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A Forward-Looking Approach to Feedback

Monica Bhimwal is the PYP Coordinator and Principal Primary School at Pathways World School, Aravali, an IB Continuum School in India.

Feedback is a powerful tool to improve students’ learning. If the approach is forward-looking, it will empower the learner to explore new strategies and possibilities to meet the learning targets. If these are collaboratively constructed and owned by the learners, it results in greater accountability.      

In a constructivist PYP classroom, ‘feedback’ plays a key role in the learning process. The effectiveness of the feedback is dependent on various elements such as the kind of feedback given, choice of words used, timeliness, the stage of learning, and most importantly the ownership for the feedback.

To enhance feedback mechanisms at our school, the teachers engaged with profound reflections that were guided by metacognitive prompts such as:

  • How much of the feedback is implemented?
  • What could be the possible reasons that hold the students back from putting feedback to work?
  • Is the feedback product-focused or process-oriented?
  • Who takes the ownership for the follow-up or action on the feedback, the teachers or students?
  • Are the students just the receivers of feedback or are they ‘givers’ also?

For the exercise to be meaningful, the teachers analysed the feedback approach through the study of comments or remarks in the notebooks, work samples, the dialogic conversations with the students, and the involvement and opportunities for students to actively engage with the process. These insights and introspections helped the learning community to identify the strengths and the areas of enhancement in the process of feedback.

The conclusions of the inquiry indicated that the feedback was frequent and was given during all stages of learning. The feedback provided insights to the learners about their skills, work habits, learning dispositions, and knowledge acquisition.

The development needs that came to the forefront were that in certain areas: the feedback was repetitive and continuous such as spellings, application of writing conventions; more focus and attention was needed from the teachers to identify key development areas of the students; specific tools and strategies for improvement needed discussion with the students and required greater involvement of students in mapping their progress through strategic growth plans with timelines.

For the approach and the practice to be developmental and forward-looking, we arranged some professional development sessions to enhance our understanding of a new pedagogic technique, ‘Feed Forward’. The sessions were facilitated by the PYP Principal for all the teachers, specialists and academic coordinators.

Feedforward helps the learners to explore new possibilities and approaches to improve future outcomes. It also encourages a growth mindset through positive dialogues with the teachers. For effective implementation of this feedforward pedagogy, sessions on ‘forward-looking’ conversations were facilitated to empower the learning community to embrace this shift. For example, ‘You need to write legibly’, is feedback that does not show a growth plan to the learners. It focuses on the current learning status but does not give direction or a support plan for future writing targets. Whereas, a forward-looking feed such as, ‘Let us identify the elements that would help you to improve your handwriting’, is developmental, positive and will empower the learner to self-analyse the work and explore new possibilities.

The sessions also aimed at identifying such feeds or remarks that could act as a dampener to learning and do not give a future direction.

Another aspect, that our PYP community focused on was to map the profile of every learner to provide the parents with detailed insights that are forward-looking and developmental. For example, achievements in academic and non-academic areas to map learner’s interests and aptitudes, key learning targets for improvement, strategies that could support learning progress, and sharing instances and anecdotes about display of ownership and accountability by the student in different domains of learning.

The third aspect that the teachers aim to strengthen is, ‘assessment as learning’. While such assessments are formative, these provide increased opportunities for the students to pause, reflect and self-monitor their learning. These also enable a more process-driven approach that supports the feedback pedagogy and prepares the students for achieving learning outcomes successfully.

This process of transformation has certainly created greater awareness and understanding of, ‘Feedforward’, and has helped the community to work towards strengthening students’ voice and choice in the feedback process

Monica Bhimwal is the PYP Coordinator and Principal Primary School at Pathways World School, Aravali, an IB Continuum School in India. She is an IB Educator and a strong believer and advocate of the IB Philosophy. She has been a part of the IB community for 16 years and specialises in Early Years, which is an area close to her heart and mind. She likes to keep herself abreast of new pedagogic approaches and techniques to best support her learning community. 

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