing the opening of my lesson from “Today we are learning about the short vowel a sound…” to “What do you notice?”