How much of our teaching time is spent giving students feedback on their work? We can read a lot about feedback—how to correct, what to correct, how often, when to give feedback and when not to. As a parent, I rely on teachers’ verbal and written feedback on my children’s schoolwork to guide them in their studies; as a teacher, I spend hours marking students’ work and considering how to write constructive feedback comments that will help students to understand their areas of strength and where they could improve their essays.
Recently, I was surprised by the generous feedback offered by one of the adult students at an English-language college where I work. The students at the college are from refugee backgrounds and, although there are over 25 different first languages spoken by adults in the classes, all the students are at beginning levels of English language proficiency. This means that, while communication between students and teachers occurs in many ways throughout the teaching year, it isn’t always in written or verbal English. I was reminded by this incident that our actions can communicate as much, if not more, than our shared words in one language. This particular student’s way of saying “thank you” to teachers for their hard work throughout the year was an Eritrean feast on the table in the staffroom. The lunch was delicious, the teachers were grateful, and the student’s feedback message was conveyed clearly.
This kind gesture also served as a reminder to me of the powerful role a teacher’s feedback (both verbal and nonverbal) can play in securing students and helping them to achieve their best. Social neuroscience research explains that much of our communication is nonverbal. Even if we are not speaking, our students may be reading our expressions and emotional reactions as negative feedback, and so we need to be aware of the message we are conveying with our actions as much as our spoken and written words (Cozolino, 2013).
Are we providing enough positive feedback to meet our students’ social and emotional needs? It’s easy to focus on correcting errors, but some studies show that an overuse of negative feedback in the form of marking of students’ work has been linked to students’ low self-esteem and low academic achievement (Cozolino, 2014). I am grateful for the reminder to consider the power of feedback in the classroom and for the students whose actions teach me as much as words.
Cozolino, L. (2013). The social neuroscience of education. Norton.
Cozolino, L. (2014). Attachment based teaching: Creating a tribal classroom. Norton.