Beyond Good

Since becoming a parent, the number of times I’ve uttered the words “Good job!”, “Great try”, or something similar has increased exponentially. I don’t even think about it, the words just roll off my tongue. I’ve said “good job” so many times the phrase falls into the same meaningless category as “hurry up” and “be careful”. If the words were so automatic, and I didn’t even have to think to say them, how much meaning could they hold for whoever was on the receiving end? The same holds true for the type of feedback that passes between learners and guides in our studios; our learning design relies on quality feedback. Instead of lots of “good jobs”, our goal is that feedback in our studios is meaningful, motivating, and kind. 

According to research, feedback in the form of cliches like “good job” are actually not feedback at all, and certainly don’t align with our definition of feedback at TVS. Carol Dweck, well known for her research on growth mindset, reminds us that the praise we get, especially from parents, educators, and coaches can shape the way we see ourselves, our abilities, and our intelligence. Instead Dweck suggests using phrases that are focused on effort and detail. Our Spark Guides give ongoing growth mindset praise and feedback, and their ideas about what to say instead of good job are a continued source of inspiration. 

Spark Studio’s Helpful Reminders during Session 1 Exhibition

Beyond praise, feedback is an integral part of the learning design at TVS. We rely on learners to provide meaningful feedback to each other and we prioritize feedback as a way for learners and their families to see growth. We like to think of feedback as an ongoing conversation that follows our learners in their studios with each other, with guides, and at home with their families. 

Guides spent time this summer thinking about how to strengthen the feedback systems to support learners as they step into their role as receiver and provider. In our planning, we used criteria identified by research across educational and workplace settings that point to three conditions that result in meaningful feedback. 

Feedback should be face to face: There are many systems within the studio that position learners beside one another to provide feedback. 

  • Community Meeting is something that happens almost every day, providing a venue for learners to present their work and ideas for group feedback dialogue. 
  • Guide meetings position guides and learners side by side for a feedback conversation. These conversations are documented by both learners and guides, allowing for transparency and accountability.  
  • Community Partners are often invited to provide feedback to learners both at the midway point and end of learning experiences like Quest, Writer’s Workshop, and Communications. 

Feedback should compare performance to a standard: Ron Berger is well known in the education community for his work surrounding experiential learning and what he calls, the “ethic of excellence.” His research shows how powerful models of excellence can be when inspiring young people to reconsider, rework, and revise. Berger’s work has informed our use of learner-created rubrics to help define excellent work. In session 1 learners in Discovery and Adventure created their own rubrics for their writing challenges based on close examination of model work from the real world. These rubrics were a helpful jumping off point for feedback conversations. 

Our new learning platform, Headrush, also highlights the learning goals and competencies that Discovery and Adventure learners are working towards in each of their badges. The competencies are all tied to the TVS Portrait of a Graduate, which informs our learning design. These competencies are a helpful frame for both feedback and documentation of each learner’s journey towards mastery. 

Feedback should include suggestions: Guides and learners in Discovery and Adventure studio started the year providing feedback using The Ladder of Feedback, a research based feedback protocol from Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education’s research group. The Ladder provides a framework for a feedback discussion guiding participants through four steps on a ladder: clarifying questions, value statements, concerns, and finally suggestions. Learners have used this protocol with each other and with guides to discuss their writing and project ideas. 

Learners engaged in a feedback conversation using The Ladder of Feedback

Providing and accepting meaningful feedback is a skill that takes practice. The systems we’ve designed are meant to provide learners with many opportunities for just that. We invite you to join us – the next time you are in search of some feedback, as your learner. And, if you’re like me, “good job” will roll off your tongue at least once today (if it hasn’t already) and when it does, maybe you’ll take a minute to think beyond good. 

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