In the TED Talks Education video, “Teachers Need Real Feedback,” Bill Gates discusses the need for valuable feedback in the classroom and provides a solution to address this challenge. Gates begins his talk identifying a lack of valuable feedback available for teacher’s today.
“We all need people who will give us feedback. That’s how we improve. Unfortunately, there’s one group of people who get almost no systematic feedback to help them do their jobs better, and these people have one of the most important jobs in the world. I’m talking about teachers.”
In this blog post, we will address this need by offering three ways for teachers to receive valuable feedback in the classroom. We’ll begin with taking a look at Gates’ proposed solution.
In the TED Talk, Gate’s goes on to discuss one powerful way for teachers to access viable feedback: a video camera in the classroom. One teacher featured in the video elaborates on how this process works.
“At the beginning of class, I just perch it in the back of the classroom. It’s not a perfect shot. It doesn’t catch every little thing that’s going on. But I can hear the sound. I can see a lot. And I’m able to learn a lot from it. So it really has been a simple but powerful tool in my own reflection.”
If you haven’t watched the video we would encourage you to do so now, as it identifies one way to achieve valuable feedback for teachers and aid in identifying possible areas of improvement. We’ve included the link below.
Self-feedback through the use of video will allow teachers to manage their growth process firsthand and gives them the freedom to decide who they will invite into their professional development process and in what capacity. For a teacher to approach a peer and say that they need help in math, in a general and ambiguous manner, would not be nearly as helpful nor effective as approaching this conversation with concrete, specific areas of possible improvement. The use of video provides the teacher with a great opportunity to identify these areas.
“I think what video offers for us is a certain degree of reality. You can’t really dispute what you see on the video, and there is a lot to be learned from that, and there are a lot of ways that we can grow as a profession when we actually get to see this.”
So, if you’re a teacher and you’re comfortable with the idea of capturing yourself on video in order to improve your teaching or even if you’re slightly uncomfortable with the idea at first we want to encourage you to go for it. The rewards in your professional development will be tangible and growth by definition will always challenge our status quo and this is rarely a comfortable process.
“If you learn that you need to improve the way you teach fractions, you should be able to watch a video of the best person in the world teaching fractions.”
This excerpt captures Gate’s acknowledgment of the influential role that peer feedback can have in improving teachers’ identified areas of growth. However, Gates also acknowledges that “building this complete teacher feedback and improvement system won’t be easy.” In fact, his foundation estimates that it “could cost up to five billion dollars to create this system.”
Now, we’re not saying that this is an unattainable goal. After all, he is the richest man in the world. Rather, we would like to offer a currently more accessible and less expensive alternative: learn from your immediate peers. Let’s use the example above. If a teacher has recognized a need to improve the way that they teach fractions is there a teacher within their district who is qualified and competent to address this need? If so, what resources do they use to effectively teach this concept? The ability to connect these teachers and provide them with the ability to collaborate would provide alternative solution to this need.
We designed our platform to make such collaboration possible. Curriculum Crafter makes it possible for teachers to connect and share their methods with their peers and their district by uploading his resources to the district resources library. In addition, the teacher with the need could create a workgroup and invite a knowledgeable peer to collaborate with them in creating resources that specifically address the areas of improvement that they have identified.
The last area of feedback that we are going to discuss is administrator feedback. This type of feedback can come in a variety of ways but we will examine just two in this blog post specific to our platform. First, in the Curriculum Crafter platform the administrator is able to curate resources that they have found to be most effective. These selected resources can serve as a guide for teachers in best practice or can be added directly to the teacher’s curriculum. This functionality makes it easy for teachers to find an effective solution to their identified areas of growth. If a teacher struggles with a particular unit of instruction or area resources would be available to meet this specific need. If a teacher’s weakness is more broadly focused on pace and the planning process, then the district administration can create finished example plans as pacing guides for their teachers.
Second, the district administrators also have the ability to view individual teacher plans and curriculum and can therefore offer individual feedback, resource recommendations, and support as needed. Administrators are able to actively measure and monitor standard alignment, accountability, and implementation of expectations and standards. This feedback to allows them to more effectively manage their school or district and make decisions based on relevant trends, reporting, and up-to-date data. As a result, they are able to offer specific feedback on both a general and an individual level, providing district leadership an incredible advantage in stewarding the professional development of their teachers. Teachers benefit from this by receiving feedback over the course of the year as opposed to a review at the end of the school year. This allows teachers to implement changes during the school year and allows feedback to serve as an opportunity for growth and advancement instead of an indicator of past performance. Gates touches on this point during his talk.
“When Melinda and I learned how little useful feedback most teachers get, we were blown away. Until recently, over 98 percent of teachers just got one word of feedback: Satisfactory. If all my bridge coach ever told me was that I was “satisfactory,” I would have no hope of ever getting better. How would I know who was the best? How would I know what I was doing differently?”
Unfortunately, this type of feedback from the administration does not cultivate a culture that is safe nor effective at providing the feedback that is critical to growth and professional development. Rather, if teachers are provided with specific, positive, real-time feedback from administrators as the year progresses they can adjust their methods and will have the courage to step into the ‘uncomfortable’ where professional growth resides. Our hope is that district administrators will use the functionality we built into our platform to do just that.