The Power of Feedback

Quality feedback is essential for student growth. Grant Wiggins states that “learners need constant feedback more than they need endless teaching.” Students need feedback that focuses not only on specific areas for growth, it should also focus on what they are already doing well. To create a nurturing environment for students to learn, you need to be skilled at balancing feedback that opens the student to new learning opportunities without triggering the “fight or flight” response.  Providing feedback that stimulates creative thinking, encourages new ways of approaching problems, and opens students to listen to others’ points-of-view helps to build a positive learning environment. 

As you provide feedback to students who are struggling or frustrated, remember the power of the positive. The researchers from The Feedback Fallacy suggest you might consider the Present, the Past, and the Future feedback strategy.  By following these three frames of thinking, you guide students to work through learning obstacles, which in the end, will provide them an opportunity to learn and grow.

Begin with the present.  When a student seems stuck or frustrated, instead of tackling the problem head-on, ask the student to tell you three things that are working well for her right now. Getting her to think about specific things that are going well will alter her brain chemistry so that she can be open to new solutions and new ways of thinking or acting. She will gain a spark of creativity. Be prepared to offer insight into what you see is working well for her. 

Next, go to the past.  Ask her, “When you had a problem like this in the past, what did you do that worked?”  Get her to envision her past success to leverage and build what she knows has already been successful once.   

The final step is to think about the future.  Ask her, “What do you think you need to do?  What do believe might work in this situation?”  “What do you actually want to have happen? What are a couple of actions you might take right now?”  Focusing on the actions that the student needs to take empowers her to push through the frustration and increases the belief in herself that she can make the right next move.

With the Present, Past, and Future strategy, one of the most important pieces of feedback that your student receives is that you care about her and her ability to problem-solve and be an independent thinker.  Take some time this week and try the present, past, and future strategy for guiding students through their own challenges. Help your students focus on the positive to actively engage in their own learning. 

“The key to learning is feedback. It is impossible to learn anything without it.”

~Steven Levitt

Buckingham, Markus, and Ashley Goodall. “The Feedback Fallacy.” Harvard Business Review, Harvard Business Review Press, Mar. 2019,

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