Feedback For Mistakes: What Are Your Approaches?

My pre-coffee reading this morning had me checking out Doug Peterson‘s latest blog post on “mistakes.” I was tempted to add a comment on the post, but as I started to think more about feedback possibilities, I realized that I needed to write my own blog post … and definitely post-coffee. 🙂 Feedback is one of those topics that interests me almost as much as play-based learning, inquiry, and documentation. My thinking around feedback though continues to evolve, and this distance learning reality has my teaching partner, Paula, and I often discussing feedback. 

Doug’s blog post has me not just contemplating feedback, but contemplating it under the umbrella of “mistakes.” My experience teaching Full-Day Kindergarten has helped me see mistakes through a slightly different lens. I’ve started to see many of them as “misconceptions,” so when looking to respond to these misconceptions, I try to think about how to increase background knowledge to impact on theorizing. 

Students are always contemplating “worms having a baby.” They seem to make sense of the world around them based on what they already know. With this in mind, do we then need to introduce new experiences, terminology, and/or information to help them see and interpret observations differently?

In an online classroom, providing a new provocation, an interesting video to watch, some different reading, or even a classroom discussion (whether synchronously through an online meeting platform or asynchronously through an app such as FlipGrid), might inadvertently provide the feedback needed to modify theories. 

Thinking about our own online classroom experience, I also wonder if feedback isn’t always about correcting mistakes as it is about extending learning. In these other cases, here are a couple of approaches that we’ve found beneficial.

  • Let kids share learning in our synchronous online classroom, and provide them with one question or suggestion around where to go next. Sometimes this is as simple as wondering if they could add labels to their work or thinking about if there might be another way to use the same materials, but in creating a different structure. One day, after students shared a few of the alphabet charts that they made (to support them in reading and writing at home), we suggested that a child create a dinosaur alphabet book to connect the letters and sounds with something that matters a lot to him. Below is what he created. The key seems to be keeping the thought short enough for the children to recall, and then encouraging them to leave the meeting right away and start working on our suggestion. This not only seems to increase their excitement around the idea, but also helps them remember what we suggested. 

Dinosaur Alphabet Book

Dinosaur Alphabet

  • Offer feedback in the form of a question or wonder. I keep coming back to Dylan William’s comment that, “Good feedback causes thinking.” This is why Paula and I prefer a question approach. Then the thinking about where to go next, how to extend learning, or maybe even how to modify theories, won’t just rest with us. After students share work with us, we add it to the class blog and include a comment. Usually our comment includes a question or wonder. Sometimes the answer seems a bit more obvious (almost as if we’re wondering about exactly what we want them to do), and sometimes, it’s a bit more open-ended (a “how might” question is good for this). Our approach often depends on the student, and the scaffolding that we think might be beneficial. We’ve recently started using FlipGrid for a few different activities, and again, sharing questions and wonders through our video feedback to kids is also something that we try. We’re hoping that by modelling this approach, this is also how kids will start sharing feedback with each other. 

Maybe our biggest struggle right now is knowing the focus of the feedback. In the classroom, we’ve seen the process of learning that’s led to the product. We see this in some cases online, but sometimes, parents and students just share the final product with us. What then?

  • Where do the interests lie?
  • Where are the greatest needs?
  • How might we link needs with interests?
  • What kind of instruction might be needed to support going to the next step?
  • How might we provide this instruction?

Sometimes I feel as though we’re playing the ultimate guessing game, and Paula and I are hopeful that by pulling on our previous experiences with these kids, that we’ll guess right. Since learning in the Kindergarten Program Document is so interconnected through the Four Frames, chances are high that we might get multiple opportunities to provide feedback on a similar topic, as we will likely keep circling back around to it. Sometimes though, I worry that our feedback might pull learning in a different direction that misses the needs and/or interests of the child, and then what? Will we need a new provocation to push it back on course? 

Since mistakes are part of learning, are they also an important part of our learning around feedback? If so, we can then confidently write this feedback “down in pen,” knowing that scratching suggestions out, modifying them, and trying again, are all part of the process. With a pencil, does the eraser make us forget about those previous mistakes: increasing our chances of making them again or being embarrassed by their existence in the first place? Maybe exploring teacher feedback more provides as much learning for us as it does for kids. How do others approach feedback online, and does it vary from your approaches in the classroom? If/when life does get back to normal again, I have to wonder how our online feedback approaches might impact on our classroom ones, and which changes might exist well beyond our distance learning reality.


2 thoughts on “Feedback For Mistakes: What Are Your Approaches?

  1. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Aviva. As I mentioned in my post, “mistakes” came as my answer to Mike’s provocation about pencils as opposed to pens. I tried to convey the fact that “mistakes” seems to be a show stopper and that good teacher will use feedback to influence the student in the right direction.

    Traditional ways of feedback need rethinking in our current reality. If the downtime was just a week or two like we originally thought, it might not have been a big deal. But now, it’s going to be at least six weeks and so some serious thinking about feedback needs to be done.

    • Thanks for your reply, Doug! I absolutely agree with you here. I also think that showing the mistakes has value … for us and for kids. Sometimes when it comes to giving feedback, I wonder if the mistakes are sometimes ours, and highlighting our different attempts at “fixing mistakes,” extending learning, etc. has as much value for us as it does for kids. A reason to embrace the pen instead of the pencil, if we are to extend the analogy here.

      Feedback is also interesting, for I think it depends on the type of mistake. If we’re talking a right versus wrong answer, we’re probably not offering feedback. Feedback has us looking beyond this. I’d be very curious to hear about different approaches for giving feedback. While in some ways, we’ve gotten into our own feedback groove (which I think is largely working when I see how kids are using our feedback on future work shared), I do still wonder if we’re sometimes missing the boat. Not seeing the process at times makes providing the feedback more challenging. Curious to know if others feel the same, and what they might do to change this. Thanks for giving me a lot to think about this morning, Doug!


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