By Bobbie Dunn
In Part 1 of this series, I told you that students’ brains can’t take in a lot of new information, that they’re prone to conflict, and that their brains aren’t yet ready to function at an adult level. Does this mean that we should just give up and let them fend for themselves in our classrooms? Though there is much more to learn about our brains, there is still a lot of information out there that can help teachers understand better ways to teach to their students’ brains. So while researchers are learning why adolescent brains work the way they do, others are researching how to best approach the beast of the adolescent brain.
Feedback is one of those things that most of us know we should give regularly, but it is so much easier to get papers graded if we simply put “good job” on the A papers and “you’re almost there!” on C or lower papers. However, specific, helpful feedback is a needed part of brain enrichment. “Because feedback reduces uncertainty, it increases coping abilities while lowering the pituitary-adrenal stress responses” (Jensen, 1998).
Lowering stress responses? Sound familiar? As stated before, it is one of our jobs, as teachers, to keep teen brains as low-stress as possible so that they are still able to function properly and be able to organize the information given to them. The teen brain doesn’t always understand why it got an A on one paper, but then get a C on the next. This is stressful. By explaining what was done well, or what needed to be improved on, teens are more able to take that information in and will have an easier time knowing what to do in the future.
By providing feedback, learners feel more capable and confident in their abilities. The one key idea to remember, though, is this: “If it [feedback] is hard to get at, or the performance cannot be altered once feedback is received, the brain doesn’t learn quickly” (Jensen, 1998). So while feedback is a very useful tool, it has to be provided before the final grade is written in stone.
Though I first saw this statement as an obstacle I couldn’t overcome due to time constraints, it’s important to remember that feedback doesn’t always have to come from the teacher, and it can be given throughout the process, instead of just at the end. Feedback can come from the student that created the work, or by any number of peers. By providing students with checklists, rubrics, and partners as vehicles of feedback, students’ brains will be able to better understand the work required, give the students more confidence in their work, and because of those qualities, students will be able to create a better final product.
When students know how they’re being assessed, they are much more able to accomplish the task. The simple idea of feedback will enhance the classroom environment, making students more comfortable with each other, and giving them more perspectives on their work, instead of just theirs and that of the teacher’s. Feedback gives students a chance to see where their work can be improved before a grade is given. This gives a chance to practice self- and peer-assessment, which helps them think critically and understand the assessment process.
Feedback is something that I have not consistently given students, and when I have, I have given them their feedback with their grade, giving them little chance to learn from the feedback. I feel that my recent research has been very helpful in explaining the need for feedback during the learning process, instead of at the end.
And that takes us to the end of Part 2 in this series. Stay tuned for Part 3, in which I discuss the roles that relevance and experience play in the outcome of good teaching and learning.