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Feedback vs. Advice
On / by admin / in Novare

Feedback vs. Advice

You need more examples in your report.

You might want to use a lighter baseball bat.

You should have included some Essential Questions in your unit plan.

These three statements are not feedback; they’re advice. Such advice out of the blue seems at best tangential and at worst unhelpful and annoying. Unless it is preceded by descriptive feedback, the natural response of the performer is to wonder, “Why are you suggesting this?”

As coaches, teachers, and parents, we too often jump right to advice without first ensuring that the learner has sought, grasped, and tentatively accepted the feedback on which the advice is based. By doing so, we often unwittingly end up unnerving learners. Students become increasingly insecure about their own judgment and dependent on the advice of experts—and therefore in a panic about what to do when varied advice comes from different people or no advice is available at all.

If your ratio of advice to feedback is too high, try asking the learner, “Given the feedback, do you have some ideas about how to improve?” This approach will build greater autonomy and confidence over the long haul. Once they are no longer rank novices, performers can often self-advise if asked to.

from ASCD

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Feedback vs. Evaluation and Grades

Good work!

This is a weak paper.

You got a C on your presentation!

I’m so pleased by your poster!

These comments make a value judgment. They rate, evaluate, praise, or criticize what was done. There is little or no feedback here—no actionable information about what occurred. As performers, we only know that someone else placed a high or low value on what we did.

How might we recast these comments to be useful feedback? Tip: Always add a mental colon after each statement of value. For example,

• “Good work: Your use of words was more precise in this paper than in the last one, and I saw the scenes clearly in my mind’s eye.”

• “This is a weak paper: Almost from the first sentence, I was confused as to your initial thesis and the evidence you provide for it. In the second paragraph you propose a different thesis, and in the third paragraph you don’t offer evidence, just beliefs.”

You’ll soon find that you can drop the evaluative language; it serves no useful function.

The most ubiquitous form of evaluation, grading, is so much a part of the school landscape that we easily overlook its utter uselessness as actionable feedback. Grades are here to stay, no doubt—but that doesn’t mean we should rely on them as a major source of feedback.

from ASCD

7 Keys to Effective Feedback
On / by admin / in Novare / 1

7 Keys to Effective Feedback

by Grant Wiggins at ASCD

Advice, evaluation, grades—none of these provide the descriptive information that students need to reach their goals. What is true feedback—and how can it improve learning?

Who would dispute the idea that feedback is a good thing? Both common sense and research make it clear: Formative assessment, consisting of lots of feedback and opportunities to use that feedback, enhances performance and achievement.

Yet even John Hattie (2008), whose decades of research revealed that feedback was among the most powerful influences on achievement, acknowledges that he has “struggled to understand the concept” (p. 173). And many writings on the subject don’t even attempt to define the term. To improve formative assessment practices among both teachers and assessment designers, we need to look more closely at just what feedback is—and isn’t.

What Is Feedback, Anyway?

The term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking.

Basically, feedback is information about how we are doing in our efforts to reach a goal. I hit a tennis ball with the goal of keeping it in the court, and I see where it lands—in or out. I tell a joke with the goal of making people laugh, and I observe the audience’s reaction—they laugh loudly or barely snicker. I teach a lesson with the goal of engaging students, and I see that some students have their eyes riveted on me while others are nodding off.

Here are some other examples of feedback:

  • A friend tells me, “You know, when you put it that way and speak in that softer tone of voice, it makes me feel better.”
  • A reader comments on my short story, “The first few paragraphs kept my full attention. The scene painted was vivid and interesting. But then the dialogue became hard to follow; as a reader, I was confused about who was talking, and the sequence of actions was puzzling, so I became less engaged.”
  • A baseball coach tells me, “Each time you swung and missed, you raised your head as you swung so you didn’t really have your eye on the ball. On the one you hit hard, you kept your head down and saw the ball.”

Note the difference between these three examples and the first three I cited—the tennis stroke, the joke, and the student responses to teaching. In the first group, I only had to take note of the tangible effect of my actions, keeping my goals in mind. No one volunteered feedback, but there was still plenty of feedback to get and use. The second group of examples all involved the deliberate, explicit giving of feedback by other people.

Whether the feedback was in the observable effects or from other people, in every case the information received was not advice, nor was the performance evaluated. No one told me as a performer what to do differently or how “good” or “bad” my results were. (You might think that the reader of my writing was judging my work, but look at the words used again: She simply played back the effect my writing had on her as a reader.) Nor did any of the three people tell me what to do (which is what many people erroneously think feedback is—advice). Guidance would be premature; I first need to receive feedback on what I did or didn’t do that would warrant such advice.

In all six cases, information was conveyed about the effects of my actions as related to a goal. The information did not include value judgments or recommendations on how to improve. (For examples of information that is often falsely viewed as feedback, see “Feedback vs. Advice” above and “Feedback vs. Evaluation and Grades” on p. 15.)

Decades of education research support the idea that by teaching less and providing more feedback, we can produce greater learning (see Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000; Hattie, 2008; Marzano, Pickering, & Pollock, 2001). Compare the typical lecture-driven course, which often produces less-than-optimal learning, with the peer instruction model developed by Eric Mazur (2009) at Harvard. He hardly lectures at all to his 200 introductory physics students; instead, he gives them problems to think about individually and then discuss in small groups. This system, he writes, “provides frequent and continuous feedback (to both the students and the instructor) about the level of understanding of the subject being discussed” (p. 51), producing gains in both conceptual understanding of the subject and problem-solving skills. Less “teaching,” more feedback equals better results.

Feedback Essentials

Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.


Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about his or her actions. I told a joke—why? To make people laugh. I wrote a story to engage the reader with vivid language and believable dialogue that captures the characters’ feelings. I went up to bat to get a hit. If I am not clear on my goals or if I fail to pay attention to them, I cannot get helpful feedback (nor am I likely to achieve my goals).

Information becomes feedback if, and only if, I am trying to cause something and the information tells me whether I am on track or need to change course. If some joke or aspect of my writing isn’t working—a revealing, nonjudgmental phrase—I need to know.

Note that in everyday situations, goals are often implicit, although fairly obvious to everyone. I don’t need to announce when telling the joke that my aim is to make you laugh. But in school, learners are often unclear about the specific goal of a task or lesson, so it is crucial to remind them about the goal and the criteria by which they should self-assess. For example, a teacher might say,

  • The point of this writing task is for you to make readers laugh. So, when rereading your draft or getting feedback from peers, ask, How funny is this? Where might it be funnier?
  • As you prepare a table poster to display the findings of your science project, remember that the aim is to interest people in your work as well as to describe the facts you discovered through your experiment. Self-assess your work against those two criteria using these rubrics. The science fair judges will do likewise.

Tangible and Transparent

Any useful feedback system involves not only a clear goal, but also tangible results related to the goal. People laugh, chuckle, or don’t laugh at each joke; students are highly attentive, somewhat attentive, or inattentive to my teaching.

Even as little children, we learn from such tangible feedback. That’s how we learn to walk; to hold a spoon; and to understand that certain words magically yield food, drink, or a change of clothes from big people. The best feedback is so tangible that anyone who has a goal can learn from it.

Alas, far too much instructional feedback is opaque, as revealed in a true story a teacher told me years ago. A student came up to her at year’s end and said, “Miss Jones, you kept writing this same word on my English papers all year, and I still don’t know what it means.” “What’s the word? ” she asked. “Vag-oo,” he said. (The word was vague!)

Sometimes, even when the information is tangible and transparent, the performers don’t obtain it—either because they don’t look for it or because they are too busy performing to focus on the effects. In sports, novice tennis players or batters often don’t realize that they’re taking their eyes off the ball; they often protest, in fact, when that feedback is given. (Constantly yelling “Keep your eye on the ball!” rarely works.) And we have all seen how new teachers are sometimes so busy concentrating on “teaching” that they fail to notice that few students are listening or learning.

That’s why, in addition to feedback from coaches or other able observers, video or audio recordings can help us perceive things that we may not perceive as we perform; and by extension, such recordings help us learn to look for difficult-to-perceive but vital information. I recommend that all teachers videotape their own classes at least once a month. It was a transformative experience for me when I did it as a beginning teacher. Concepts that had been crystal clear to me when I was teaching seemed opaque and downright confusing on tape—captured also in the many quizzical looks of my students, which I had missed in the moment.


Effective feedback is concrete, specific, and useful; it provides actionable information. Thus, “Good job!” and “You did that wrong” and B+ are not feedback at all. We can easily imagine the learners asking themselves in response to these comments, What specifically should I do more or less of next time, based on this information? No idea. They don’t know what was “good” or “wrong” about what they did.

Actionable feedback must also be accepted by the performer. Many so-called feedback situations lead to arguments because the givers are not sufficiently descriptive; they jump to an inference from the data instead of simply presenting the data. For example, a supervisor may make the unfortunate but common mistake of stating that “many students were bored in class.” That’s a judgment, not an observation. It would have been far more useful and less debatable had the supervisor said something like, “I counted ongoing inattentive behaviors in 12 of the 25 students once the lecture was underway. The behaviors included texting under desks, passing notes, and making eye contact with other students. However, after the small-group exercise began, I saw such behavior in only one student.”

Such care in offering neutral, goal-related facts is the whole point of the clinical supervision of teaching and of good coaching more generally. Effective supervisors and coaches work hard to carefully observe and comment on what they observed, based on a clear statement of goals. That’s why I always ask when visiting a class, “What would you like me to look for and perhaps count?” In my experience as a teacher of teachers, I have always found such pure feedback to be accepted and welcomed. Effective coaches also know that in complex performance situations, actionable feedback about what went right is as important as feedback about what didn’t work.


Even if feedback is specific and accurate in the eyes of experts or bystanders, it is not of much value if the user cannot understand it or is overwhelmed by it. Highly technical feedback will seem odd and confusing to a novice. Describing a baseball swing to a 6-year-old in terms of torque and other physics concepts will not likely yield a better hitter. Too much feedback is also counterproductive; better to help the performer concentrate on only one or two key elements of performance than to create a buzz of information coming in from all sides.

Expert coaches uniformly avoid overloading performers with too much or too technical information. They tell the performers one important thing they noticed that, if changed, will likely yield immediate and noticeable improvement (“I was confused about who was talking in the dialogue you wrote in this paragraph”). They don’t offer advice until they make sure the performer understands the importance of what they saw.


In most cases, the sooner I get feedback, the better. I don’t want to wait for hours or days to find out whether my students were attentive and whether they learned, or which part of my written story works and which part doesn’t. I say “in most cases” to allow for situations like playing a piano piece in a recital. I don’t want my teacher or the audience barking out feedback as I perform. That’s why it is more precise to say that good feedback is “timely” rather than “immediate.”

A great problem in education, however, is untimely feedback. Vital feedback on key performances often comes days, weeks, or even months after the performance—think of writing and handing in papers or getting back results on standardized tests. As educators, we should work overtime to figure out ways to ensure that students get more timely feedback and opportunities to use it while the attempt and effects are still fresh in their minds.

Before you say that this is impossible, remember that feedback does not need to come only from the teacher, or even from people at all. Technology is one powerful tool—part of the power of computer-assisted learning is unlimited, timely feedback and opportunities to use it. Peer review is another strategy for managing the load to ensure lots of timely feedback; it’s essential, however, to train students to do small-group peer review to high standards, without immature criticisms or unhelpful praise.


Adjusting our performance depends on not only receiving feedback but also having opportunities to use it. What makes any assessment in education formative is not merely that it precedes summative assessments, but that the performer has opportunities, if results are less than optimal, to reshape the performance to better achieve the goal. In summative assessment, the feedback comes too late; the performance is over.

Thus, the more feedback I can receive in real time, the better my ultimate performance will be. This is how all highly successful computer games work. If you play Angry Birds, Halo, Guitar Hero, or Tetris, you know that the key to substantial improvement is that the feedback is both timely and ongoing. When you fail, you can immediately start over—sometimes even right where you left off—to get another opportunity to receive and learn from the feedback. (This powerful feedback loop is also user-friendly. Games are built to reflect and adapt to our changing need, pace, and ability to process information.)

It is telling, too, that performers are often judged on their ability to adjust in light of feedback. The ability to quickly adapt one’s performance is a mark of all great achievers and problem solvers in a wide array of fields. Or, as many little league coaches say, “The problem is not making errors; you will all miss many balls in the field, and that’s part of learning. The problem is when you don’t learn from the errors.”


To be useful, feedback must be consistent. Clearly, performers can only adjust their performance successfully if the information fed back to them is stable, accurate, and trustworthy. In education, that means teachers have to be on the same page about what high-quality work is. Teachers need to look at student work together, becoming more consistent over time and formalizing their judgments in highly descriptive rubrics supported by anchor products and performances. By extension, if we want student-to-student feedback to be more helpful, students have to be trained to be consistent the same way we train teachers, using the same exemplars and rubrics.

Progress Toward a Goal

In light of these key characteristics of helpful feedback, how can schools most effectively use feedback as part of a system of formative assessment? The key is to gear feedback to long-term goals.

Let’s look at how this works in sports. My daughter runs the mile in track. At the end of each lap in races and practice races, the coaches yell out split times (the times for each lap) and bits of feedback (“You’re not swinging your arms!” “You’re on pace for 5:15”), followed by advice (“Pick it up—you need to take two seconds off this next lap to get in under 5:10!”).

My daughter and her teammates are getting feedback (and advice) about how they are performing now compared with their final desired time. My daughter’s goal is to run a 5:00 mile. She has already run 5:09. Her coach is telling her that at the pace she just ran in the first lap, she is unlikely even to meet her best time so far this season, never mind her long-term goal. Then, he tells her something descriptive about her current performance (she’s not swinging her arms) and gives her a brief piece of concrete advice (take two seconds off the next lap) to make achievement of the goal more likely.

The ability to improve one’s result depends on the ability to adjust one’s pace in light of ongoing feedback that measures performance against a concrete, long-term goal. But this isn’t what most school district “pacing guides” and grades on “formative” tests tell you. They yield a grade against recent objectives taught, not useful feedback against the final performance standards. Instead of informing teachers and students at an interim date whether they are on track to achieve a desired level of student performance by the end of the school year, the guide and the test grade just provide a schedule for the teacher to follow in delivering content and a grade on that content. It’s as if at the end of the first lap of the mile race, My daughter’s coach simply yelled out, “B+ on that lap!”

The advice for how to change this sad situation should be clear: Score student work in the fall and winter against spring standards, use more pre-and post-assessments to measure progress toward these standards, and do the item analysis to note what each student needs to work on for better future performance.

“But There’s No Time!”

Although the universal teacher lament that there’s no time for such feedback is understandable, remember that “no time to give and use feedback” actually means “no time to cause learning.” As we have seen, research shows that less teaching plus more feedback is the key to achieving greater learning. And there are numerous ways—through technology, peers, and other teachers—that students can get the feedback they need.

So try it out. Less teaching, more feedback. Less feedback that comes only from you, and more tangible feedback designed into the performance itself. And, of course, send me some feedback on this article

The future of teaching is about the relevance of issues, not just facts
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The future of teaching is about the relevance of issues, not just facts

Holly Welham from The Guardian

Sam Fairclough is a history teacher at Le Rosey in Switzerland. The boarding school charges £80,000 a year in fees and educates students from the age of eight through to sixth form. He has been teaching for 14 years.

When I finished university I intended to join the Royal Navy and become a helicopter pilot. My father was in the navy and I’d been to naval school but because of head injuries while playing rugby, I wasn’t able to do it. I didn’t know what to do next, so I called my old rugby coach for advice. He suggested that I speak to the head of my old school because he was looking for a part-time history teacher, which had been the focus of my degree, and a rugby coach. I ending up spending three very happy years there – during which I completed the graduate teacher training programme.

Being part of a military family meant that as as child I lived in various countries.Although I was born and educated in England, I would not consider the UK home. The ability to travel and work abroad is an essential thing for me. Working at an international school, with the students from an array of cultures, creates a real buzz. Sometimes students talk first hand about events we’re studying, which makes things far more engaging than just reading a textbook.

Spending time with pupils outside class means you get to know them very well, as they do you.Being at a boarding school offers the luxury of time. You can take a student aged 11 and really nurture and guide them over a number of years. There might be a young boy who’s really struggling in class, but when he gets on the rugby pitch he has real skill and ambition. You can tap into that in lessons and connect better. They get to know your family too. I have a two-year-old son and when I go to check in on the students with him he’s high fiving the boys. He potters around the house and says hello to them all, and that’s rather special.

I see very few tensions between students. There’s a collective environment here where you have to get along and respect the opinions of others. If you can’t do that, it really isn’t the school for you. People very quickly learn that they have to be able to support their own ideas. If they don’t, then they’ll get shot down. I like that they’re forced to back up what they’re saying and can’t just be a mouthpiece of pre-existing opinions.

The A-level system is rigorous and I’d never dismiss it, but it became an exam machine. At the school we teach the international and French baccalaureate. In the past I’ve taught A-levels, and in one school I taught the two programmes alongside each other. When I was last teaching it, you were preparing pupils for January and summer exams in lower and upper sixth. You never really had the opportunity to go off on a tangent if you saw real enthusiasm from a pupil about something.

The baccalaureate allows more time to develop specific interests and is more challenging for students. This is partly because they’re doing six subjects, which makes the time management aspect more demanding, but also because they can’t only choose subjects they’re naturally good at – it requires them to develop a broader range of skills. It’s still exams-based, but aspects such as a 4,000 word research essay give pupils the chance to develop their thinking skills.

Where teaching is moving forward and becoming exciting, is in how you can take away the need for specific niche learning. Last summer I was sent on a course at the Harvard graduate school of education that looked at the future of learning. One of the things I learned was the importance of moving away from niche learning to something that’s more relevant. For example, rather than learning the details of the French revolution, look at what it can tell us about subsequent events and future of global affairs.

I’m now very keen on getting students to think about the relevance of the information they’re learning. When US standardised testing was mentioned in one of the seminars, it was met with derision by the majority of the teachers because it demands niche learning – it’s not really about thinking, it’s about knowing certain facts. You do need to teach facts to build a foundation, but encouraging students to think about the broader implications and make connections between subjects is crucial.

In the past week there’s been quite a lot of coverage of Le Rosey in the British media. There’s a fairly consistent misconception of the students. There’s a perception that by default they’re arrogant, crass individuals, and it’s just not true. The pupils are a nice bunch and the ostentatious element that’s perceived is really not there. Yes, they come from wealth, but that’s not their fault. At the end of the day, kids are just kids.

Mother and problem child. Frustrated mother trying to talk with her depressed son sitting on the couch
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7 Ways to make Feedback Feel Less Threatening and More Helpful

Written by Jess Whittlestone posted on Quartz

There’s a game I used to play as a kid that we called the “hotter, colder” game. One person would hide an object, which the other would then try to find. What made it interesting (for an 8-year-old, at least) was that as you looked for the hidden treasure, the person who had hidden it would give you clues: saying “hotter” when you got closer to the hiding place, and “colder” as you moved away.

The key to this game is feedback. Without the feedback provided by the “hotter/colder” clues, the game would quickly get boring and you’d never find the hidden object. This simple example illustrates one of the most valuable skills to develop if you want to achieve any goal: the ability to seek out and respond well to quality feedback.

The importance of feedback

Research in both school and work settings has demonstrated how vital feedback is for improving your performance. One study from Harvard Business School found that regular feedback led to substantial improvements in performance on a simple data entry task. Students who receive feedback on their work perform twice as well as students who do not. Gary Latham and Edwin Locke, who study effective goal-setting in organizations, argue that quality feedback is one of the most important factors influencing performance.

The reason feedback is so effective is that it helps you see what stands between you and your goal—and the steps you need to take to get there. Imagine trying to learn to play an instrument if you couldn’t hear whether you were hitting the right notes or not. It would be pretty near impossible: if you don’t even know when you’re making mistakes, how can you begin to correct them?

The same applies in the workplace: If you want to improve at your job—whether that means becoming a better manager, making more sales, or simply getting more done in less time—one of the best things you can do is to ask for more feedback. Others often spot things we don’t, and have suggestions from their experience we might not have thought of. But this is easier said than done: seeking feedback from others can be incredibly difficult.

Why seeking feedback is so difficult

When did you last ask for feedback from your boss or colleagues outside of a formal review process? You may struggle to think of an example; most of us don’t explicitly seek out feedback on how we’re doing often.

Psychological research suggests that people tend to avoid seeking feedback, particularly when they expect it be negative. Feedback can be painful. No one wants to discover that they’ve done something wrong or that they’re coming across badly. At least in the short term, it’s much easier to avoid negative feedback and avoid the negative feelings that come with it. This is an example of what’s known as information avoidance: a widespread human tendency to avoid any information that might be emotionally threatening.

We’re all fundamentally motivated to maintain a positive self-image—and so will tend to avoid any information that might threaten that image. I definitely struggle with seeking feedback on my writing. I like to think that I’m a good writer, and if something threatens that—a negative comment from a friend or boss—my self-esteem takes a little knock. When something I’ve worked hard on is criticized, it can feel like a personal attack, like I’m being criticized as a person, and that hurts.

But I also know, deep down, that I have to seek feedback on my work if I want to improve. So how can we make feedback feel less threatening and more helpful?

1. Cultivate a ‘growth mindset’

Fear of criticism is at least partly rooted in having a fixed mindset—believing that your traits and abilities are fixed and there’s nothing you can do to change them. If you think you can’t change your abilities, then negative feedback serves no purpose other than to make you feel bad. On the other hand, if you can cultivate a growth mindset—believing that you can change and improve with hard work—then every piece of feedback becomes an opportunity to improve.

The first step toward cultivating a growth mindset is simply learning to notice fixed mindset thoughts when they arise, and replace them. Sometimes I catch myself with thoughts like “I received negative feedback on that article… I guess I’m not that good a writer after all.” This is a perfect example of a fixed mindset attitude, because I’m assuming that my abilities as a writer are fixed—I’m either a good writer or I’m not, and feedback will tell me which is the case. When I notice these thoughts, I try to correct them with thoughts like, “If you work hard and are able to learn from feedback, you’ll eventually be a great writer.” This transforms how I feel about receiving criticism on my work. I’ve found it helpful to explicitly ask myself, “How would this feedback help me to improve? How can I use it to become better?”

For more on the difference between fixed and growth mindsets, and how to cultivate a growth mindset, I highly recommend the bookMindset by Carol Dweck.

2. Ask for feedback when you’re feeling good about yourself

Geoffrey Cohen, a psychology professor from Stanford University, has found that simple “self-affirmation” exercises make it much easier for people to accept threatening information. The exercise is pretty simple: you write down a list of values that are important to you—standards you want to live your life by. Examples might include having good relationships, being hardworking, curious, or kind. You then spend a few minutes writing about why these values are important to you, and thinking of times when you particularly lived up to those values.

Cohen and colleagues have found these simple exercises can have profound effects like reducing defensiveness and making people more open to threatening information in a range of scenarios, from school to relationships. The basic idea behind this is that when we feel good about ourselves in general, we’re much less easily threatened by specific things.

Doing a simple self-affirmation exercise might, then, make feedback much easier to handle. It’s also worth making sure you ask for feedback at a time when you’re feeling good in general, not when you’re particularly tired, stressed, or insecure.

3. Concretely visualize the benefits of getting feedback

Recently, I noticed myself avoiding feedback on an article I’d written. I knew I should seek feedback from a specific person since I was writing about a topic he was an expert on. But I also knew that if I sought feedback, I’d have to accept that what I’d written was imperfect and needed work. Part of me just wanted to submit the article as it was, and deal with the consequences later.

But then a little voice in my brain chimed in saying, “Picture yourself in a week’s time, having published the piece without seeking feedback. You’ll probably avoid sharing it with many people, because you won’t be that proud of it, and you’ll be worried they’ll notice flaws you can’t change anymore. On the other hand, if you get feedback now and improve it, you’ll feel so much better when you do publish it, and glad you put the extra work in. Doesn’t that feel better?” Suddenly I could really see how seeking feedback would be better for me in the long run.

As I mentioned above, one of the most difficult things about seeking feedback is that often it means accepting a short-term cost—admitting your imperfections—in favor of a long-term gain—the opportunity to improve. The more vivid and certain the long-term benefits are, though, the more motivating they’ll be. So if you find the idea of seeking feedback difficult, try concretely visualizing the ways in which it will help you in future.

4. Break criticism down

If someone says something critical of you, there are two possibilities: either what they’re saying is true, or it’s not. If it’s true, then hearing it is useful and allows you to improve (see points one and two above). If it’s not, then they’re wrong and it doesn’t matter. So criticism should never really be harmful, right?

Obviously it’s not quite that simple: often a piece of feedback has a grain of truth to it, but isn’t entirely accurate. In this situation, it can help to break a piece of criticism down into its useful and non-useful parts. I found this really useful recently when I received a critical comment from someone on the internet—it helped me to take away something useful without feeling too upset. Accepting that a piece of negative feedback contains something useful doesn’t mean you have to accept the entire thing.

5. Start small, and build up to bigger, more personal things

Start by asking people to give you feedback in areas that are less personally important and less likely to threaten your self-image. It might be easier to ask your boss for feedback on a specific report you’ve put together than to ask your clients for feedback on your presentation and social skills.

As you get used to receiving potentially negative feedback in less personal areas, you can then build up to asking for feedback in more personal areas. This is similar to exposure therapy, a technique used to successfully treat phobias: you start off with something that barely scares you, and gradually build up so that you’re more able to deal with the thing.

6. Ask for both positive and negative feedback

Asking for a combination of positive and negative feedback makes both giving and receiving feedback easier. Not only is negative feedback much easier to take if it’s served with a side of compliments, it also feels nicer to give someone else positive and negative feedback together. So if you’re actively seeking feedback, make it clear you’re interested in hearing about things you do well in addition to things you could improve.

Research suggests that novices tend to find positive feedback most motivating, and as you develop expertise, negative feedback gradually becomes more useful. If you’re just starting out in a new job, for example, negative feedback might be very discouraging—feedback on what you’re doing well is much more likely to make you feel committed to and motivated by the job. When you’ve worked your way to the top of a company, and are considered an expert in your field, negative feedback is likely to be much less threatening and much more useful for identifying where you can improve.

7. Ask for specific, actionable feedback

Vague feedback can be incredibly frustrating. Being told “you’re not very good at presentations” is useless: it just makes you feel bad and gives no suggestions for what you need to actually do to improve. One study of sixth graders demonstrated the importance of specific feedback, finding that giving written comments rather than nonspecific, numeric scores resulted in significantly higher levels of improvement. As well as being more useful, feedback that focuses specifically on what you could do better, rather than what you do badly, is also much easier to hear.

The best way to ensure you receive specific, constructive feedback is to explicitly ask for it. So instead of approaching your boss tomorrow and asking for generic feedback, pick a specific goal, project or skill you’d like to make more progress with, and ask focused questions about that one thing. How do you appear to be progressing? Is there anything you could be doing better, or anything that’s holding you back?

Seeking feedback is a skill like any other—a skill which can massively improve your work performance in all areas. Like all skills, it gets easier with practice—the more you practice asking for feedback, the easier it is to see the benefits and overcome the hurdles.

You can follow her on Twitter at @jesswhittles and visit her website here. We welcome your feedback at

Idaho School District’s Scarce Resources No Barrier to Innovation
On / by admin / in Novare

Idaho School District’s Scarce Resources No Barrier to Innovation

By Michele Molnar of Education Week

Being innovative is “sort of in my DNA,” says Linda L. Clark, the superintendent of the West Ada school system in Meridian, Idaho.

“I’ve had a mantra for a long time: Make no small plans, for they have no power to stir the soul,” she said. A great-aunt often shared that philosophy, and Ms. Clark has taken it to heart as she has led the 37,000-student district—the largest in Idaho—since 2004.

West Ada, which at $4,500 per pupil last year ranks among the lowest rates of funding in the nation for districts with more than 10,000 students, has drawn national attention for Ms. Clark’s ability to leverage innovation to get results with few resources.

Those results are spelled out as “key performance indicators” on the district’s website—which track nine measures—from reading- and math-assessment results on the Northwest Evaluation Association’s Measures of Academic Progress to senior projects.

Ms. Clark, who is 65, has been making big-picture plans as an educator for more than four decades. “I became an administrator very young, as a new elementary school principal 35 years ago,” said the 11-year superintendent. “We were first to do a lot of things.”

The list she rattles off includes having the first computer lab in a school in the Northwest United States, being among the first principals to videotape teachers and meet with them to coach improved performance in 1980, and playing a role as an early educational adopter of the “continuous improvement” model used in business and making decisions based on data from key indicators.


  • Communicate Often: You cannot overestimate the value and importance of communication. The bigger your operation is, the more challenging communication becomes. It’s essential that people understand all the pieces along the way and that you keep them in the loop.
  • Involve Everyone : The leader cannot dictate from the top down. The leader has to have the vision—the big picture—and engage people in that. It takes buy-in and cooperation. It takes everyone to make that vision successful.
  • Share the Successes: Find a lot of ways to tell the story of the process as it’s unfolding. Use the stories of success to help other people develop.

“What we’re engaged in now is changing everything we know about teaching and learning, the structure of our schools, almost from the ground up,” she said.

Five “superstar” teachers in West Ada were given the opportunity in 2011 to develop the 21st-century classroom of their dreams. All chose a rotational model, using laptops, iPads, and interactive whiteboards, rotating students through stations, “much the way elementary teachers have successfully taught, but now with digital tools,” Ms. Clark said.

Those five classroom successes became a model for 125 21st-century classrooms, and soon, six buildings in the district that will be fully digital. In this digital environment, “teaching and learning capture the power of technology,” with students taking greater responsibility for their learning and solving real-world problems, she said. “When I go to those classrooms, I see every student engaged. They’re not doing rote learning but analysis, synthesis, the higher-level thinking,” Ms. Clark said.

‘From the Ground Up’

Failure while trying such new approaches is not only an option, but an expectation, said Ms. Clark, who did her doctoral research through the University of San Francisco, visiting China to study the process of change and the role that education, economics, and leadership played in that country’s economic change in the mid-1980s.

Linda L. Clark, Superintendent, West Ada School District, Meridian, Idaho. Photo: Swikar Patel/Education Week

Linda L. Clark, Superintendent, West Ada School District, Meridian, Idaho.
Photo: Swikar Patel/Education Week

Ms. Clark “stands out in that she believes innovation does not happen at the district level,” said Sara Schapiro, the director of the Digital Promise League of Innovative Schools, a national coalition of 57 school districts willing to share their innovation successes and setbacks. “She believes innovation happens only when teachers feel empowered to make changes in their classrooms.”

West Ada was one of the original district members of the league, and as its superintendent, Ms. Clark is a charter member of the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization authorized by Congress to spur innovation in education.

For instance, educators in West Ada are encouraged to apply for technology-innovation grants that will directly benefit their own classrooms. Since the 1980s, teachers have sought grants from the local education foundation. In 2009, Ms. Clark hired a part-time grant facilitator, who helps locate available funding, write grants, and track results.

Within two years, Ms. Clark found that “leading edge” teachers were seeking grants for digital tools. Then the district began seeding them in 2012 to spur the digital conversion. Two or three times a year, West Ada provides a pool of $50,000 to $60,000 to award competitive grants of $2,000 to $3,000 per recipient. Teachers’ applications are blindly scored for fairness in selection.

In the most recent round, $89,000 more in grant requests was submitted than there was funding to fulfill, said Ms. Clark. She saw this as evidence that the “from the ground up” grants-selection process and showcasing results has caught on, “signaling that our more reluctant teachers were now eager to begin the digital transition.”

Not everyone is a fan of Ms. Clark’s approach.

Penny L. Cyr, the president of the Idaho Education Association, takes exception to that way of encouraging innovation. “To force teachers to be competitive with colleagues to get ahead, that’s crazy. If you have technology money that can make it good for all students,” then it should be applied equally to all classrooms, she said.

Thanks in large part to West Ada’s high-profile involvement with the League of Innovative Schools over more than three years, Ms. Clark was invited to participate on a panel about empowering teachers when more than 100 superintendents met at the White House late last year. The occasion was President Barack Obama’s launch of the “Future Ready District Pledge,” a seven-point document that defines a district’s commitment to effectively integrate technology for teaching and learning.

Ms. Clark told the gathering: “Our secret sauce is our staff, our teachers,” as they work to make strides under the constraints of a tight budget. “They’re very dedicated, very hardworking.”

Ms. Clark, her staff, and their innovative approaches attract visitors from across the country and abroad.

Unconventional Ideas

Steve Webb, the superintendent of the 24,000-student Vancouver, Wash., district, is sending a team to West Ada to learn about its blended learning rotation model at the elementary level this year. Ms. Clark has also collaborated with Vancouver in setting up a technology showcase, in which companies that partner with the district hold an expo to demonstrate the benefits of their partnerships with the schools.

“What I appreciate most about Linda’s leadership is that she understands that culture trumps strategy,” said Mr. Webb, whose district is also a member of the innovative schools’ league. Her focus is creating “the context and conditions where ubiquitous innovation can grow and thrive,” he said.

Another colleague from the league credits Ms. Clark—whom he calls “pretty unassuming”—with leading a digital transformation about as efficiently as anyone in the country. Steve C. Joel, the superintendent of the 35,000-student
Lincoln district in Nebraska, said: “This is not about going out and acquiring all the nice stuff others acquire; this is about a certain philosophy of transformation and how it will augment the great work you do.”

What we’re engaged in now is changing everything we know about teaching and learning, the structure of our schools, almost from the ground up.

Among the more unconventional ideas Ms. Clark has shepherded to reality is the hybrid use of buildings for the district. It started when she identified a warehouse that had been vacant for four years and decided it would be a perfect place to consolidate the district’s administrative offices, which at the time were spread across 11 buildings over the district’s 380 square miles. But renovating a warehouse is a costly undertaking.

Ms. Clark identified a partner in Idaho State University, which needed space. Today, the warehouse is an educational campus that houses district headquarters, a comprehensive International Baccalaureate high school with 600 students, and a professional training center that shares a lunchroom, library, and other space with the university.

“There were people who thought that idea was absolutely crazy, including a former superintendent. After it opened, many of them said they were wrong,” Ms. Clark said.

The next frontier for Ms. Clark? Another shared-building project with a new elementary school, the YMCA, and a local library, again spearheaded by the superintendent. The idea came after a $104 million bond issue failed narrowly. The proposed elementary school, budgeted at $12 million, would now cost $10 million, thanks to the shared-use approach.

“They’ll use our computer lab. We’ll use the YMCA gym,” Ms. Clark said. This school, which is part of a $96 million March 10 school district bond issue, will have a special focus on healthy living.

It’s another “large plan” that would, no doubt, make Ms. Clark’s great-aunt proud.

Closing Education Gap Will Lift Economy, a Study Finds
On / by admin / in Novare

Closing Education Gap Will Lift Economy, a Study Finds


Study after study has shown a yawning educational achievement gap between the poorest and wealthiest children in America. But what does this gap costs in terms of lost economic growth and tax revenue?

That’s what researchers at the Washington Center for Equitable Growth set out to discover in a new study that concluded the United States could ultimately enrich everybody by improving educational performance for the typical student.

When it comes to math and science scores, the United States lags most of the other 33 advanced industrialized countries that make up theOrganization for Economic Cooperation and Development, ranking 24th, far behind Korea, Poland and Slovenia.

Moving up just a few notches to 19th — so that the average American score matched the O.E.C.D. average — would add 1.7 percent to the nation’s gross domestic product over the next 35 years, according to estimates by the Washington Center, a nonpartisan, liberal-leaning research group focused on narrowing inequality. That could lead to roughly $900 billion in higher government revenue, more than making up for the cost of such an effort.

If Americans were able to match the scores reached in Canada, which ranks seventh on the O.E.C.D. scale, the United States’ gross domestic productwould rise by an additional 6.7 percent, a cumulative increase of $10 trillion (after taking inflation into account) by the year 2050, the report estimated.

Robert G. Lynch, an economist who wrote the Washington Center report, explained why he took the trouble to make these what-if calculations.

“One of the main goals was to see how we could promote more widely shared and faster economic growth,” said Mr. Lynch, who teaches economics at Washington College in Chestertown, Md. In the three decades that followed the end of World War II, almost all Americans, no matter where they fell on the earnings scale, enjoyed at least a doubling of their real incomes.

But that balanced growth has evaporated. While those at the top have continued to experience robust income increases, everyone else’s income has either stalled or dropped. The average income of the bottom 20 percent of households sank by more than 8 percent from 1973 to 2013, while the inflation-adjusted incomes of the top 20 percent grew by about 60 percent, according to the report. The top 5 percent enjoyed an 80 percent jump.

One point of this exercise, Mr. Lynch explained, is to show that the added cost of improving educational achievement at the bottom would be more than made up for by the rise in economic output and tax revenue.

The study used math and science scores from the 2012 Program for International Student Assessment, a test widely used around the world for measuring and comparing educational achievement. The average combined score for the United States is 978, while the O.E.C.D. average is 995. The Canadian average is 1,044.

Eliminating the achievement gap in America would require raising the country’s average to 1,080, so that it would rank third behind South Korea (with an average score of 1,092) and Japan (with a 1,083 average). That stunning improvement, according to the center, would raise the total output in the United States by another 10 percent. Lifetime earnings of the poorest quarter would jump by 22 percent in this event.

The income gap is an outgrowth, at least in part, of the education gap. Ananalysis by the O.E.C.D. released last fall showed that the United States greatly lagged nearly every advanced industrial nation on measures of educational equality. Only one in 20 Americans age 25 to 34 surpassed the educational level of their parents, for example. For the 20 richest member nations, that average was one in four.

The report includes the types of changes, which include expanding early childhood education, reducing exposure to lead paint and starting school later so teenagers can get more sleep, that the center views as necessary to raise achievement scores, though it does not include specific costs in its calculations.

The report also notes how widely achievement scores vary within the United States, not only from state to state but county to county. Montgomery County, a generally affluent suburban area in Maryland just outside of Washington, for example, was able to reduce the gap and increase scores after instituting all-day kindergarten programs, reducing class size, investing in teacher development and reducing housing-based segregation in its schools.


What If Assessment Was Used to Elevate Learning Rather than to Rank Students
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What If Assessment Was Used to Elevate Learning Rather than to Rank Students?

By Ron Berger

Imagine you are the coach of your daughter’s soccer team. Assessment would be important to you. You would hope that each of your players would have a clear sense of what she does well, what she needs to work on, and a commitment to improvement. It’s doubtful you would regularly give each girl a written test to determine her value as a player, and then sort each player into proficient, needs improvement, and failing categories.

Just as good soccer coaches do, teachers must help their students gain a clear sense of — and high standards for — what they do well, what they need to work on, and how to improve. The most important assessment that takes place in any school is not the end-of-year test; it is the assessment that is going on all day long in the mind of every student. Each student is continually assessing his or her attitude, behavior, understanding, and work — “Is this piece good enough to turn in?” “Do I actually understand this concept?”

If we hope to improve student learning, we need to get inside student minds and turn up the dial for quality. Most importantly, we need to build into every student a growth mindset — the confidence that he or she can improve through hard work — and a passion for becoming a better student and a better person.

In many schools, assessment practices provide little of this information and inspiration for students and their families. Assessment is typically seen as something “done to students,” not as a set of tools they can use for their growth. For those who are regularly ranked below average (almost half the students in any school), assessment practices often take the heart out of personal motivation. At Expeditionary Learning (EL), we focus on student-engaged assessment — a system of eight interrelated practices that positions students as leaders of their own learning.

Our book, Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools Through Student-Engaged Assessment describes these eight practices in detail. I will briefly highlight two of them here: Student-Led Conferences, and Models, Critique and Descriptive Feedback.

Join Teaching Channel’s Winter Book Club. We’re reading Ron Berger’s book,Leaders of Their Own Learning: Transforming Schools through Student-Engaged Assessment.

Student-Led Conferences

When I was in school, parent conferences happened once a year, and only when I was in elementary school. My mother would go in after school to meet with my teacher. I have no idea what they talked about. When she came home there were two possible outcomes: either I was “doing fine,” which meant I was not in trouble; or “I was not doing fine,” which meant I was in trouble.

In contrast, for schools in the EL network, parents come to school multiple times each year, whether their child is in kindergarten or eleventh grade. Their child runs the conference, presenting to them a full picture of his or her learning, challenges, growth, and goals. The teacher is there to listen and comment, but the student is responsible for showing evidence of meeting academic learning targets in all subjects, strong and positive work habits and character habits, and growth as a scholar and person. Unlike the parent conferences of my youth — which did nothing to build my skills or insight — these student-led conferences build in students a powerful mix of responsibility, motivation, and metacognitive skills and understanding.

Watch a student-led conference with seventh-grader Gabriella and her father at Washington Heights Expeditionary Learning School, a NYC district school in which 100% of the students are low-income, and 100% of graduates are accepted to college.

If you have a hard time imagining how young students could understand themselves well enough as learners to facilitate a conference effectively, watch kindergarten student Trinity share her work with her mother and father.

Models, Critique and Descriptive Feedback

What if, instead of being continually disappointed by the quality of work students turn in, we showed them exemplars? What if we analyzed that work with them to determine what the criteria should be for quality, to give students a clear vision of what they are aiming to create?


Often, we do share with students the rubrics of how they will be assessed. Rubrics can be useful tools, but absent a picture of what the final goal actually looks like, for many students they are just a bunch of words. Students need to see high-quality student essays, geometric proofs, experimental designs, book reviews, research papers — whatever the genre — so that they can understand and analyze what “good” is.

To see an example of how students can analyze quality work thoughtfully and build criteria for improvement, watch the Austin’s Butterfly video. If you would like to see what a classroom looks like where that same process of using models, critique and descriptive feedback produces extraordinary high-quality work, you can see that here.

Assessment, when it is student-engaged, can be a more powerful, positive force than we imagine. It can give students the tools and motivation they need to truly be leaders of their own learning.

What does a Moon Shoot in Education Mean
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What does a Moon Shoot in Education Mean?


I was thinking about those words today as I visited the Kennedy Space Center, the nation’s diving board into space for the last five decades. (I was in Florida for the inspiring KIPP School Summit, and being a space nerd pretty much since birth, couldn’t resist the side trip.)

I’m not normally one for organized tours of anything, and if they involve a bus and a PA system, I’ll assuredly find something else to do. But the Space Center tour was oddly moving—less so for the visit to the now-grounded Atlantis space shuttle, much more so to the Firing Room, where launch control from the Apollo missions has been preserved perfectly since 1973. Before you enter, you pause for a few minutes in a theater. As Motown plays, an artfully constructed movie teaches not just about the program itself, but the social and historical forces that made reaching the moon a turning point, a vital proof of what was best in us as a nation. At a moment of war and worry, John Kennedy set before the country a task of outlandish ambition, and told us we would do it because it was hard. He said:

We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win …

But if I were to say, my fellow citizens, that we shall send to the moon, 240,000 miles away from the control station in Houston, a giant rocket more than 300 feet tall, the length of this football field, made of new metal alloys, some of which have not yet been invented, capable of standing heat and stresses several times more than have ever been experienced, fitted together with a precision better than the finest watch, carrying all the equipment needed for propulsion, guidance, control, communications, food and survival, on an untried mission, to an unknown celestial body, and then return it safely to earth, re-entering the atmosphere at speeds of over 25,000 miles per hour, causing heat about half that of the temperature of the sun–almost as hot as it is here today–and do all this, and do it right, and do it first before this decade is out–then we must be bold.

It was also, as Kennedy noted, expensive. The cost of the moon missions was about $5.4 billion in 1962, which translates into about $42 billion today. (Race to the Top, the big fund that Duncan talked about as his moon shot, was around $5 billion when it began in 2009.)

And so, we set out to put men on the moon.

The movie over, it was on to the firing room, where sound, video and even a bit of shaking floor simulated the sights, sounds and feeling of the launch as the controllers experienced it. And finally, to a vast hall where a fully functional Saturn V rocket is broken into sections, a gleaming white thirty-story skyscraper laid on its side, from thrusters the size of the house at its base to the tiny manned capsule at the tip. Seeing it, it’s hard not to wonder at the trust the men in that capsule must have had in the engineers, who with slide rules and protractors devised the tube of fuel, powerful as an atomic bomb, on top of which the capsule sits.

I was born the year the Apollo missions began, and one of my first memories is of Walter Cronkite announcing the launch of a rocket to the moon. Yet until today I’ve never appreciated the magnitude of what we set out to do. It’s easy to imagine the objections: “But to get humans to the moon, we’d have to build a tower of liquid fuel the size of a Manhattan apartment building, inside a construction shed with massive cranes and the tallest door in the world, and drive it three miles on a moving platform that can hold 6 million pounds. The rocket would have to fly perfectly straight but come apart in sections—engineering marvels which you’d have to discard like empty cans after they’d done their job just once. You’d have to flood the base of the launch pad with 300,000 gallons of water to keep the blast from shaking the rocket to pieces before it ever got off the ground.

“You’d have to fit another whole spaceship inside the first one to actually land on the moon. And the manned capsule would have to be made of some material that would keep it from turning into a brightly burning meteorite on reentry. Oh, and if any of about twenty thousand pieces didn’t work, you’d kill the brave men sitting at the top of this towering bomb in an internationally televised funeral pyre.

“Also, the whole project would require an unprecedented partnership between government, nonprofit management, and private enterprise.

“What I’m saying is, it’s just not going to happen.”

It happened.

So, when Arne Duncan talks about our moon shot in education, I get it a little better now. Weirdly, defeatism is much in vogue these days in education. A growing chorus would shift the conversation, suggesting that the link between poverty and rotten educational outcomes is an immutable fact, rather than the problem to be solved. The variable becomes the constant. It can’t be done, because it’s really hard.

Maybe it’s just that the optimism of KIPP’s 3,000-teacher celebration has infected my sense of proportion and possibility. But I think there’s a connection between last night at KIPP School Summit and Kennedy’s moon shot challenge. At the KIPP gala, keynoter Bill Clinton urged us to find ways to give every child the remarkable opportunities that KIPP students enjoy. I hear an echo of Kennedy, urging us to burst gravitational bonds we once believed immutable and to take on a task once thought impossible, within a decade. He urged us to the moon because this country is at its best when it takes on hard, important tasks, and because he knew that we had the capacity to succeed. That, I think, is what Clinton was telling us about schools and underserved kids last night. That’s what Arne Duncan’s moon shot means. And, by any reasonable standard, educating all of our kids well is a hell of a lot more important than reaching the moon–whether you judge by international competition or moral imperative. (Maybe, today, we ought to be thinking of this as our Mars shot.)

It was very, very hard to get to the moon. Many doubted it was possible. But when we put our best minds, our hard work, and our full commitment to the task, we succeeded.

Are we not still that country today?