Thank You for Your (Frequent Actionable) Feedback

Today’s Contributor: Marc Thrall Marc is a Technology Design Coach for Austin ISD. He has been a 4th and 5th grade teacher, a Technology Facilitator, a Tech Zone Lead, and a Technology Design Coach. He is proud to have spent his entire career in Austin ISD – more years than any of us would care to admit.

As educators, we value feedback to our students. Unfortunately, sometimes feedback takes the form of a grade at the end of an assignment or assessment. What if students got feedback DURING their work so they could adjust, improve, and take control, dare I say “ownership”, of their learning? I recently experienced this first hand.

A several months ago, I started “running”. I would say “again” but it has been since high school that I have run without being late for something or chased by a dog. After a few weeks, I started using an app called Runkeeper that uses GPS to track distance, pace, and elevation change during my run/walks. The app also has an audio feedback feature that will give you configurable feedback at intervals you set. At first, I set the app to give no audio feedback. I thought it would be distracting. The app would give me results upon completion of activity. That was pretty cool. I didn’t have to pre-measure distance for my routes. I could mix it up and get a bunch of cool data — distance, route, average pace, and split paces by mile. For a data geek it was all caps AWESOME!

After a few weeks, I noticed there was no real pattern of improvement. Some days I would do better than others but improvement was sporadic. That’s when I started to play with the feedback. I set the app to give me my distance, current pace, and average pace every 10 minutes and half mile. That was great! It helped me beat my best time on a 5K (3.1 mi) twice in a month! As I looked at my run data online, after the fact, I noticed a tendency to start strong and lag as I go. What if I got more frequent and, maybe, different feedback during my runs?

I then set the app to the most frequent feedback possible – every 2 minutes and every quarter mile. I also set the feedback to be distance, current time, current pace, average pace for the run, and the split pace for the current mile. What does this do for me? The more frequent feedback lets me know when I slow down so I can adjust my pace. The result? In the two weeks after the change, I beat my best pace on a 5K (3.1 miles) SIX times. The data collected also helped me realize an area of need – my pace during uphill sections of my route. I now have specific data I can use to improve my performance.

I want to be clear, the feedback I get is not cheerleading. I get frequent, specific, and actionable feedback. The feedback is not, “Way to go” or “Good work!” I get told how I am doing right now (my current pace), on this part of the whole (the current mile), and over all (the pace for the entire run). With this information, I can see when I need to adjust my activity to reach my goal. Again, my results have improved more quickly since I began receiving the more frequent and specific feedback during my activity.

Frequent, specific, and actionable feedback is what we should be giving all learners. Make no mistake, results are important AND results are feedback AFTER the learning. It can feel punitive — judgement after the performance without an opportunity to improve. More useful is feedback DURING learning when it can inform learning and allow learners to take control and ownership of their learning. Then feedback can actually feed the learner.

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