Feedback and Community

Posted: June 29, 2009 in Uncategorized

In the most recent Educational Leadership (online), there is an article by David Sousa called Revisiting Teacher Learning: Brain-Friendly Learning for Teachers. Although this article is geared at teaching adults, it cites some of the most recent brain research. In the section titled “Feedback Fuels Learning”, Sousa talks about the necessity and benefit of feedback.

Recent imaging studies have shown that brain regions associated with motivation are more active in subjects who are learning tasks and receiving feedback than in subjects doing the same tasks with no feedback (van Duijvenvoorde et al., 2008). This finding should come as no surprise to teachers who use constructive feedback to encourage struggling students. Feedback is a key contributor to motivation.

Feedback is something I would like to do more of in the classroom. I would like to find a user-friendly way to provide immediate and effective feedback for all of my students… not just the ones who raise their hands*. I often have students work in partnerships and give each other feedback… and in some classes that works better than others. It seems that in the classes where the students are already engaged and they feel that sense of community, they are more likely to be willing to try in front of their peers and give and receive feedback to/from their peers. Perhaps this is bringing us back one more time to the idea of community building in the classroom… or perhaps that is just an underlying necessity of many things in the classroom (which I have often come to believe, but find easy to forget when times get tough… which is when we need it the most). Community building is, after all, kind of like fulfilling the “basic needs” part of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. How can students (who aren’t naturally what I will call “professional students”) feel okay with putting themselves out there both to get and give feedback if they don’t feel intellectually safe?

Sousa goes on to talk more about the specifics of feedback:

  • “Effective feedback is timely.”
  • “Good feedback is also specific. Telling someone, “You’re doing a nice job” doesn’t help that person’s brain explore and apply modifications to behavior that might lead to continued success.”
  • “Specific, positive feedback stimulates the prefrontal cortex to reflect on ways to improve performance.”
  • “Negative feedback may never reach the prefrontal cortex. Instead, it is often diverted to the limbic area, where it produces stress and results in the release of cortisol so that the individual goes into survival mode. Powerful negative feelings surface, intrinsic motivation declines, and the learning portion of the brain shuts down.”

So what does this mean for my students?

*Isn’t that one of the vicious cycles in education? The students who raise their hands are often the students who already either know the answer or know how to be good students… thus raising their hand and asking the question: fearless of being incorrect. The students who sit quietly or sleep may be the ones who need the practice the most… but don’t know how to get into this society of professional students (or don’t see the benefit of it)… so they just keep doing what they’re doing.

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