Friday, 24 June 2011 21:50

Feedback: The 9th Nurturing Force of Intrinsic Motivation

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This blog series continues with a description of the 9th force (out of 10) I have identified that brings out the best in children by appealing to the best in them.

Instead of trying to gain temporary obedience from our students through the use of rewards and punishments, these forces help us in our attempts to win our students’ hearts and minds and enlist a genuine commitment to the worthwhile aims and objectives we are trying to promote in our classrooms.

Focusing on and emphasizing these forces helps teachers create an engaging, productive classroom environment that brings out the best in students.  For teachers who may be a bit nervous about the prospect of managing a group of children without relying on rewards and punishments, these forces offer a far more powerful, far more genuine alternative to traditional classroom management approaches that are rooted in Douglas McGregor’s Theory X and depend on extrinsic motivation.

These forces work synergistically to create an environment where quality can flourish.  No extrinsic motivators, either alone or in combination, can come close to producing such results.  No student has ever been rewarded or punished into excellence.  True success comes only when we bring out the very best in our students.  These forces do just that.  

In addition to promoting student desire to engage in specific tasks, these forces benefit a classroom more generally.  Collectively, they build morale and enthusiasm for learning, enhance self-esteem, deepen the sense of connection individuals feel to the classroom and to one another, and increase student willingness to put forth sustained effort.

Nurturing Force #9: Feedback

Imagine for a moment that you are a student in my class.  You have recently published a Writing Workshop story, and you’re waiting for me to assess it and hand it back to you.  When I do, you notice that I’ve scored it to be a 2 on our 4-point rubric.  You decide to continue working on the story to improve your score to a 3, the standard.  But before you can begin to improve it, you need to know which specific areas to address.  You look all over for my comments, but you don’t find any.  I have given you no feedback indicating what you did well, where you had difficulty, and how you can bring your work up to the standard.  Understandably, you are de-motivated because you don’t know how to proceed.

On the other hand, imagine that I return your work with extensive comments about your story.  You now know exactly what you need to address in order to raise your score.  This information guides you.  It helps motivate you to put forth the effort required to improve the story.   Feedback is motivating.  It contributes to success and represents a vital part of building a culture of continuous improvement and quality.

I once heard someone remark, “Man knows everything about his work, except how to improve it.  After all, if he knew how to improve it, he would be doing it already.”  This is where feedback helps us.  When we are sincerely trying to improve in a given area but are unsure how to do so, we benefit from the expertise, experience, and wisdom of others.  As author Stephen Covey puts it in his book First Things First, “getting other perspectives will help us improve the quality of our own.”

In a quality classroom feedback takes many forms and flows in many directions.  Most commonly, feedback flows from teacher to student.  This type of feedback allows us to provide helpful information to kids about both their academic work and behavior.  We offer our comments in writing and, when we have time, during one-on-one conversations.  

Feedback can also flow from student to student.  As teachers, we facilitate this exchange of feedback among team members by encouraging them to work cooperatively as frequently as possible, such as during Writing Workshop when it comes time to revise an initial story draft.  Promoting student-to-student feedback sends the message that we consider all our kids to be valuable resources, capable of contributing to the betterment of the classroom community.

Finally, feedback flows from student to teacher.  I strongly believe that if I expect the kids to listen to my feedback, then I should listen to theirs.  I see this partially as an issue of fairness, but more than that, I actively solicit feedback because I know that the class as a whole benefits from the ideas the students offer.  The insights they provide are usually quite keen.  In addition, kids appreciate teachers who are willing to listen to them.  Feedback, then, benefits students not only when they receive it, but also when they have a chance to provide it.  Such opportunities improve their morale, give them greater ownership of the classroom, make them feel valued, and generally result in a more productive environment.  

In February a few years back, for example, we conducted our first set of Student-led Conferences, a variation of the traditional parent-teacher meetings that I described in Teaching Tips #20-22.  At the time, I was planning a second set for May or June.  Though the conferences went very well and the attendance rate was high, I wanted to make the second round better than the first.  I had some ideas of how we could improve these meetings, but I wanted feedback from the kids.  

I used a simple quality tool called a “Plus/Delta Chart” to collect student feedback.  On the “Plus” (left) side I wrote down everything that the kids liked about how we first conducted the conferences and that they wanted to hold constant for next time.  On the “Delta” (right) side I recorded all the ways they thought we could improve our format for the second set.  (Delta is a Greek letter used in science to mean “change in.”)  A Plus/Delta Chart, then, tells us what to preserve and what to modify.  I found myself agreeing with the group’s recommendations and made a commitment to act on them the next time we conducted Student-led Conferences.


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