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Into the Void.

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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.


9 responses »

  1. I couldn’t agree more that “the most valuable thing I can give my students is honest, clear, timely feedback” but not really because it’s a reward – though socially it is that and so very nice to receive – but because it’s an essential part of the learning process. All the games children play to teach themselves how to interactive with their environment result in immediate feedback: the ball bounces back to them or it doesn’t; they fall off their bike or they don’t.

    • Hi Glenys
      Thank you for stopping by and taking the time to comment. Could not agree more. NOT giving someone feedback is a form of feedback too. What it says is no one really cares how we’re are doing, nor is anyone bothered with how we are doing it and therefore ultimately no one is really bothered about us. More and more in the last years I have come to regard feedback as an essential part of any endeavour because at least it acknowledges someone’s existence and efforts.

  2. Management could learn a thing or two from that post too. Where I teach you just have to assume things are OK unless there are complaints.

    • And you can be damn sure if there are complaints, the feedback will be delivered in a VERY timely fashion! I am also well-hacked off with the way applying for jobs and interview processes in this country at this time neglect the feedback thing. I have no idea any of the time if any of my applications have reached the correct desk (Probably not. Where’s the correct desk anyway?) and when I get turned down or dumped for the nth time, not a dickie bird about why or what would have improved my chances. Perhaps a nod in the direction of “You failed to fulfil the job spec.” Uh-how, pray? and would it be rude of me to ask for a slightly more useful summary as to my unsuitability? Oh. I see, you’re scared of litigation. Well, that can only be because you are not following the rules or not being entirely honest. Either way, it makes me quite pleased NOT to be working for whoever it is.

  3. Hi Candy,

    I know exactly how you feel. I failed my DELTA module one and as angry as I was about failing the complete lack of feedback and even a final mark was infuriating. How can I prepare for the exam properly if I don’t know if I failed badly or it was just a matter of a few marks? My DELTA experience has been a negative one and I can’t wait to hand in my module 3 at the end of this week and forget about the whole experience. As for redoing module 1. Why should I give my hard earned money to an institution which doesn’t even have the common courtesy to give me simple feedback or a final mark?

    Keep your chin up.


    • Adam – oh yes oh yes oh yes. I am standing shoulder to shoulder with you all the way to handing that last module in and washing your hands of the whole sorry experience. It was undoubtedly THE WORST ‘learning’ experience of my life and I’ve had a few let me tell you. Hang in there and get the thing done. Then run run run away yelling and laughing that at the VERY least, it is behind you.

  4. I agree so much with what you’re saying. Not being given feedback is indeed disheartening. Honest feedback is therefore a must, and the importance of it being genuine as opposed to the typical ‘very good’ ‘very good’, even when ppl don’t get it right. A variety of feedback techniques and keeping records of this, is one of the things that help us understand where our students are and where they want to go. You can even get them to come up with their own guidelines to improve their learning based on their strengths and areas to work on. Thanks very much for sharing this. I’m sorry you didn’t get good quality feedback during the delta, I certainly did. I guess Cambridge should look into that too.

    • Hi natibrandi (nice name!) I must quickly clarify that my DELTA tutors gave me excellent feedback; it was the one assessed lesson and the exam and the work I sent in to Cambridge as part of the DELTA that have sunk without trace into some vast maw of anonymity. I more or less understand that if one has ticked enough boxes, the end result of having the damn thing is good enough, but when one has failed to meet the criteria, one really ought to be given some indications as to why.
      Thank you for taking the time to comment and pop in any time!


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