The Myth of Feedback

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The Myth of Feedback

Each instalment of our ‘Empowering Educators’ series features a conversation between author and speaker Gavin Grift and an educator who inspires him.

This is an extract of a chat between Gavin and Doreen Miori-Merola, a highly experienced US educator and the co-director of Thinking Collaborative.

Doreen, how do you think we best create the conditions in education so that we have fewer ‘puppets’ – those just following orders – and more self-direction?

I think that we, as people in positions of leadership, have to get rid of three myths that we hold on to about feedback and what we’ve traditionally believed feedback does.

These are the myth of learning, the myth of excellence, and the myth of truth.

The myth of learning is when we believe that people will learn better if we give them feedback. That’s not true. Research has proven that.

In Carol Sanford’s book, No More Feedback, she tells the story about this third-grade classroom that she divided into a control group and an experiment group. They were being videoed but didn’t know it. She gave commands and the kids had to put their arms in various positions.

With the control group, after their first attempt, she asked them to self-evaluate. They all thought that they did a fantastic job, but when they looked at the video it was clear they were wrong on their self-assessment.

But they didn’t acknowledge that they were wrong. Instead, they tried again – and again – and it was the same thing. No comment, no improvement.

Whereas the experiment group were videoed but were never asked if they wanted to watch it. After the first round of hand and arm gestures, they were asked the simple questions: How do you think you did, and how do you think you might improve? This goes right to the work that we do in coaching. It’s about asking mediative questions. And providing data.

But the kids said, ‘well we think if you slowed it down a little bit, we might be able to do better’.

They followed that same process all the way through, with the kids becoming more concise on their feedback, more specific on the kinds of things that would help support them to do better. By the end, they were much better.

So tell me, what do you mean by excellence is a myth around feedback?

Excellence is something that’s very abstract. What might be excellence for one is not excellence for another. How do you define it, how do you give parameters for it?

So there is that myth of excellence and that we’re arbiters of excellence – that we can judge it, modify it and give it numbers.

And then there’s the myth of truth – that one man’s meat is another man’s poison. What might be true for you might be very different from what truth is in a different culture, or for people of colour or people who have experienced trauma.

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