The humble driving instructor is a useful metaphor to get you from A (being the good teacher that you Are) to B, (Being the excellent teacher that you wish to Be).
It’s a useful metaphor because if you ask, “what would a driving instructor do?” you will usually come up with an answer that will help your teaching.
The next series of posts will show you why. It is a little bit tongue in cheek, but it is mostly serious, as all the best jokes are!
Driving instructors don’t do group work. They would love to. Four paying clients instead of one!
The reason they don’t should be obvious: no one learns new knowledge quicker in a group. No one! If they did, you would be able to book this as a service with other, like minded groupies. But you can’t, because we all know it doesn’t work. And your classroom is no different. Group work is for sharing ideas about what you have already learned – specialised and limited.
“Alright Mrs Jenkins, great lesson today. Same time next week, and I’ll tell you what you did wrong.” This isn’t feedback, it is ludicrous. You’d ditch this instructor and get one who gave you feedback when you needed it. Now, in the lesson you’re paying for. And not just any time in the lesson, but right now, as soon as you make a mistake.
There are some very useful types of feedback in schools. Before we get to them, though, the driving lesson has just demonstrated how useless feedback is next week. Yet, if you could provide detailed feedback to your class Every Week you’d be at the peak of our profession. Your books would be pored over and pawed over with awe. Occasionally other teachers would be browbeaten with them to develop a sense of shame.
And yet this gold standard of feedback is so useless to you as a learner that you’d ditch that instructor in a heartbeat. Our schools’ feedback policies are therefore next to useless in terms of improving students’ progress. They are ludicrously inefficient.
Actually, the best feedback your driving instructor gives you is not retrospective at all. It is feedforward: she tells you what is coming next, she alerts you to coming hazards which you might not anticipate, she asks you to choose the right lane, she gives you handy mnemonics and aphorisms to help you remember very useful information. She keeps testing you on road signs and markings and the Highway Code.
What does Feedforward look like in the English classroom?
“In the next part of the lesson you are going to write descriptively. Apart from spelling, list 6 things I will want in your first three sentences.”
“Most students turn their descriptions into stories by having lots of events. To overcome this, your description should be from the view of five different cameras filming your scene, and the total scene can last no longer than five minutes.”
“Write down three things you will describe in your scene. You have only 15 seconds to do this. Ok, now you’ve done that here are my three: the waves on the sea, the crowd on the beach, a young boy who has lost his mother. For most students, the third idea is usually the best. The first two will be general and predictable. So now I know where to start my description, with the third idea.”
I hope you can see that the best feedforward is actually anticipating the problems students will have, and finding solutions to these, whatever your subject.