Effective feedback with Homebush West Public School – What works best podcast

This podcast was originally published 14 August 2020.

This podcast is part of an eight-part series. In this podcast, Mark Scott, Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, speaks with Homebush West Public School Principal, Estelle Southhall and her students about how their school embeds effective feedback in their practices. She describes how students at Homebush West seek out and value feedback and how teachers support students to work towards staged improvement.

Mark Scott speaks with Homebush West Public School Principal, Estelle Southhall and her students.

Intro: Welcome to a special CESE podcast series on the What works best 2020 update. For eight exclusive episodes join the Secretary of the NSW Department of Education, Mark Scott, as he speaks with schools and students, like me, about effective teaching practices that support student academic achievements. This week’s topic is on Effective feedback with Homebush West Public School.

Mark Scott: So, Estelle, tell us why feedback is so important at Homebush West Public School.

Estelle Southall: The research is absolutely crystal clear, including all the meta-analysis of the research. Feedback has a powerful impact on student outcomes and achievements. If we’re going to be implementing practices that are effective, the practices that are the most effective, then it’s really worth investing in a culture of feedback to ensure that our students can really leverage learning gains. One of the things that we’ve found in our school culture here is that the commitment that we have made to embedding feedback as practice, both for the students and the teachers and the leaders in the school, really makes our commitment to continual improvement and to understanding ourselves as learners, authentic and visible.

Mark: So, what’s key to providing effective feedback? I think most organisations, most businesses, would say that it’s one of the hardest things to do. How do you create a culture of effective feedback?

Estelle: Well, you’re absolutely right. Effective feedback is really nuanced. It’s not praise, it’s not superficial and it’s certainly not simplistic. Some keys to effective feedback include ensuring that feedback is timely, that feedback is targeted and individualised and that it’s ongoing and frequent, specifically related to the skill or a task that the learner is engaged with. And that it moves each learner forward in their current learning. Some of the things that are really critically important of course in embedding feedback in a learning environment are that learning that feedback is supported by a visible learning strategy. So, learning intentions, success criteria, visible learning charts like anchor charts and scaffolds and checklists. All of those things of course, within an environment that allows both time for students to reflect and to give and receive feedback and also that’s safe and allows the teacher and the student to interact in a very authentic way where the dialogue is really accurate and is able to move students forward in a way that they can feel both valued and supported. Mark: I’m really interested in how you create a culture of feedback amongst the staff so that you’re confident that there are good feedback practices that are taking place in every one of your classrooms. Estelle: Well, I think most critically is the teachers at Homebush West work collaboratively and collectively to continually improve and understand their practice. So, what’s been really critical has been classroom observations and the practice of reflecting on research and sharing strategies. Specifically in our school you’ll see teachers, you’ll see across the school QR schools, really visible and transparent practices, and our teachers really engage in sharing their practice at team and stage meetings and they share their practices beyond the school community, to our community of practice for example, so that we continually engage in that process of reflection and improvement. One of the things that’s really interesting about embedding a culture of feedback is of course that students come to seek feedback and really value it, but also they become quite adept at giving feedback. And one of the things I really value most is that our students here are quite adept at giving me and teachers feedback on the design of their learning, assessment tasks, things we could do to improve the school. And of course our leadership as well.

Mark: I want to ask about the students about their experience of feedback at the school, but before I do, Estelle, what gives you confidence that students are understanding the feedback? Again, I think adults working together there’s often a big gap between providing the feedback and the feedback being heard and understood. So, what are your insights on effectively providing feedback so it’s understood and then acted on?

Estelle: Sure. Look, what gives me great confidence as a leader in the students’ use and application of feedback is – I think there’s three things. Primarily – and of course most importantly – it’s in the students’ work samples themselves. So, in the work samples that are shared at team meetings and professional learning I see evidence of students applying feedback and improving their work. But I think additionally, in the conversations that I have with students about their learning, like the students that we have here today, there are deep understanding of the various mechanisms of feedback and their capacity to give each other feedback is another indicator. I think our greatest indicator lies in the reflective practices that we have embedded in the school. So, we implement a lesson study, walk throughs of the grounds, the kind of practices that allow us to look at the evidence of what students are actually doing with the feedback they receive and how that’s making a difference. And of course that’s a very motivating and challenging and ongoing journey.

Mark: Can any of the students there today give me an example of when you’ve received good feedback and how that feedback has helped you in your learning?

Estelle: Mark, each of our students have an example that they’d like to share –

Zachariah Southall Year 6 student: Hi, my name is Zach and one of the experiences I’ve had with feedback was at the end of every term we’d write this end of year reflection on our goals and what we’ve been learning throughout the year, and that also gets shared to our parents so they can help us later on. And one time I was writing mine and then I went up to the teacher and I thought I was done and completed my work and had it all bumped up and ready, but then the teacher said, “I really like how you’ve done this, but maybe you can improve on that.” And then I thought this is a good opportunity to bump up my work even further.

Mark: Fantastic. Great example. Thank you for that. Who’s next?

Harith Lama Year 6 student: Hi, my name is Harith and a way that I’ve received feedback from a teacher is through different strategies. For example, while I was doing maths, the teacher gave me a different strategy to solve a certain problem, which was more effective than the strategy that I was using and it was less time consuming, which is how I received feedback.

Mark: That’s fantastic. So, this was a new strategy you hadn’t thought of before in trying to solve the problem you were trying to solve?

Harith: Yes.

Mark: Great feedback. What are some other examples of good feedback?

Devashri Shah Year 6 student: Hi, my name is Devashri and an experience I’ve had with feedback is fortnightly we get random English assessments where we write narratives or a persuasive text. At the end, when we finish our work, our teachers mark our rubrics to show us which level we’re at and show us where we need to work towards.

Mark: And so that’s quite specific feedback so you know what you’ve done but what you need to be doing next in order to progress. What are the other stories?

Chinmayee Kemisetti Year 6 student: Good morning, I’m Chinmayee and one of the experiences I had with feedback is well, we have this program every Friday which is called Lightning Writing which is where we have 15 to 20 minutes to write a piece of writing about a certain topic. One of the experiences I had is when I’d written my piece of writing, I took it to the teacher and she said, “You can either bump it up or another resource like the complexity rule to bump up my work.”

Mark: To enrich your work. And did you find that it helped you?

Chinmayee: Yeah, it did.

Mark: And how did it help you?

Chinmayee: Well, in the bump it up rule we have levels and so each time we have it, we try to tick off the level we’ve done.

Estelle: And, Chinmayee you were telling me it made your writing more descriptive and poetic.

Mark: That’s great.

James Jackson Year 6 student: Hi, my name is James. Last semester we had a project about the [inaudible] and we had to make [a plug] for our sculpture. So, we were working on a [plug] and after we finished our [plug], we checked with peers. And after we checked with peers to bump up our work, we then went to the teacher to bump up our work so she would give us our feedback. She gave us feedback about little improvements that would make it a lot more better and more engaging to the readers and more on topic.

Estelle: So, their sculptures were amazing. They exhibited to directors and principals and their peers. And then they asked us all on our viewing to give them two stars and enriched feedback so that they could take their work even further.

Mark: You seem so hungry for feedback. You want to get advice and tips on how to improve. And even if they’re small tips, it’s all about a step towards staged improvement. Thanks for those wonderful stories. I think most adults would say giving feedback is hard, receiving feedback is hard. And I think it’s just wonderful at Homebush West that you’re really developing these skills about giving feedback and receiving feedback and it’s all about the commitment to improvement. And our researchers here say that at Homebush West, you’re doing this as well as any school we can see anywhere in the state. So, I want to thank you for putting feedback on the agenda of all our schools in NSW and thanks for letting us all learn from your experiences today.

Outro: Thanks for listening to this special What works best podcast series, produced by the Centre for Education Statistics and Evaluation or CESE. Tune in next week or subscribe to listen to the next episode.

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