How teachers are crushing students with too much feedback

In his weekly column, Michael Tidd suggests that feedback is a curse for students – as well as teachers

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There are some terrible things that go on in schools in the name of monitoring. Obviously it wouldn’t do to ‘name and shame’ here, but imagine if you will, trying to work in a school where the following is routine practice…

In every lesson, teachers are directed how to work and what work to complete. Often the guidance can be quite brief, and it is invariably useful – but teachers know that no lesson will begin without them being told in advance exactly what they should cover, often with a target for what should be achieved by the end of the lesson.

This may sound a little restrictive, but you could argue that the expertise being offered is valuable.

Then, within each lesson, teachers are observed by an expert in the field, who often gives further advice, and redirects teachers’ attention where needed. If the expert feels that a teacher is struggling to achieve what has been set out, then they will step in with a quiet word in the ear, or sometimes a specific direction about how to improve. Of course, there isn’t an expert on their shoulder for the whole lesson, but the expert’s aim is to intervene at the earliest opportunity.

At the end of each lesson, teachers are often asked to evaluate their own work, and often to set themselves a target for future improvement. This could be something that they intend to do away from school, or to try to include in the next lesson.

Too much of a 'good' thing? 

This is, no doubt, starting to sound unmanageable: imagine being expected to evaluate your work every 60 minutes and judge yourself.

But it doesn’t end there. Often, before the lessons begin on the following morning a note will appear in teachers’ workbooks that offers the expert’s opinion on the work carried out in the previous lesson, and it will set a target for the teacher to work on during the next lesson.

In some cases, teachers are expected to carry out some sort of ‘quick fix’ in the first 10 minutes of the next lesson to ensure that the feedback has been acted upon. If the expert feels that the need is great enough, they will arrange for a separate intervention to be carried out with teachers in a small group to ensure that the quality of their work is brought up to that of their peers.

There ends the dystopian vision. Feedback in nearly every lesson, written comments to respond to at the beginning of every lesson…sounds unmanageable, doesn’t it? There is surely such a thing as too much feedback for any one person to take on board.

Now re-read this piece, but for “teacher” read “pupil” in every case. Suddenly, it is all very familiar. Suddenly you can see how we are crushing students with too much feedback. 

Michael Tidd is deputy headteacher at Edgewood Primary School in Nottinghamshire. You can find him on Twitter @MichaelT1979

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