Chapter 10 Review: “Feedback that Really Works”, from The New College Classroom

The concept of transformative learning, which takes place through quality, timely feedback, is explored in The New College Classroom, Chapter 10 “Feedback That Really Works.” Cathy Davidson and Christina Katopodis encourage a 360-degree feedback method that considers self reflection, peer feedback, and instructor assessment to create an all-encompassing model that encourages learning across multiple realms. This chapter addresses feedback approaches that seasoned practitioners might already be implementing in their pedagogy, but anyone new to teaching, or looking for a refresh to feedback strategies can find something helpful from this text. Additionally, the ideas are presented in a timely fashion by addressing in-person and remote learning scenarios that influence the execution of feedback practices.

The authors focus on constructive feedback with less emphasis on a particular grade, and more attention to the actual growth taking place within an individual student, as a key component in the success of these methods. The chapter periodically approaches the systemic issue that places more value on grades than actually learning, and offers the 360 review as a possible solution to this issue. The 360 review as applied in the classroom is modeled after corporate reviews, which provide a more thorough evaluation of student progress through multiple perspectives. While personal reflection and instructor evaluation techniques have been tried and true approaches for some time, this approach also considers peer feedback on another student’s performance. This turns the assessment away from the application of skill to allow other areas of evaluation that demonstrate student growth. This approach prepares students for giving and receiving constructive feedback, and prioritizes intellectual growth over grades. 

One of the most compelling concepts suggested is training students to view feedback, a response to a common concern among teachers who feel that the students never actually receive their written commentary. In order to ensure students actually read the feedback that instructors have taken the time to provide as a key element in the learning process, the authors focus on concepts that demonstrate the student is applying the feedback. This can be done through exercises that provide written reflection on what parts of the instructor feedback the student applied to the completion of assignments, or through a simple questionnaire that asks students to reflect on the amount of time spent reading and implementing feedback. These methods provide a tangible way to incorporate the value of instructor feedback into student work, and hold the student accountable for making these connections.

The chapter includes methods that help students become constructive in their delivery of feedback through role playing. This allows them to get more comfortable with the process, and get real-time feedback to reinforce the importance of language in this process. I was particularly inspired by the emphasis on developing positive communication habits in the classroom, such as using “I” statements in the feedback, which highlights the value of word choice in peer-to-peer feedback. Approaches designed to encompass the idea of developing students and instructors as colearners include: student input in rubric creation, student voice in the course/assessment design, student-centered coaching, and self reflection and feedback on the course design and teaching.

The authors successfully situate feedback in a frame that emphasizes the beneficial role it can play outside of the educational system by incorporating methods that can shape student success beyond the classroom. As an important life lesson, they address the impact of bias within the classroom and evaluation process. Methods that encourage instructors to address gender and social bias that impacts the evaluation process include discussing the impacts of said biases before evaluations, and allowing students to reflect on these concepts and how they influence self, peer and instructor evaluations. Allowing students to explore these concepts and reflect on the role of bias in feedback methods encourages development of the student beyond the curriculum in a way that will promote a more equitable experience for everyone involved in the process. 

While there are a variety of quality approaches to utilize in the classroom, there are also some ideas that would benefit from further exploration. One suggestion for implementing these feedback strategies includes putting students in the same groups all semester to encourage rapport and building a community where this technique can be most successful. However, there is benefit to having students work with various classmates throughout the semester to learn from the unique perspectives of more students. The ideologies on group pairings as they relate to this peer feedback method could use a little more attention to explore the nuances involved in the benefits of group work and peer evaluation from multiple scenarios of grouping. For example, an instructor could construct different groups for each assignment to encourage the sharing of multiple perspectives, but focus on building rapport and community through the exchanges and activities that take place within each class session. This would create a positive atmosphere that could translate to the productivity of the feedback sessions, regardless of group pairings.

I think one of the most important elements in a successful classroom is creating a safe and supportive learning environment. The importance of the instructor in creating an environment that encourages risk taking, un-doing the negative habits of traditional learning, and prioritizing learning over grades is sprinkled throughout. An example from Professor Luis Bonilla at Arizona State University provides a framework for the type of dialogue and thinking that contributes to this environment, but this idea is buried at the end of the chapter. There is mention of one-on-one conferences, which I think are crucial to good feedback and creating a safe learning experience and environment. I think establishing this environment is foundational in implementing the successful feedback strategies presented in the chapter, and therefore, think addressing this earlier (or directing readers to other parts of the book that address this) would establish a more solid framework.

The chapter addresses the social factors associated with using support resources, such as tutoring or a learning center, suggesting that students can be hesitant to utilize these resources. I agree that this challenge has to be addressed, but I think that we have to find a way to encourage the use of these for all students to make them the norm, rather than accepting that some students just won’t use them. For example, the instructor should continually mention the benefits of using these resources, and could even make it a requirement that students visit the writing center at least once during the term. The question of instructor labor and time also has to be considered, and delegating these types of essential skills to other experts allows the instructor to focus more on quality feedback. Thus we need to find a way to have students experience the value of these resources. Perhaps a tutor at the writing center could visit class to build a rapport and demonstrate what these sessions look like. I think the chapter could have expanded on incorporating a proactive use of getting students comfortable with using these resources as part of the overall feedback process.

Overall, the chapter reinforces proven feedback concepts that enhance the learning process. Given the adjustment of learning environments that encompass in-person, online or a combination thereof, considering the role that feedback plays in being a part of the knowledge formation is essential to the success of the student and teacher, making this resource a valuable tool for any educator, in any institution, at any point of their career.