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Effective Feedback is Essential to Build Student Confidence

Effective feedback for middle and high school students should be specific, constructive, and actionable. It should focus on both strengths and areas for improvement, helping students understand what they are doing well and how to enhance their skills further. Feedback should be timely and given promptly after the task or assignment so students can reflect on it while the learning experience is fresh in their minds. Encouragement and praise for effort are essential to motivate students and build their confidence. Encouraging students to self-assess and set goals helps them take ownership of their learning journey.

At Bennett Day, we focus on the myriad media through which we provide feedback and work regularly to improve the process for students.

Quality Relationships are the Foundation of Effective, In-Person Feedback 

In-person feedback—when a teacher walks through a classroom or meets with advisees one-on-one—is probably the most often implemented and internalized feedback a teacher provides a student. This type of feedback is built on a relationship between the teacher and student, and the ability to dialogue about progress is not only a way to give specific and timely suggestions but also helps grow the relationship further. This is why we ensure that each trimester contains numerous opportunities for teachers and students to have one-on-one discussions about their work, both with their subject-area teachers and advisors. This is most important when working with adolescents because of the importance they place on relationships and being seen. There is a direct connection between a teacher’s relationship with a middle- or upper-school student and the time that student spends taking action on the teacher’s feedback. 

Simple, Concise Feedback Helps Students Focus on Meaningful Iteration

When considering written feedback, the structure is important. The most effective feedback is simple and focused on a few key points. The more complex or multi-step the feedback becomes, the more likely a student will have difficulty implementing it. As the Columbia University Center for Teaching and Learning writes when describing essay feedback, “Because your purpose is to stimulate meaningful revision, your best strategy is to limit your commentary to a few problems that you want the student to tackle when preparing the next draft.”

Timing Matters

Most middle and upper schools provide formal feedback twice per year: at the end of the first semester and the end of the year, usually in the form of the report card. Our school’s trimester nature was explicitly designed to increase the number of opportunities for assessment and feedback by incorporating additional conferences and narratives for students. We are constantly evaluating the process and want to develop the most effective and meaningful feedback opportunities for our students.

As a school, we’re currently working on how feedback is scheduled in our calendar so that feedback may be more consistently provided to students and families rather than focusing solely on the end-of-trimester trifecta of Demo Day-Night/Narratives/Conferences. As we develop our calendar for the Middle and Upper Schools for 2024-2025, we are examining ways to provide the type of feedback listed above to allow students and teachers to reflect on the feedback given and develop plans of action that can be implemented more regularly. 

Clear, Actionable, and Relationship-Driven

Our feedback cycle aims to provide learners with a different level of feedback to help them master competencies and develop high-level skills throughout the year. We want to ensure that the unique media by which feedback is delivered in-person or written for students and families is clear, actionable, and relationship-driven. When you chat with your student’s teacher or advisor, feel free to discuss with them the types of feedback that seem to work best for your student. With well-timed, actionable feedback, students can make dramatic progress while better understanding how they learn.  

This article was originally published as a letter to the Bennett Day community from Martin Moran, the Lead Designer of the Upper and Middle Schools. Each month, we share insight with families about the “why” behind Bennett Day programs to reinforce our values and highlight how these philosophies manifest themselves in the lives of our learners.