Empowering Learners through feedback and thinking out loud

Anna Freeman – Tōtara Teacher

“Do you like my drawing?”

At first glance, this is a mundane question. Still, this question is one that has made me ponder its implications for the past half year.

Whenever I hear students ask for feedback I pause to be precise in my reply: “I love all the details you included in your flower!” or “I like how people’s facial expressions tell us about how they feel toward each other.” Sometimes I frustrate students with a Socratic question “what do you like about it?” When I receive an eye roll or an exasperated sigh in reply, the question may likely have been directed at the student-teacher relationship level rather than the factual, more objective level.

At the relationship level the question implies “do you like the way I work?” or even “do you like me?” Both implications can be addressed by taking time and carefully looking at the work. My best answer acknowledges the level of care by noticing details that give evidence to it. Gauging the effort accurately requires knowing how the student usually works.

On a more objective level, requests for feedback make me consider how I can help students to become both more self-reflective and more confident in assessing their work accurately. Through observation I can know about the time and care invested in the work which can be a good indicator of effort. What is more, in an online world of influencers there is something to be said about the merit of a job well done for its own sake – without the need to vie for other people’s approval.

An impactful way of promoting self-reflection and assessment is to model it. Demonstrating (modelling) to them how I know that I have done “a good job” or a “job done well enough” is essential. Showing children how to deal with making mistakes and how they help me learn and that this requires me to be patient with myself gives children a blueprint of how to deal with their own mistakes in learning. I also provide students with a checklist for the different types of work they are doing in the class. 

I am careful to mention often that I have the experience of my lifetime of drawing and crafting. A vital part of teaching requires making the unseen or unheard explicit for students! I need to say that I do not have all the answers and that learning something requires trying something multiple (i.e. not just tens but hundreds or thousands of) times. What is more, learning something means making mistakes. In class, I already talk about this but I still want to talk about it more. 

I hope that reading this text has inspired you to try new things together with your tamariki – especially things that you are not already good at.