1 Aug 2014

When learning is recognised - the power of mindful feedback

"The most powerful single moderator that enhances achievement is feedback.
 John Hattie

I've been thinking alot lately about feedback and how it has such a huge impact on our own self worth, self image, our knowledge and understanding of what we are learning and how we view ourselves in a world that is constantly challenging and changing. Often feedback is received in various ways and can effect our opinion of ourselves and of the person delivering the feedback.
I hadn't really thought about this before until I came across a review of educational research by John Hattie and Helen Timperley, The Power of Feedback.

I started thinking about the feedback we give to our children when they are learning, not only when they try new things or achieve at sport or an every day activity, but also when they bring work home from school. Often we are quick to react to their questions or can be dismissive and don't always realise that our feedback can take them in a number of different directions.

I often find I need to be careful with providing an opinion or feedback that may be taken to heart. When we as parents provide our opinion, it is often received on a more emotional level than it would be if a teacher at school is delivering the same feedback.

Feedback that will enhance achievement is described by John Hattie as "......providing information how and why the child understands and misunderstands, and what directions the student must take to improve."

If children receive feedback that is considered and conscious, they are more likely to come back and ask for feedback in the future. Even if it is not involving praise, a good dose of constructive and supportive feedback can be encouraging rather than discouraging, depending on how it is delivered.

Reinforcing learning provides further information and coaching for the child to recognise what it is they have learned by answering questions to discover the answers themselves. As a parent, a coaching method is a great way to provide feedback because it is encouraging the child to explore their abilities and question their processes, they are able to think about the why and how they came to find an answer or conclusion. On some occasions, they simply won't know the answer so you can provide it to them, but also show them how to work it out.

If a child receives feedback that is dismissive or negative, they are less likely to ask for it in the future, or they may come to expect this type of feedback, therefore they may alter their own standards for fear of failure. Fear of failure is a most common problem that we as adults face.

Our opinions and feedback need careful consideration, as children can interpret things the wrong way if not delivered well. I am hesitant sometimes to give feedback in case it backfires and is interpreted as criticism.

How do we know if the feedback we provide is going to encourage or discourage?

In the case of giving feedback on homework, my worst habit is to look for spelling errors and things that need correcting instead of reading the story and seeing the positive story telling in the text.
I sometimes instantly look for areas that could improve, instead of focusing on what my child has achieved first.
I am conscious of this and so I concentrate on listening and understanding now before I provide an opinion. If I need to give feedback on spelling or grammar, I have to rephrase it so that I am asking a question rather than expressing my thoughts and then being seen as criticising or being overly picky.

I find that if I am aware of my what my children are learning at school, it is easier for me to ask questions and provide appropriate feedback in context. I also need to be aware that my child doesn't always need my feedback, that sometimes they are able to assess their own work and this is a skill that should be encouraged. We need to stand back sometimes and wait for them to ask for our feedback before barging in and ruining the learning experience.

I find it is worthwhile using the technique of being aware of thoughts, feelings and actions.

When I am checking my child's work, what am I thinking? Am I looking for errors or mistakes? Am I looking for their skills or are just checking their work so I can sign their diary, not really taking much notice of what they are showing me? Am I having constructive and interesting conversations about their work and giving examples that are going to benefit and increase their knowledge, or are am I miles away thinking about other things I could or should be doing?

I know for sure that most parents are guilty of at least one or more of these scenarios.

Think about your thoughts. Are they turning into feelings of dismay if you see a spelling error? Are you feeling angry or frustrated after seeing the same word spelled incorrectly several times? Or are you calm and collected in your thoughts, thinking both positives and perhaps just quietly observing areas in need improvement before providing your opinion?

Observe your actions. Are you showing your dismay or disappointment in your body language like tut tutting or rolling your eyes, sighing? Are you saying things like, "you should know how to spell that word by now," or "I thought we went through this last week, where to put a full stop and a comma."

Think about how your child will receive these types of actions and responses. Then take a step back and think about how you might stop each negative thought before it becomes a feeling and then turns into an action that could have a positive or negative impact in that moment.

Children and adults are constantly learning from each other and the most important people they are learning from are us, their parents and family. Of course, their teachers and the feedback they receive at school are most important too, but did you know that formal education only counts for around 16% of their time learning? The remainder of influences on their learning are outside of school where they are exposed to a whole variety of experiences.
It is these experiences that we, as their main role models, are responsible for. The more and varied opportunities we provide them, the more they will learn. The more constructive, supportive and positive the feedback, the more they are likely to thrive and enjoy their learning.

By providing constant critical or negative feedback, we can unwittingly blow out the flame that burns inside children who have a natural ability and love for learning. My wish is that all children can keep their spark and that they become who they want to be, not what society or what we expect them to be. Each person has the chance to be who they are and to find their own way, it is up to us to let them discover their path.

If we listen to our children when we provide feedback, really listen and observe their body language and reactions, we too can learn about our own behaviours. They are our mirror and we are always learning from them, as long as we are aware and are truly connected.
If we listen to ourselves and become more mindful of our thoughts, feelings and actions when it comes to providing feedback, you will be amazed how it helps you in your relationship with your child.
If you apply this concept to other relationships also, you will see a huge difference in how you approach others and how they react to your advice.

It is important to be aware of the feedback we are providing them in order for them to thrive.

For more on this topic and how you can stay connected with your child on their learning journey, stay tuned for my upcoming book due out later in 2014!