Readers who have joined my blog recently may not be aware that in addition to filling the blogosphere with my ponderings on kids and education, I also run a teeny-tiny tutoring business. It's called Exploring All Options. I spend at least an hour a week with each student doing whatever I can to make the experience of school less stressful for them. Once we reduce the stress, I then work alongside the student to ensure they start experiencing success in school.
It amazes me that teenagers are willing to come and sit at my dining table and tell a middle-aged woman, whom they've never met before, about how the experience of school makes them feel. It shows how much struggling students are willing to accept help, if only educators have the time to give them that support.
My first session with every student starts the same.
Louise: "Sooooo, tell me how you feel about school?"
Student: Looks down, mumbles
Louise: "I really want to know - tell me - what's it like?"
Student: It's hard/frustrating/I find it stressful/I can't keep up/I hate reading
The list goes on.
Louise: "Tell me about your favourite teacher?"
I loooove asking this question.
It tells me so much about the student.
It tells me about how they learn best.
It tells me how they view school teachers.
It tells me what attributes they value in a teacher.
It tells me how I will be able to best support them in our sessions.
Recently, I encountered a new response, and I was so excited to hear it.
The student told me about a teacher he had who gave him written feedback on his English work. He would hand in his English pieces, the teacher would look at the work within a day or two, write comments on how he could improve his work and provide an indicative final mark for the work. Then the teacher would return it to the student and give him the chance to resubmit it, incorporating rewritten sections in response to their feedback. Then the teacher would go through the work again and give it a final mark.
1) Teacher teaches
2) Student produces work in response to teaching
3) Teacher looks at work and gives targeted feedback
4) Student learns from feedback and has another go
5) Teacher is able to measure student's performance based on his ability to learn and apply their teaching.
I want to find out the name of that teacher, enrol my child in that school and put in a request for that teacher to teach my child every year of their High School education. I hope they can teach Maths, History and Science too, because I'll be asking for them to teach my child in every subject.
I cannot tell you how much I long for all my students to receive timely feedback on their work. I spend so many sessions with my students, encouraging them as they work through tasks ready for submission and helping them prepare for tests to be completed the following day. Each week I will ask, Have you got that assignment back? How did you go in your test? We'll log on and see if grades have been listed.......nope, nothing yet. Sadly, by the time marks are received, we've long forgotten what the learning task was about. And feedback? The chance to learn from and apply feedback is long gone. What a waste of a learning opportunity!
When my husband and I first got married, I had moved from Melbourne to Sydney. We had a long distance relationship, so except for long weekends and holidays, we had never spent long periods of time together. When we were together it was a whirlwind of fun dates, visiting friends and making long term plans. Once we settled into a house together, we quickly had to adjust to the rhythms of everyday life. Having lived on my own for many years, I was self-sufficient. If I was thirsty, I got myself a drink. If I felt like eating drive-thru Maccas for dinner, I would. If I had an opinion to share, I would just roll it on out, even if my husband was halfway through talking.
I was pretty much oblivious to the fact that when you are married, it's good to show consideration to your partner. Offering them a drink when they're thirsty, not just thinking about yourself at dinner time and being respectful of their thoughts and opinions. The day came when my husband had had enough and decided to give me feedback on my behaviour. He pointed out the selfish things I was doing and told me how it was impacting him.
Imagine if, at this point, my husband gave me his feedback and then that was the end of the discussion. Imagine if he didn't give me the chance to reflect on my actions and change my behaviour. Imagine if I only had one chance to do things right and I lost it. End of story. End of marriage.
Of course, that's not how relationships work. Naturally, (after a heated argument) I apologised, and reflected on my husbands feeedback. I wanted to improve my behaviour for the good of our marriage. Fortunately, I have become more considerate of my husband over the past 11 years. Feedback is a waste of time unless you actually get the chance to reflect upon it and have another go at getting it right.
It's the same with education, if you don't give students feedback within a reasonable time-frame, the true impact of your teaching will be lost because you didn't give the students a chance to demonstrate what they have learnt, reflect on your feedback and have another go.
When our kids get out into the big wide world, they won't always get feedback and the chance to have a second go. But they're not out there yet. We are in the business of equipping students with all the skills they will need to get it right once they are out there. Let's give them some support, encouragement and FEEDBACK whilst they are in school. I can assure you our students will learn from it.