In fact, the moments when you give or elicit feedback on what the students have done may sometimes be more valuable learning opportunities then the exercises themselves. It’s often in feedback that students have those ‘aha’, lightbulb moments when they finally ‘get’ something.
Feedback is an opportunity not just to give students the answers, but to check they understand why an answer is correct or not, or to clear up a long-held confusion, or to pick up on areas that need clarifying in a subsequent lesson.
However, feedback can also feel a bit dull and routine, plus it’s often teacher-centred, so there can be a temptation to rush through it as quickly as possible to get to the next fun activity.
But surely feedback can be fun? And it also doesn’t have to be teacher centered.
A good way to put the focus back on the students is to get them to peer correct first, in pairs or small groups. If you monitor while they are doing this, you can easily see which questions are causing the most difficulty and then have a brief but useful teacher led discussion on just these questions.
There are lots of ways to make peer feedback a bit livelier as well. If, for example, you want students to check their answers to an exercise, try putting them into two concentric circles, with the inner circle facing outwards and the outer circle facing inwards. They check the first answer with the person facing them, and also have to say why they think their answer is correct. After 30 seconds (or longer if the questions are tricky) you say ‘move’ or ring a bell and the outer circle moves along one space in a clockwise direction to discuss the next question and so on. It would only be worth devoting the time this takes to set up if you expect them not to have got all or most of the answers correct, but if there is some discussion to be had it can work well, while keeping up energy and motivation.
Another possibility, perhaps for a gap-fill text, is to put the answers on post it notes around the room, and perhaps throw in a few wrong answers as well. Students have to go around the room in pairs and find the correct answers for each gap. This will necessarily involve discussion and more thought.
Or, particularly for multiple choice questions (though it could work for True/False as well), get students to go to a corner of the classroom labelled A, B, C etc and discuss why they chose that answer with others there.
If you are doing whole class feedback, one of the issues is that you don’t really get to know how many students got each right answer, or who found which question difficult. Mini whiteboards can provide a solution to this. Each student, or each pair of students, writes their answer on the mini whiteboard and holds it up before you give the answer. It is quite easy to make mini whiteboards by laminating white cardboard, which can then be written on with ordinary board pens.
There is also a tendency in whole class feedback to nominate the same students all the time, or just the ones with their hands up. Mainly this is because teachers want to avoid embarrassing students, but it can have unwanted effects. Some students may become disengaged, knowing that they won’t be asked, and even the more able students will only put their hands up when they are sure they know the answers, which means they won’t have the opportunity to get things wrong. Yes, the opportunity. As Caleb Gattegno, creator of the Silent Way, said, ‘a mistake is a gift to the class.’ If feedback just consists of students giving correct answers, there is very little opportunity for learning to take place. So, you could try a random method of choosing who answers a question. For example, each student could write their name on a piece of paper that you pull out of a box. Or you can get students to pass a ball around and the person with the ball answers (and cannot be passed the ball again).
When teachers don’t manage to get through half of what they planned, it is often because they haven’t allowed a realistic amount of time for feedback. However we decide to do it, feedback is, if not more important than the activities and tasks in the lesson, at least equally important. So let’s allow plenty of time for it, and plan how to do it in the most engaging and motivating ways we can.