Feedback or Feedforward

Teacher talking to student at LSI

Image via Wikipedia

Recently we have been focussing on the notion of feedback vs feedforward.

We started by taking a look at Dylan Wiliam’s Formative Assessment Key Strategies.  In a nutshell:

1.  Know your learner;

2.  Feedback designed to move the learner forward;

3.  Everyone knows the success criteria;

4.  Peers Supporting Peers;

5.  Agency, students owning their learning.

From these 5 strategies we decided to begin understanding and processing them one by one with “Feedback” being the first one we tackled.

Dylan Wiliam has some wonderful podcasts on his website.  The podcasts are him presenting information; I find it very valuable to hear him speak directly.  You can check it out at: or if you just google Dylan Wiliam you will see links to podcasts and You-Tube.

Anyway, he identifies feedback in the following three ways:

1.  Data (which is not feedback, its just data).  This sounds like: “You got a “B” on your test.”  “I’m waiting for three more people to get their books out.”  It points out to the learner a specific piece of information.

2.  Thermometer (which is not feedback, its just a thermometer).  This sounds like: “Next time you will  get a “B” if you add more details.”  “You will be finished as soon as you get your title page done.”  It points out to the learner where they are now and where they need to be.

3.  Feedback System – which is FeedForward.  This includes what students need to do to improve and the VERY important HOW to go about it.  This FeedForward encourages the student and gives hope that they will do it and you will help.  This sounds like: “Now its time to do your title page; lets get the examples I showed earlier and decide which components you want to add to your title page.”  “I noticed on your planning sheet you listed many details about your main character; now we have to incorporate these details into your story. We will use your planning sheet to help us.”

All of this is based on the work of Dylan Wiliam.  Here is an other link that adds more information:

Now, because I work with teachers and other staff, I have been trying to take this information and apply it in the context of teacher development.  Right now what I am noticing works well for me is to phrase my feedback in the form of a question:

“How would you take the information you just told me about what you observed and apply it in your own classroom?”

“When you were observing Mrs. XX you noticed that she provides extra support and instruction to a few children during silent reading, when are the times in your day where you would have time to provide extra supports to students?”

I find with adult learners, and probably with many children as well, in the context of asking them to change their practice or do something different, just telling is simply that, just telling.  “You should work with XXX while the others are silent reading,” just doesn’t come across the same way!

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