Kind, Specific, and Helpful

I recently invested in a Garmin watch to track my runs. I was unaware of how this device would change my workouts in such a short period of time. At any time during my run, with the touch of a button, it provides instant feedback on pace, distance, time, calories and even steps. Upon completion of my run, it computes and summarizes how far I ran, the time in which I ran it, the average pace for each mile, and then stores the information in my history. I don’t consider myself to be a runner, but having all of this information at my fingertips has motivated me in a way I never expected. Since purchasing this watch, every time I prepare for a run…I recall my previous run and attempt to run just a little farther and/or a little faster.  In all of this ‘madness’ I began to wonder how this relates to the feedback we provide our students. Is it timely enough and is it specific enough to motivate them to do just a little more the next time?

My friend, Traci Willis, recently posted a blog about a feedback lesson she conducted in a 2nd grade classroom.  Take a look:

This past week I had the chance to go into a 2nd grade classroom and help facilitate a couple of lessons on feedback. The students practiced sharing “warm” and “cool” feedback in order to help make someone’s work better. In this case, we used name cards as our product. They were a safe and accessible way to practice using the language of feedback that students will later employ as part of a peer revision process in writing. The guidelines are simple. Students must be kind, specific, and helpful when giving feedback to a peer. They first practiced sharing what they liked – giving “warm” feedback. Rather than simply saying, “It’s pretty,” we discuss focusing in on a detail that made it pretty and explaining why. The student feedback quickly elevated to, “The extra lines on the R are pretty,” or “I love the color you chose for the A because it is bright and colored carefully.” Next, we practiced giving “cool” feedback. The students were able to focus in on specific details in order to generate ideas that might help the designer. For example, one student pointed to the base of the R on one of the name cards and said, “What if you added a line at the bottom here like you have on the rest of your letters?” Wow! What attention to detail! And this was a 2nd grader!

After practicing as a whole group, the students then partner up. They were told that they must focus on giving kind, specific, and helpful feedback that will help the designer make their name card easier to read. That’s the point of a name card, afterall.

Here are a couple of examples of the improvements students made using feedback from their classmates. What kind, specific, helpful feedback do you imagine these students received that led them to improve their name cards and make the names easier to read?

Name Card 1 Name Card 2

As part of our work with Units of Study, Lucy suggests that we create peer partnerships in our classroom.  These partnership become a cornerstone to writing workshop; a person (beyond the teacher) that students can confer with about their piece of writing. The lesson that Traci describes would be a great place to begin laying the foundation for what student feedback should sound like – kind, specific, and helpful. Let me know if this is something you would like to have more information about and/or try in your classroom.


Austin’s Butterfly – Check out this amazing lesson in effective feedback taught by Ron Berger of Expeditionary Learning Schools. You’ll never believe what drafting, receiving feedback, and revising enable this first grader to do!

Feedback in Schools – Feedback falls in the top 10 most influential factors on a child’s achievement, according to the research of John Hattie. Check out this article for some more thoughts on the feedback we as educators give to our students.

Three stars and a wish:  This is an easy technique to implement effortlessly with your students. Three stars are three things you liked about their work and a wish is the one area you wish to see improvement in the future. This technique is a strategy that showcases two components: 1) positive reinforcement and 2) a clear focus and not just generalized feedback.

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