How FAST is your Feedback? – by Russell Grigg

31 October, 2017

A few years ago, while browsing in a bookshop in Hay-on-Wye, I found a small book called FAST Feedback. It was written in 1999 by Bruce Tulgan, an American businessman interested in the difference between high- and low-performing companies. One of the key differences he identified was the quality of interaction between a company and its stakeholders. Tulgan soon developed a FAST model based on the four characteristics of the feedback seen in the most successful companies.

First, feedback was frequent. By this, Tulgan meant that bosses were on the same frequency as the workforce. They were ‘in tune’ with their employees and treated them as individuals. Second, feedback was accurate, based on facts, and gave more time to positive comments than constructive criticism. Third, the most effective feedback was specific. It wasn’t simply a matter of telling employees what they did right and wrong, but exactly what steps they needed to improve their performance. Finally, feedback was given soon enough for it to have an impact on performance. It was timely – which meant that employees had details fresh in their minds so that they could take immediate action.

Although transferring ideas from business into schools is not always straightforward or desirable, Tulgan’s model aligns closely with what we know about the most effective feedback in the classroom. For example, the much-quoted findings from the Education Endowment Foundation show that the right kind of feedback has a very positive impact on learning. The most successful feedback is:

• tailored to learners (frequency) (e.g. ‘Helen, can you spot the same mistake you made here as you did in the last answer?’)
• accurate in picking up misconceptions (e.g. ‘Do you think all Victorian teachers were harsh?’)
• specific (e.g. ‘I liked the way you kept going at the task, especially…’) rather than general (e.g. ‘Well done’)
• timely (e.g. ‘OK, before we move on, read your partner’s work and check whether all the success criteria have been met’).

However, providing FAST feedback is challenging, especially when teachers feel the pressure of time and class sizes. Building a toolkit of ideas can help, in which learners take on increasing responsibility for their own feedback. Here are five suggestions.

1. Worked exemplars or models
The immortal Blue Peter line ‘Here’s one I made earlier’ is a reminder of the importance of exemplification when teaching. Pupils need to know what success looks like. Exemplar work from within the class (and previous year groups) illustrates not only what is right or wrong with a piece of work, but also allows teachers to elaborate on the topic. If a teacher has concerns about pupils merely copying what others have done, they can show extracts, rather than the whole piece of work, using technologies such as visualisers.

2. Checklists and rubrics
Success criteria checklists help pupils to focus on how they can meet their goals. In one Key Stage 1 class, the teacher prepared a checklist for working together. It included criteria such as ‘looking at your partner’, ‘asking ‘What do you think?’’ and ‘showing an interested face’. Symbols can be included for those less confident in language.

For older children, rubrics can be useful in setting out expectations for completing a task. The Rubistar website allows teachers to create their own rubric related to a range of topics, including oral presentations, class debates, writing letters, making puppets and creating a timeline. You can decide on the success criteria and the rating scale to be used.

3. Reviews and plenaries
Regular reviews of pupils’ work can take many forms. Using coloured sticky notes or a simple PMI (Positive, Minus, Interesting) grid, ask pupils to identify one thing they have achieved, one thing that is proving challenging, and one question they would like to explore further. The outcomes can be displayed on a feedback wall, tree or gallery, and others in the class can be asked to take up one of the challenges or questions. Pupils can give feedback on their learning by summarising it in different ways, such as a flowchart, in three words, or setting Who Wants to be a Millionaire?-style questions for others to answer. When giving written feedback on pupils’ work, why not write your comments on slips of paper and mix up the books, then ask each group to match the comments to the right piece of work.

4. Technologies for instant feedback
You could explore the use of Personal Response Systems to conduct quizzes and pose true/false or likelihood questions to gain a sense of pupils’ understanding or misconceptions. Technologies such as Nearpod and Kahoot allow teachers to gauge levels of understanding and give instant feedback using interactive activities. The Teacher Feedback website allows teachers to upload audio comments on pupils’ work. Pupils can respond and indicate their understanding on a scale from 1–4 (with 1 representing ‘I don’t understand’ to 4, ‘I understand what to do’).

5. Feedback on your feedback
Start off by finding out what kind of gap exists between what you say and what pupils understand. What does a tick, smiley face or ‘good work’ mean to them? Work towards having common expectations. Develop a simple marking and feedback policy that all pupils can understand and follow. Establish a whole-school system for effectively capturing and acting on what pupils say, from surveys to informal discussions over lunch.

The key to judging whether feedback is successful is the extent to which recipients act upon comments they receive. Pupils need to be motivated to respond, and they must understand what’s in it for them. This calls for building a classroom climate in which dialogue is encouraged and where verbal feedback is routinely sought and offered during lessons. Feedback alone does not guarantee success. In fact, the wrong feedback can set learners back. But FAST feedback, provided in a climate of trust and mutual support, can make a real, positive difference.

About the author

Russell Grigg is passionate about excellent teaching and is able to draw on more than twenty years experience in the primary field, as teacher, inspector, teacher trainer, leader, consultant, researcher and writer. He has written many books and other materials for schools, including Big Ideas in Education: What Every Teacher Should Know (Crown House, 2016).

Join Russell on his one-day Fast Feedback course this autumn and see where he will be appearing in Wales for superb one-day courses and keynote at our Welsh Leadership Conference. For a more bespoke training day, call our INSET team to discuss bringing Russell into your school on 01790 755783.

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