I’ve done a number of MOOCs – one on the English country house which was grand, one on Shakespeare which was equally grand and one on Writing Fiction. (I have always wanted to be a writer.) I didn’t finish the writing fiction course and started questioning my motivation to be a writer. “Can’t be that keen if you can’t even finish an 8-week course doing what you supposedly love,” I heard my mother saying in my head as I admonished myself severely for ‘not finishing what I had started.’ But, in my kinder moments, I asked myself why my enthusiasm had fizzled out so thoroughly halfway through the course and the very clear and unequivocal reason was lack of feedback. I never once got any kind of feedback from anyone on any of the pieces I wrote and posted duly and diligently. The paragraphs and sketches, descriptions and characterisations wrung painfully from wherever it is writing comes from, fell into a void – a dark, limitless void – never to be heard from or of again. It made me think…….
There is probably nothing in the learning arena that is more soul-destroying and disheartening than not being given some sort of feedback on your efforts: What went right? What went wrong? What should I do next time? What should I stop doing? Did you like it? Why? How do I now move forward?
I failed my DELTA assessed lesson first time round. Why? I don’t know. This made preparing and delivering the lesson for the second attempt doubly stressful. Was I doing it all wrong? Was I going to go through the humiliation and tears yet again because I had no idea how to avoid them? I passed the next time. Why? I don’t know. What did I learn? Nothing. Was it a useful exercise for my ongoing development as a teacher? No.
I lie. I learnt one thing: without feedback, everything we attempt remains a profound and sometimes frightening mystery. Therefore, as a teacher, the most valuable thing I can give my students is honest, clear, timely feedback. It is the reward every student deserves for making the effort to produce anything – be it a simple exercise, a detailed piece of writing, a formal presentation or the writing of an exam. Most things a student produces are at our behest and as teachers and educators we are beholden to provide feedback on how well – or not – they have fulfilled the brief. Not to do so is not only rude and dismissive, it makes our role as educators extremely dubious, to say the least.