In my upcoming Principles of Learning Course (registration opens tomorrow; details are in the P.S. to this blog post), we're going to look at the following 10 principles of learning:
- Learning is hard.
- Working memory is finite.
- Knowledge is a superpower.
- You remember what you think about.
- Tests are the best.
- Concrete examples are essential.
- Elaboration deepens understanding.
- Practice yields power.
- Motivation is malleable.
- Myths abound.
In two of these principles — “tests” and “practice” — there's an element I touch upon that bears some consideration in our blog post today.
That element is feedback.
There are a few things required for feedback to yield its power to a learner.
- It's gotta be quick — if I've forgotten what I was thinking when I did the thing I'm getting feedback on, I'll be unlikely to use the feedback.
- It's gotta be intelligible — if it doesn't make sense to me, I'll be unable to use it.
- It's gotta be manageable — too much of it and I'll get too overwhelmed to use any of it.
When even one of these traits is absent, the helpfulness of feedback dwindles rapidly.
(Note: For situations where I'm getting late feedback on something I've spent a great deal of time thinking about, I'm still likely to be able to use the feedback because of how much I've thought about the work I'm getting late feedback on. An example of this might be a major project or paper that I've been working productively on over the course of a semester.)
By far the most effective method of feedback I employ as a teacher, then, is in-the-moment feedback on what students are working on.
Some examples include:
- I look over students' shoulders while they are constructing a paragraph, making note of common hangups, and then addressing the common hangups on the document camera.
- As my students discuss unit review questions in pairs, I walk around, listen in, and give verbal feedback to help them hone their answers, illustrate concepts with concrete details, or clarify vague thinking.
- As my students conduct a pop-up debate, I periodically interrupt the discussion to give feedback on whatever skill we're working on today.
Let's dig a bit deeper on that last example. In a recent pop-up debate, here are some examples of during-debate feedback I gave.
And in another one, here is some focused post-debate feedback I gave as soon as the debate finished.
This kind of feedback is so effective, in fact, that I've long done away with grading pop-up debates with a rubric. The in-the-moment feedback is so much more powerful than the next day rubric because it's 1) timely, 2) intelligible, and 3) manageable.
So, do students need to practice working with your course material extensively in order for them to use it well? Yes. Do they need to be regularly “tested” on this material so as to ensure that they know it (versus being familiar with it)? Definitely.
But for both of these applications of the science of learning, they need to know *how the practice is going* and *what to make of their test results.* For both of these, they'll need feedback.
P.S. Here are the details on the Principles of Learning course:
What to know about the course:
- Registration will start tomorrow, November 15, at 8 a.m. EST for folks on my general email list (about 20,000 people). I'll send a brief email out letting you know.
- Registering for the course gives you lifetime, asynchronous access to all the lessons.
- All lessons will be posted by January 2024. So, register yourself in November, plan for time to take the course in the new year.
- Course completion will include a certificate indicating 15 hours of professional development.
Why you should sign up this week:
- Folks in this inaugural cohort will save $50 on the regular course price — you'll pay $199, whereas subsequent cohorts will pay $249.
- There are only 250 spots in this first cohort — once they're filled, the course closes until the second cohort, date TBD.
- In the past, my inaugural cohorts have always been the most active in the comments sections of the lessons.
- Registration means lifetime access — if you get busy this year, you can always come back during the summer.
- Be a thought leader in your school! The course ideas will be applicable across grade levels and content areas.
Regarding logistical questions:
- If you need to use a purchase order, that's great — just email me and I'll get you the w9 your school will likely need to add me as a vendor.
Leave a comment and let me know if you have any other questions. The course promo video is here.