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How Does a Feedback Loop Encourage a Culture of Learning Conversation in the Classroom?

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By Melissa Thomas, Teacher Development Coordinator, Henry County Schools

Henry County Schools, GA has embarked on a journey to study how feedback can encourage a culture of "learning conversation" in the classroom. For the past two years, teachers in Henry County have begun to dive deeper into feedback loops with one another and with students. Using our Learner Profile as a platform to track feedback conversations, students are giving and receiving feedback from peers based on specific scoring criteria. Some teachers are also using paper and pencil methods to encourage even the youngest learners to offer "glow" and "grow" feedback to peers.

As Henry County Schools continues to develop learners with agency, feedback has emerged as an essential part of classroom conversations. Henry County Schools defines agency as "a person's ability and willingness to formulate a plan and take initiative to achieve it." This happens through goal setting, having a growth mindset and self-efficacy, reflecting, learning to self-regulate, and having access to and an awareness of resources. Engaging teachers in honest and meaningful feedback loops with one another as they create authentic learning opportunities for students is one way we work to model these learning conversations. Through modeling, teachers are developing a deep appreciation for how feedback is changing their work, and seek to find ways to integrate meaningful feedback with students. 

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Based on our conversations with teachers, here are some key takeaways in creating a culture of conversation around feedback. 

Thinking critically begins with yourself

Self-assessment is essential. In order to fully develop agency, students need to develop an awareness of self. To do this, students should begin a feedback loop by assessing their own work. Once feedback is received, students can examine their own views and see how they line up with others' perspectives. This process helps students to refine their evaluation of their own work, as well as the work of others. Over time, students naturally self-assess and both seek and use feedback to focus on improving all areas of their work. The classroom culture must allow for transparent conversations to move past surface-level agreements about a student's task performance. Teaching students how to handle situations where their thinking doesn't align with that of others is another essential piece of handling feedback well and contributes to the development of student agency. 

Take what you like and leave the rest

Feedback is not a mandate. Each person's perspective is going to influence the type of feedback that is given, and it will also influence the type of feedback that is given and received. In all of the conversations with teachers about feedback, it is essential to emphasize that students have a choice in how to receive and act upon feedback. Students need to realize that they do not have to take action based on every comment. Each person has the agency to decide what feedback is actionable and which is not. This means that feedback isn't just a to-do list; rather it leads to a personal decision about what to do next. 

Involve the local community

Feedback from experts in the field offers a lens to learning that ups the game for students. In one of our schools this spring, students were asked to create a business proposal based around a good or a service. Before students finalized their plans, the teachers asked local small business owners and staff from the central office to come and offer feedback to students after listening to the proposals. Adults provided advice based on the criteria given to students, and students were given time to reflect upon those suggestions and revise their work. When students presented their final proposals, it was amazing to see how they incorporated the feedback to refine their business model. Students accepted feedback from outside adults differently than from people inside the school, and it made these young students feel as though their work was valued and important. Involving the local community encourages authentic conversations at all levels.

Through actively participating in these learning conversations, students will strengthen their skills in goal setting, growth mindset, self-efficacy, reflection, self-regulation, and their awareness of resources to help them learn, thereby becoming agents of learning.

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