Feedback is about more than self-correcting materials
Receiving feedback about one’s work is important for knowing what still needs to be learned and how to improve.
Montessori pedagogy is an exception rather than the norm in education in part because it incorporates self-assessment into the methodology. From the beautifully and precisely designed materials created with a built-in control of error, to the very structure of mixed-age groupings guided to give effective critique, Montessori environments optimize the essential learning strategy of feedback.
Researchers Hattie and Timperley (207) found that including feedback intervention has a large positive effect on student learning, something that I believe Montessori guides have known for a long time!
Research on implementing evaluation as a learning strategy show it helps students independently make incremental adjustments in their work. There are some kinds of learning, however, that are much more challenging to gain feedback from independently as the learner is in need of more information or skill. Sometimes a learner cannot understand the context and therefore notice how or where to make corrections in their understanding. Feedback for this kind of learning must supplement instruction of novel content.
Being able to self-assess when something is wrong is an important skill, and the learning that takes place when one tries different approaches is deeper than if one just sees a red check mark that does not provide any indication of what is the problem, nor the means to correct it.
An aggregate of research has identified five essential elements of feedback of which a meta cognizance can only assist the in-class practitioner. Fortunately for us, they create a fun acronym: STUN-R.
Feedback must be Specific
Specific “discrepancy feedback” assists in locating the discrepancy between the desired goal and the actual outcome. For example, in the Sensorial curriculum for 3-6 years of age, the isolated concept of length is experienced with the long, or red rods. The discrepancy is literal when the child notices a greater gap between some rods and the others that are the same.
In the second plane of development, this idea is manifest in communities that adopt peer review systematically as this school has achieved. Many elementary materials are still self-correcting, yet other lessons rely on a human “control of error”.. My 9-12 students employed a “Praise, Polish, Praise” critique cycle for each other, although I prefer the language of, “Be kind, be specific, and be helpful.” as it is far more specific.
Feedback must be Timely
Providing a time frame for feedback close to the event being evaluated is really important although the research has not yet concluded that there is an ideal time frame to implement. As mentioned above, Montessori materials and lessons are designed with “control of error,” which is the idea that it will be readily apparent when something is wrong, and the child will know that they have to try again maybe using a different approach.
Feedback must be Understandable
Gaining feedback independently and making it useful requires a standard to compare oneself with. With self-correcting materials, the standard is built-in. With a human control of error, using a rubric or agreed-upon set of standards before attempting the work is necessary. When you know your goal and can see the discrepancy of where you land, then you can use this point to work towards reaching said goal.
“Children in schools of the usual kind often have no idea that they are making mistakes. They make them unconsciously and with complete indifference, because it is not their business to correct them but the teachers.” (Dr. Maria Montessori, The Absorbent Mind p. 248)
Feedback must be Nonthreatening
When giving a lesson or intervening in a child’s work, I have to consider the possible outcomes based on the quality of my assessment. One of the challenges educators may want to consider is that negative evaluations can feel like a threat to a learner’s self-esteem and yet constructive negative feedback is shown to be the most effective form. With older learners, utilizing group learning can diffuse this sense of shame in making a mistake. A healthy focus on cultivating a growth mindset also embracing mistakes as a necessary part of learning and provide students with a nonthreatening path for growth.
Feedback must be Revisable
The last component of effective feedback is that the learner is able to take it and revise their last attempt. I see this in the freedom and time for students to repeat lessons on their path to achieving mastery in the Montessori environment. I also see this in the respectful approach guides employ in redirecting student behavior including a commitment to restorative justice.
So as you can see, feedback is not as straightforward as a student self-correcting their work. It is a well-researched essential component of a working Montessori environment.
Free Quick Tip
Montessori students are sometimes in need of human-driven evaluation. In addition to creating a formula, class culture, and expectation for peer review, there are three levels of feedback to consider when doing so as the guide:
- Low Information – given to those needing just a wee nudge towards to the goal such as acknowledgement that the task was correct, “Your sum in this problem is correct.”
- Medium Information – given to those that may need more information such as, “I noticed you and your friend came to school with the same kinds of shoes. How can you tell them apart?”
- High Information – given to those that need more novel input such as, “You’ve come up with some interesting questions. The first question is examining one variable, and the next three are focused on three other variables. In this lesson, we’re trying to measure a change between just two variables and your hypothesis must isolate them.”
Self-assessments happens everyday in multiple ways in every Montessori community on earth. What are you doing to increase your effectiveness in providing critical feedback?
– By Tammy Oesting
Our ABCs of Learning: Montessori Edition is inspired by the work of authors Daniel L. Schwartz, Jessica Tsang and Kristen Blair, Professors of Education at Stanford University’s book The ABCs of How We Learn: 26 Scientifically Proven Approaches, How They Work, and When to Use which was reviewed on our Great Titles for Educators web page.