Pedagogy podcast with Emilie Poletto-Lawson

Louise Howson talks to Emilie Poletto-Lawson a lecturer in Academic Development within the Bristol Institute of Learning and Teaching who reflects on the paper “Thanks, but no thanks for the feedback” by Alex Forsythe and Sophie Johnson. 

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So welcome to the Pedagogy Podcast brought to you by the Bristol Institute of Learning and Teaching. Each week, we are going to be looking at a different piece of the pedagogy pie and see how we can inspire exciting new practice at the University of Bristol. We hope you enjoy this slice of teaching and learning engagement. I am Louise Howson, a lecturer in academic development.

And I am joined today by one of my colleagues, Emily. And she is going to be talking to us about Thanks but no Thanks for the Feedback, which was written by if you could remind me?

Yeah, Alex Forsythe and Sophie Johnson from the University of Liverpool.

Fantastic, so welcome along to the podcast today. First things first, could you just summarize what do you think the key messages were from the paper that you read?

So to me, hopefully that’s a good interpretation, [LAUGHS] it is about the emotional reaction we have to feedback and obviously in particular students and how we can support our students best with this and to actually welcome the feedback and not just be resistant to it. So there’s a lot of work on emotion, motivation, and growth mindsets.

Fantastic, so when it came to reading this, what was the kind of jump to make you think actually, I really need to do this in my practice?

So if I take you back a little bit, there was a presentation by a colleague from the university called Imogen Moore from the law department, and she was doing a lot of work on feedback. And I was at stage where I was working the French department at the time. And we were assessing every two to three weeks in all our written courses. And because I was teaching year one, year two, and final year, I had no week with no marking and giving feedback.

I was getting quite exhausted by the process because I wanted to do a good job for my students. And it could, some weeks, it could mount up to 30 hours of just doing that on top of my regular week of teaching. And outside of my door was a little folder with the leftover feedback that people did not pick up in classes they were not here. And one day that folder fell, and I thought [LAUGH] I cannot keep going like this.

So basically Imogen’s presentation where she mentioned the article, that situation of me doing feedback all the time, and somehow that feedback not reaching my students was a key moment to think, OK, we need to rethink how we’re doing things because clearly something’s not working. So yes.

So what did that lead you to do within your practice?

So I had to [LAUGH] sit down and have a good think and then to go and talk to my line manager because obviously you can’t just decide to do something that no one else is doing it, and no one is aware of what you’re doing. So we were working as part of a team. And everyone teaching the same modules or units had to obviously have a consistent approach. But we agreed to do some pilots.

So with my first year students, we agreed that they wouldn’t be assessed for a second assessment until they would have looked at the feedback from the first assessment and told us what they’ve taken away from the feedback and how it’s informing their second one. Because it was the same format if you like. They were working towards writing up an essay in French and working towards translations, so same approach. And obviously, the feedback was really relevant.

And it didn’t really make sense for them to keep submitting without looking back on how they were doing. So that was one project where with year one. And the second project was with final years was to not give them a mark, which was not very popular. [LAUGH] But the idea was they would submit. I would give them all the feedback that they needed. I would use the wording from the marking criteria. And I would then invite them into my office to have a discussion about the feedback itself.

But also, they were assessing themselves using the marking criteria. So they had to tell me for all the different categories where they thought they were and what final grade they would give themselves and what feedback they would give themselves based on all that. And then I would reveal if they still wanted to know what grade I gave them. So yes, that’s a lot of work, especially if you have a lot of students. And we had a big cohort. I can picture colleagues thinking, no, can’t do this with 200. We had about 180.

But it was so interesting, and it felt like an investment in time, felt like if I do it at the beginning with them and start that dialogue and encourage them to trust me because that was one of the things from the article is that if you don’t trust the person who gives you the feedback or if you don’t have that connection, it’s a lot harder to hear what can be potentially hurtful or negative. So that was important to me do that.

Lovely, and what was the kind of impact did you get any feedback from the students about this? What kind of positives came out of this experience?

For some reason, all the negatives. [LAUGH]

Let’s focus on the positives.

So I think it met them more– well, it made them appreciate the relationship and the efforts that I was putting in place for them and making them more independent. It wasn’t all about what I thought. It was very important for them to realize, OK well, I can also be critical of my work. And if I can see things, then that will help me in everything that I do not just this module. And also if I understand the point of feedback and how it works then I can apply that in other places. Yes, I will. That’s what comes to mind. [LAUGH]

And if someone was thinking about taking on these ideas in their own practice, what kind of barriers do you think that they need to overcome in order to make sure it’s going to be successful?

I think you need to communicate a lot with your students. That’s for the student part. But the other thing is the rest of your team. Because if you’re working on your own, that is a very different situation to having four or five other colleagues who are doing the same as you and potentially will have to do this, too. We’re all very busy people [LAUGH] so I guess it is a conversation you have to think is it an investment in time that is worth doing?

So at the beginning of the year, do you want to do that? Or is that going to be when do you want to do it if you’re going to do it, you’re doing it as a pilot? Or is everyone doing the pilot? Yeah. [LAUGH]

Lovely, thank you. Is there anything else that you wanted to add about the article or how this is influencing your practice still?

I think it was very rewarding for me to be able to think OK, I have this issue, which I think I was sharing with other colleagues but to try and find my own solutions to it and turning to the literature and see OK, maybe that wasn’t too crazy what I was thinking about. Actually, it is backed up by the literature, and it makes sense, and I can try. And I was so grateful for my line manager at the time to say, yeah OK, probably will have some resistance. But it is an interesting project go try it. I think that was very nice. So yes, if you’re thinking of trying something, talk to people and it might be worth it.

Thank you very much, Emily. That was great.

Thank you for having me.

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