Johnny flipped to the final slide of his presentation on school playground improvements.

On the slide was a visual for pull up bars shaped like dinosaur bones. He was hoping this intriguing design would promote more active fitness in his peers.

After finishing the final slide, he turned to his classmates, “Thank you for listening to my presentation.”

His teacher smiled from ear to ear. The class erupted in applause.

“Thanks Johnny for that wonderful presentation! Now class, what feedback do you have for Johnny?”

Complete silence. You could hear a pin drop.

Sound familiar? 

It’s not that Johnny’s class didn’t have feedback or ideas of their own to share, they just didn’t know how to verbalise them.  Or perhaps they did, but didn’t want to express their opinions in front of the whole class.

So instead of offer kind, specific, helpful feedback, they uttered the most overused and underwhelming phrase in the dictionary of feedback..”Good job!”

How do we develop a more reflective classroom centered around effective critique and feedback?   

Below are five ideas:

Idea #1: Use Gallery Walks to foster more thoughtful feedback

Have you ever visited an art gallery? Typically there are pieces of art affixed to the wall, with accompanying descriptions that help visitors understand the meaning behind each piece. In this way, visitors are able to experience each piece on their own terms. Why not use the same structure for offering feedback on student work? Equipped with post-it notes and a few reflective prompts, peers can visit a gallery of their peers’ work and offer ‘2 stars’ and a ‘wish’ for each project. The only guidelines are that they visit at least 3-5 projects and make their feedback specific and useful. Below are students offering feedback on proposed classroom designs, probability game boards, and student friendly maps of nearby attractions.

Idea #2: Use Self-Reflection Rubrics to provide specific and targeted feedback

While it’s a worthwhile goal to have students provide targeted feedback on their peers’ work, it isn’t possible if they don’t know what the target is. Make targets explicit by providing self-evaluation rubrics prior to presenting work. For example, after designing a hand crafted straw to help decrease cafeteria waste in their school, a student might use a ‘Product Design’ rubric to identify that they need feedback on how to make their product “more feasible and practical” for use. After presenting their product, the class provides 5 useful suggestions. The student is happy to have new insights, and the class is happy to have helped them.

Idea #3: Use Expert Peer Panels to empower and facilitate the process of critique

Let’s face it, we can’t be the expert in all areas. If we try to be, we limit the potential of student work, and more damagingly, silence the voices of our more capable students. When assigning a project or piece of work, identify the skills necessary for completion, and create an ‘expert’ panel comprised of the students who possess them. Use this panel to offer targeted feedback to peers during each stage of the project. Pictured below is our ‘expert panel’ of programmers, designers, and student engineers offering feedback on growing systems proposed for our ‘Food of the Future’ Project. The engineer is offering feedback around the materials used in the design; the programmer around how to make the system more automated; and the the designer around how to make it fit more naturally with its surroundings.

Idea #4: Use Jigsaw Small Group Presentations to develop a higher volume of feedback and inspire new ideas

This feedback strategy works great for small group projects. Start by dividing small groups of 4 into two groups of 2. One pair stays to present their work, while the other will rotates around to offer feedback on other group’s work in short 15 minute rotations. Structure each feedback session to last 15 minutes and include:

  1. Group presentation (5 minutes): Share their project idea/work
  2. Clarifying questions (3 minutes): Feedback group has 3 minutes to ask clarifying questions (‘yes/no’ questions to ensure they understand)
  3. Probing questions (3 minutes): Feedback group has 3 minutes to ask probing questions (questions to push thinking and help group consider new ideas)
  4. Open Feedback (5 minutes): Feedback group discusses what they liked about the presentation, and ideas to improve their work

Here is the is the more detailed critique protocol to use. You can also structure the presentations in an ‘A/B’ format, with 1/2 of the groups presenting during designated ‘A group’ time, and 1/2 during ‘B’ time.

Idea #5: Use Speed Dating Rounds w/ Adult Experts to gain real world feedback

This is a more informal spinoff of the ‘jigsaw’ protocol, utilizing adult experts to help sharpen student ideas, or project work in the early stages. To structure it, gather 6-8 adults or older peers (I like to use parents) who possess an expertise within the project you have designed. For example, we used entrepreneurs to offer students feedback on their small business ideas. Spread each adult throughout the room and allow each project group to rotate to them, with 4 minutes to share their idea, and 1 minute to gather feedback. At the end of the 30 minute rounds, each project group will have 6-8 new ideas to develop their project!

*Alternative* Partner each project group with a SINGLE adult mentor to offer feedback throughout the whole project process. This allows for deeper connections and development.

What’s the Common Theme for Effective Feedback, Critique and Reflection?

You may have noticed a pattern in all of the strategies outlined above. NONE of them are conducted with the whole class, and NONE of them rely on the teacher. Structuring sessions in such a way will allow help develop more reflective mindsets in students, and create the routines and systems that allow you to act as a facilitator. Your students will no longer begrudge having to reflect, but see it as a natural part of the project process.

Got a strategy you use with students to strengthen feedback, critique and reflection? I would love to hear it and add to this list!