IATEFL 2017: Does feedback work?

A summary of Loraine Kennedy’s main points from the talk ‘In one ear and out the other: does feedback work?’ You can access the session here (again, won’t embed).


This talk was specifically about in-service feedback for teachers, not about feedback on training courses

If we are not giving feedback for the right reasons, and getting the right results, then why bother?

Studies (e.g. Kluger and Denisi 1996) have shown that only a third of feedback has a positive effect – two-thirds has either a negative or no effect. With this in mind, Kennedy considers how to change the way we approach professional learning, and the impact of feedback on teaching performance and ultimately student learning.

What is feedback?

  • Feedback is limiting the discrepancy between current performance and future goals.
  • We often think of feedback in narrow terms (e.g. observations). Hattie and Timperly (2007) point out that even reading a book related to teaching can be a form of feedback.
  • Only feedback that is sought and accepted is likely to have an impact

Kennedy’s experience of giving/receiving feedback

Kennedy mentions a feeling of ‘going through the motions’, especially when it comes to ‘the sandwich approach’ to feedback (something good – something to improve – something good). Her changing attitudes to feedback as she’s become more experienced have included phases of denial, confidence and apathy.

Talking about feedback with teachers and managers

Should you give positive or constructive feedback?

A general pattern seems to be that novice teachers benefit from positive feedback on their effort and commitment. Feedback for more experienced teachers is often ‘more brutal’ and constructive. However, there are so many factors involved (e.g. context, the individual, level of engagement). Growth and Fixed Mindset (Dweck) were mentioned. There is a ‘historical baggage’ to feedback too.

Practical suggestions for how to give feedback (based on Kennedy’s research and experience)

  • Not ‘feedback’ – it’s about future improvement. ‘Feedforward’. Talk about ‘insight’.
  • Do this through coaching conversations. The teacher should take the lead in these and the observer should facilitate with exploratory questions (e.g. what would you like to talk about?). Non-directive techniques by the sounds of it…
  • An increase in self-assessment: we encourage our learners to be more autonomous, what about teachers? SMART objectives needed too
  • Use a variety of observation practices. A recent study (Sutton Trust) highlighted the importance of peer observation – when it’s set up well
  • Establish learning cultures led by teachers
  • Teachers should get feedback DIRECTLY from students (‘What did you find challenging? What would make it easier for you?)

Take home points

  • The starting point should always be… ‘begin with the students in mind’. Always focus on how we can make things more successful for our learners.
  • Feedback should be future focused, involved goal setting and should focus on development, NOT evaluation.

This talk and my context

I found this an engaging talk – Kennedy is really clear and concise. This was one of those sessions where most of the points sounded straightforward, yet when I started relating Kennedy’s points to my own context I realised that my organisation don’t always do the simple things well.

One example is with Kennedy’s point ‘focus on development, not evaluation’. She stressed ‘this is nothing radical’, as if it was a standard tenet of the feedback process. My organisation has so many of Kennedy’s suggestions already in place – e.g. goal setting, a SMART approach, coaching conversations and learning cultures led by teachers. However, our annual development plans (mandatory for all teachers to undertake) culminate in an evaluation where our performance is rated. What’s worse, our performance rating (a grade) may soon determine our share of an annual bonus. I’m worried about how this approach may affect our working culture. Performance ratings already lead to a rather contrived approach to feedback and appraisal :-(.

I thoroughly recommend this talk, one of the best I’ve seen so far from the online sessions available.

References from Loraine Kennedy’s slides:

Categories: General, reflections

Tags: , , , , ,

6 replies

  1. Hi Liuda,

    This is about English teaching, and here about feedback to teachers.

    The results of a study are surprising.

    Are they analogous to feedback to students?

    Stan ///Quoting ELT planning :

    > Peter Pun posted: “A summary of Loraine Kennedy’s main points from the > talk ‘In one ear and out the other: does feedback work?’ You can access > the session here (again, won’t embed). Orientation This talk was > specifically about in-service feedback for teachers, not abo” > > >


  2. I felt the same way. There was really nothing terribly new in what Kennedy was presenting and yet in my own context, as in yours, I see us doing the very opposite or just going through the motions.


    Liked by 1 person


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