Feedback and Learning: How Am I Doing?

Joe Muhlberg

Joe is a coach for teachers at Mason High School in Cincinnati, Ohio. He works alongside a team to cultivate a culture of personalized learning within the district.


It’s a bittersweet sting. After brainstorming and modeling, students begin drafting their thoughts. We’re minutes in and the question enters: “Can you take a look at this and let me know how I’m doing?”

Don’t get me wrong, I love hearing students ask questions, but there is just something about this question that tempts me to set the paper down.

Through my disillusionment, I realized that students need support seeking goal-referenced feedback; feedback thrives beside a goal. Wiggins (2012) supports this idea by writing,

“Effective feedback requires that a person has a goal, takes action to achieve the goal, and receives goal-related information about his or her actions.”

Providing Goal-Referenced Feedback

My students desired this type of feedback, but didn’t know how to communicate it. I shouldn’t squash the desire just because it is not communicated with clarity and precision. In these moments the intentional work of giving students ownership of learning takes shape.

“Based on your goal for today, can you ask a specific question to guide feedback?”

I have the privilege of working on a team of learning experience designers. Together we work to cultivate a culture where students are the primary meaning makers. In an attempt to model what we encourage, we recently led teachers through a feedback lab with a personalized learning focus.

Allison Zmuda opened our time on the centrality of feedback in learning. After this, teachers reflected on their current practice and articulated a goal for increasing student ownership. Lastly, the goal was turned into a driving question as a focus for feedback. See the link below.

Form a Driving Question- Feedback on an Instructional Move

Leading teachers through this process needed adjustment between each session, as does our work with students.

Receiving Goal-Referenced Feedback

Goal-referenced feedback is a powerful tool for learning. After clarifying learning goals, students need coached throughout the journey. Students are used to receiving feedback at the end of an assignment, test, or project. Often our feedback is focused on the product, rather than the learning process. Goal-referenced feedback promotes growth throughout the process.

What does this mean for students?

  1. Clarify learning goals and dispositions
  2. Give space for reflection
  3. Model giving and receiving feedback
  4. Create space for students to seek and receive goal-referenced feedback

What does this mean for educators?

  1. Clarify curriculum and cross curricular goals
  2. Give space for reflection and sharing
  3. Find a feedback protocol*
  4. Create space for giving and receiving goal-referenced feedback

What does this mean for learning coaches?

  1. Listen. Encourage clarity and depth in goals
  2. Give space for reflection and sharing
  3. Ask how the teacher best prefers feedback
  4. Visit the class, focus on the goal, provide feedback that builds up

What does this mean for administrators?

  1. Observe and tune into the clarity and depth of goals
  2. Set aside structured time for reflection and sharing
  3. Ask what feedback protocol teachers prefer
  4. Create opportunity for teachers to give and receive goal-referenced feedback

What does this mean for families?

  1. Seek awareness of the goals your student is setting
  2. Encourage reflection by asking your student to share about each goal
  3. Ask how you can be a partner in the pursuit of these goals through feedback
  4. Set aside time to consider your student’s growth and provide goal-referenced feedback

Remaining Open to Continuous Learning

Receiving feedback requires healthy habits of mind. After the initial group of teachers formed their questions, Allison asked, “Did the questions seem to align with the goal of each move?”

After the second lab, another teammate asked, “Is there a more effective way for teachers to reflect on their idea instead of writing?”

After the third lab, “How can we set up the learning experience designer at each table to lead the question refinement?”

I am thankful to be part of a culture that values learning, accepting the messy process. This is not natural for me. It’s not natural for most of our students either. Keeping the feedback goal-referenced helps communicate, We’re on the same team. While we are not in control of what others do with feedback, we can rest that we gave an invitation for building up— growth toward a worthy goal.

* We used a modified version of a tuning protocol.

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