March 10, 2022


As we’ve been focused this month on feedback that supports learning, we’ve had lots of great conversations with colleagues. One group with whom I work is teacher candidates. As we explored feedback, I engaged them in the following learning task:

It starts this way: I’d like you to remember something that you learned successfully because you wanted to learn it. It might have been in school or out of school. It might have been just recently or many years ago. As you think about this successful learning, I’d like you to make some notes for yourself in response to these simple questions:

  • What was it that you learned?
  • Why did you learn it?
  • When did you learn?
  • How did you learn it?
  • Who was with you when you learned it?
  • What helped you learn?
  • Who helped you learn?
  • What might have got in the way of your learning?

Then I asked them to think about the feedback they received during the learning and make some notes.

  • Did the feedback come from a natural consequence like falling while learning to ride a bike or from a coach while learning soccer?
  • Or, from a teacher who gave the perfect advice at” just right” moment?
  • Or, perhaps it was an online game and the score was all the feedback you needed to improve?

Then I invited the teacher candidates to talk to one another about their experiences. The room filled with conversation, as everyone heard the stories of learning and of feedback that supported that learning.

 After several minutes, I asked the teacher candidates to share with the group the kind of feedback that helped them learn. I recorded this on the board.


As their contributions ended, I asked this question, “So if this is the kind of feedback that helped you learn, how could we ensure students receive this kind of feedback more often in our classrooms?” I asked them to turn to one another again, and share their thoughts.

Every group over the years with whom I have used this learning activity has responded with similar thoughts and connections. And, for every group, I was able to point out that their understanding of feedback aligns beautifully with all the research that has been done in this area.

I have come to understand that it isn’t that we don’t understand feedback for learning. Rather, it is that we think feedback in school has to be something different – it must be a score, a mark, a grade, or some other summative comment or symbol. Feedback in school becomes possible when we remind ourselves of what feedback is and we open up the possibilities of providing good feedback even in school.

Powerful feedback in our classrooms becomes more possible when teachers:

  • are deliberate about helping students understand quality
  • co-construct criteria in relation to models and samples

Powerful feedback in our classrooms becomes more possible when students:

  • are engaged in examining their own work in relation to the criteria
  • self-assess to determine where/how they are meeting the criteria
  • understand what they need to change/learn to better meet the criteria and reach quality
  • engage in peer feedback in relation to criteria

Powerful feedback in our classrooms becomes more possible when teachers shift the language of assessment to reflect a growth mindset. Many more students can reach high levels of quality and success when quality feedback is present.

When teachers provide students direct access to better understanding quality and proficiency, engage them in co-constructing criteria, invite them to self-assess their way to success, and expect that all students can and will learn that we can achieve the kind of feedback that leads to successful learning inside or outside of school.