Teaching is one of the great joys in life. The feeling of leading a class through a spirited roundtable discussion that goes deeper than expected is very satisfying. Watching students have aha moments in class is rewarding. Delivering a passionate, well-orchestrated lecture with students hanging on every word can be a thrilling form of performance art that refreshes a soul. Let’s face it – teaching is fun.
Grading? That’s another story. Most faculty I know dread the tedium of grading hundreds of exams or papers. When finals are over, students feel relief. Teachers feel overwhelmed by the stack of projects and tests awaiting their green pens. The prospect of reading fifty papers on the exact same topic wears on the soul and makes pounding headaches seem fun by comparison. But this is the stage that separates master teachers from good teachers.
Good teachers laboriously design their curricular approach to capture a student’s imagination, keep them engaged, and open their minds to new ideas. Good teachers practice their lectures, polish their presentations, and tune in to the students during class so that they can adjust their teaching in real time. These are all excellent things to do.
But master teachers do all that and more. Master teachers also invest just as much effort to polish, fine-tune, and think through their approach to assessing students and delivering feedback. A good teacher will mark mistakes in papers or exams as a way to assign the student a grade. A master teacher will do that too, but will also give more explicit feedback about why it is wrong or what could have been done better. Master teachers offer words of explanation rather than just checkmarks and cross-outs. That feedback is a tool for assessment and teaching. It also takes a lot of time and thinking, which is why many teachers take shortcuts at this step.
From a good teacher, students will enjoy class and learn many things. From a master teacher, students will get all that, but they will also learn how to think.
“We can think of feedback in teaching like peer review on a grant, an article, or a book. If we accept that master teachers learn alongside students, Michael Webber’s essay shows us how teachers become peer reviewers of learning through intentional, detailed explanation of student work.
One way to extend the message in Michael’s essay is to think similarly about teaching feedback: how master teachers use teaching feedback to continue learning how to teach. A master teacher crafts spaces for feedback from students, peers, and teaching mentors. Teaching feedback, like student assessments, can be both formative and summative. Formative feedback lets us know how well we’re teaching at that moment. It is more than grades; it is reflection on why the grades were what they were. Summative feedback is retrospective and explains how well our teaching achieved its objectives. To quote Michael, good feedback “will also give more explicit feedback about why it is wrong or what could have been done better.” A master teacher seeks such feedback to improve her own teaching, including where it went wrong. Good peer reviews are often humbling, and so is good teaching feedback. They both produce experts in their fields.”