I shouldn’t feel bad for saying ‘well done’ – #28daysofwriting day 5

Image credit: quietlyurban.com – CC Licensed on Flickr

A couple of days ago I was writing about feedback in relation to reading blogs and wanting to leave some recognition of the fact, and since then a vague connection has been forming in the back of my head between this and the feedback that we provide in school – specifically the use of the generic ‘well done’.

Since the growing awareness of the ideas behind AfL became more widely known among the teaching profession, the idea of effective feedback has been at the centre point of lots of school inset and CPD programmes. That focus has now been redoubled after the work of John Hattie, the Sutton Trust and others. We know that feedback can be one of the most effective ways of increasing learner achievement.

As a result of that lots of time has been put in to developing systems (and there’s probably at least another couple of blog posts in that) that leverage these ideas for teachers, learners, and often for those scrutinizing both of them. In that, the ‘what you need to do to improve’ has become a near sacred quest – be it in the forms of stars and wishes, EBIs or personalised targets. Add in the work of Dweck on others on growth mindsets and the need to limit excessive praise and it can feel like the simple ‘well done’ is no longer welcome.

While I am not suggesting for a second that constructive feedback isn’t vital, I think there is probably still a place for a heartfelt ‘well done’, ‘good job’, ‘top work’ or whatever local version works for you. For me, the thing that gets lost is often the timing of the feedback. I was reminded of the difference between ’30% feedback’ and ’90% feedback’ highlighted in this blog (which I think I probably came to via Doug Belshaw).

We call it Thirty Percent Feedback.  It’s a trick I learned from our investor, Seth Lieberman.  It came about because I once asked him for feedback on a product mockup, and he asked if I felt like I was ninety percent done or thirty percent done. If I was ninety percent done, he would try to correct me on every little detail possible because otherwise a typo might make it into production. But if I had told him I was only thirty percent done, he would gloss over the tiny mistakes, knowing that I would correct them later.  He would engage in broader conversations about what the product should be.

The problem is that in school we’re often offering 100% feedback. “It’s done. Thanks. If you’d were going to do it again, you should have done it like this. Now lets move on. “

We need to get much better about the point at which we give our feedback and make sure students can act on it (DIRT time is an idea that’s been kicking around for a couple of years, and if you’re a teacher if you’re marking without it, you’re probably wasting a chunk of your time – try here and here to start, but there are loads of great blogs on it). We can restructure our assessments, we can make better use of cloud technology to provide feedback BEFORE the final deadline, or ensure that students get a second go at delivering that presentation.

And if we get that right, when the even better ifs have made it even better, and we’ve agreed that next time it might be worth considering doing this, can we also make sure we say ‘well done’ on a good job. Say it with pride and mean it.  ‘Cause I know it always made a difference to me.

Dave Stacey

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