Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Bring on the Neauralyzer! Feedforward Here We Come!

“We open our mouths and our parents or our previous teachers come out. Changing our talk requires gaining a sense of what we are doing, our options, their consequences, and why we make the choices  we make.” (pp. 6-7)

MIB, Bring on the Neauralyzer!  
Feedforward Here We Come!

We feel like we are thoughtful and constructive with our feedback to students.  We choose our words in a way that we believe nurtures kids to grow, but thinking about how our comments influence children’s mindsets, how children see and approach the world, makes us want to stop and think about our practices.  Is the feedback we give students based on phrases we heard our own teachers and parents say to us—with a little updated, “we’re living in 2012” lingo? 
This quote from Opening Minds, referring to the differing impact of process-oriented feedback over person-oriented feedback, catches our attention and reiterates our responsibility to craft our language in purposeful ways :

                        “What I find striking about these studies is that only a few instances
                        of a particular form of feedback produce quite strong effects. We have
                        to imagine the consequences of these patterns magnified over the days,
                        weeks, months, and years children spend in school. We also have to
                        consider the extent of the effects. The effects are on children’s thinking,
                        their emotions, their resilience when they are unsuccessful, and their
                        relationships with others.” (p.40)

After some reflection, we’ve decided to send the MIB back to their job of protecting us from alien invaders and instead create a “cheat sheet” to move us toward internalizing language that truly moves learning forward as suggested by Johnston.  What will be on our cheat sheet?   The dense information within chapters 3-6 (and the whole book) helps establish criteria to evaluate our feedback and work toward “feedforward.”  

                        “The purpose of feedback is to improve conceptual understanding
                        or increase strategic options while developing stamina, resilience, and
                        motivation—expanding the vision of what is possible and how to get
                        there. Perhaps we should call it feedforward rather than feedback.” (p.48)

Criteria for feedforward (based on our synthesis):
  • Causal 
  • Nurtures symmetrical relationships 
  •  Fosters Intrinsic Motivation 
  •  Process-oriented 
  •  Establishes a dynamic-learning frame

Are we using a causal structure in our “feedforward?”
Causal “feedforward” is particularly powerful in creating agency in students. We can’t help but notice how it takes attention away from extrinsic motivation, too.  Here are two sentence stems we may add to our cheat sheet:
You did ___________, so _______________
Thank you for _______________.  It helped ______________________.
Here’s a great example from Johnston:  You read your piece to the class with such expression that I couldn’t help but become interested in wolves.” (p.47)

Are we using language that builds symmetrical relationships?
We believe in the power of learners helping learners.  The work of Maria Nichols helped us think about how we position ourselves in discussions.  And then we rethought how we position ourselves in inquiry discussions after working with Steph Harvey.   Johnston’s analysis of a dialogic conversation in Cheryl McMann’s classroom highlighted two strategies we will remind ourselves of to help build symmetrical relationships in our classrooms.  First, we will focus on consistently asking open-ended questions (i.e. “What does everyone think about this idea?” p. 55) to allow for dialogic talk and to honor ideas from all voices.  Secondly, we will aim to respond in nonjudgmental ways.  Step one, we will throw out your “good job's” and "uh-ha's" and replace them with “thank you.”  And since we hope to be establishing the causal relationship, we strive to stay, “Thank you for________.  You helped us ___________” or “Thank you.  You noticed _____________, so we _______________.”   

Are we nurturing intrinsic or extrinsic motivation with our comments?
“I like the way Jenna lined up with her hands by her side,” may appeal to all of the people-pleasers in our classrooms, but it sends an underling message that we have our hands at our sides to please the teacher.  What about the need to have our hands at our side to respect our neighbors’ space, to help us focus on directions, or even notice when the line has begun to move?   This sounds like such a petty example, but the secondary messages sent in “I like the way…” may counteract the independent environment we are so hoping to foster.  September is full of shaping behavior.  This September, we hope to shape behavior by building intrinsic motivation to conduct oneself in a learning-friendly way, that builds symmetrical relationships (How are we doing at showing other classrooms full of students respect while moving through the hallway?) and causal in nature (Thank you for putting your name on the paper, so I can be sure to share my comments with you , the author). 

Are we giving process-oriented feedforward?
Johnston shares the importance of offering “feedforward” on the experience, not the person.  “You are a good drawer vs. you did a good job drawing” (p.39) convey two distinct underlying messages.   In a research study, the latter led to a rise in children’s (intrinsic) interest for drawing and drive to fix errors (dynamic learning). 
Are you beginning to see the huge interrelationship between the criteria of “feedforward” like we are?

Are we establishing a dynamic-learning frame?
As we think about this, we hypothesize that if the feedforward meets the first four criteria, it will pass the test of establishing a dynamic mindset, too.  However, we do not believe the converse is true.  In other words, feedfoward does not need to encompass all of the other four criteria to foster a dynamic mindset.  Thanks to several #cyberPD bloggers for reminding us that one word, one word can convey a dynamic mindset.  

We’re in the process of making our cheat sheet.  What will your cheat sheet look like?

Thanks to Katie @Catching Readers Before They Fall for sharing in her July 16th post that Johnston noted cheat sheets may be useful in the quest toward internalizing language.  Any negative connotations of “cheat sheet” that existed in our fixed mindsets were wiped out with Johnston’s causal explanation that a cheat sheet may nurture internalization of language. 


  1. Lisa and Amber,

    Thank you for another thoughtful, in-depth reflection of our reading. I laughed when I saw your MIB references but really, wouldn't it be great if we did have some kind of eraser or rewind button when we catch ourselves falling into the fixed-frame or using person-oriented feedback. I appreciate your thoughts. Thanks for sharing.

    1. We notice that by the end of the year we are more in need of MIB than the beginning of the year. Our own energy levels have a great effect on our interactions. We're hoping to make it the whole year without the MIB this year.

  2. One of the phrases on my cheat sheet will be SYMMETRICAL RELATIONSHIPS. I always thought I did a lot to reduce my power role in the classroom, but my language is clearly the final frontier (not to muddy the water with another movie/TV reference, or anything!!! :-) LOVE the MIB!!!)

    1. Great addition to your cheat sheet! The term symmetrical relationship was new to us, so I am really glad Johnston highlighted the implications of our language in developing symmetrical relationships. Thanks for stopping by our blog!

  3. I thoroughly enjoyed your MIB references. Gave me a chuckle. Everything you mentioned in your post about the importance of language choices is something I'm thinking about as well; trying to process how that will look different this next year. I love that, indirectly through Katie K, Peter Johnston has suggested that cheat sheets are a good learning tool. I've noticed how many of us are embracing that idea. I know it will be very helpful as I work to overcome some very ingrained language habits, especially "I like how ..."

    1. I must admit that at first I was a little bit embarrassed that I needed a cheat sheet. When I first read Katie K.'s post in which she shared her learning from the workshop with Johnston, I went "Phew, if Peter says it is okay to make a cheat sheet, I can let go of my embarrassment." Then, I reread her post and noticed that the way Katie shared Johnston's thinking was actually in a causal statement. The effect of cheat sheets is internalizing language. My feelings changed when I comprehended the nuance of the language. All of a sudden I felt driven to make a cheat sheet for the purpose of having more effective language be part of me. I imagine this will happen to learners in my classroom when I use causal feedback, too. The purpose of the act floats to the top!

  4. My head hurts from reading everyone's blogs. There is so much to think about. The questions you asked about the language you are using really helped me to think more critically about Johnston's points and changes I want to make in the coming school year.

    I had to laugh when I read this, "We’re in the process of making our cheat sheet. What will your cheat sheet look like?" Everyone's been talking about one. I had to throw it out Twitter. We've all been joking about the elusive "cheat sheet." I'm sure we need to come up with another word: Language Locator, Comment Card....


  5. Love, love, love your post. And I am glad to know that there are two of you writing (first time by your blog). For a while, I was wondering if the royal "we" had been invoked, which is fine, but it adds another layer.

    The WORK that it takes to be so intentional with your word, words, phrases, sentences is HUGE. I have been at this a long time, and yet, the 'good jobs' pop up and out. In a dynamic learning environment that is responsive and potentially student-driven, what role does the checklist have? I am wondering how you will access it?

    Curious to know,

    1. Ok so I meant 'cheat sheet'. Checklist comes from the book study on Hattie's Visible Learning for Teachers. Way too much going on.


    2. Hi Julie,
      Thanks for helping us refine our blog. We will be adding a description that explains that the word "collaboration" in our blog post should be taken literally. In other words, we'll do a better job of introducing ourselves.

      We are thinking that our cheat sheet would be in our conferring notebooks/binders or on a clipboard traveling around the room with us. In the beginning we may need some sentence stems to keep us focused. Over time, hopefully we can just have the criteria we mentioned in our post on the cover of our binder. The intention is that the cheat sheet would be a visual reminder of our quest toward more productive language in the classroom, but we would use it in a flexible way (or improvisational way) to ensure our feedforward is authentic and responsive.

  6. I can't wait to sneak a peek at that cheat sheet! Those little reminders will be so helpful as we all embark on our journeys in the new school year. And I love, love, love your paragraph under "Are we nurturing intrinsic or extrinsic motivation with our comments?" It really helped me to think about Johnston's words in practical terms. Thank you for adding more depth to my thinking!

  7. Love the MIB reference! It gave me a chuckle late at night. :) I know that I am in the process of creating my cheat sheet. I always thought I did a pretty good job of encouraging thoughtful conversation in my classroom, but I can see that I need to make some changes. Thank you for sharing your thinking.