Professor Mick Waters suggests a new approach to feedback and rewards

  • Professor Mick Waters suggests a new approach to feedback and rewards

“Many secondary schools offer students incentives in the form of ‘reward points’ as recognition for effort, attitude or quality in work. The theory is that if there are rewards that can be accumulated, then learners will develop delayed gratification as they seek the prizes available, as well as becoming the sort of model pupils who help schools and classes to function efficiently.

The distribution of reward points also acts as feedback to pupils. But some schools find the whole process is counterproductive for the proportion of pupils who either receive few rewards, or are not driven by them.

Try this for a variation: give each pupil 25 points to allocate weekly to the teachers who most help them to learn. The teachers receive reward points from pupils to cash in on defined benefits. Each week, ask the pupils to apportion the points between staff, with all points to one teacher, one point to each of 25, or any combination they wish. They can do this in person or electronically. Teachers get tangible feedback about their impact upon pupil learning.

The feedback might be heartening or dispiriting, as it often is for pupils. It might feel fair or unfair, as it often does for pupils. It might lead to questions of how to moderate the system to ensure better distribution and avoid all the problems of a perfunctory activity, as it does for many pupils. It might lead to rationalisation, justification and some resentment, as it does for pupils. It might lead to some staff playing the system and others rejecting it, as it does for pupils. It might work; why not try it?

Some will argue that pupils giving rewards to teachers would never work. So why might we expect it to work when we give such rewards to pupils?”

4 ways to make it work for you:

‘Best of the best’ curators Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman have some practical strategies to suggest

1. Recruit consultants

Select five learners (with diverse attitudes, backgrounds and attainment levels) from your class to become a special ‘board of consultants’. Tell this focus group that you need some feedback on their experience of the topic they’ve just studied so that you can improve the programme of work for a future class.

2. Question carefully

Elicit useful responses when seeking feedback from pupils, by asking questions like the following: Which parts of the topic did you find most/least interesting, and why? What aspects do you remember best? Why do you think that is? Was there an aspect you wish we’d had more time to explore? How would you teach this topic to someone else?

3. Build honesty

Ask pupils to write a private note to you in their books, beginning with the phrase, ‘I wish you know the following things about my experience in your lessons…’ Next time you collect their books, take care to acknowledge the message and show you have considered it by responding with a note of your own.

4. Be specific

Share with pupils an aspect of your teaching that you are trying to develop and ask them to help you work on it over the course of a week. Tell learners that you would like them to keep an eye out (and congratulate you!) for your use of this skill and helpfully point out when you miss an opportunity to practise it.

This page has been adapted from Best of the Best: FEEDBACK (Crown House), curated by Isabella Wallace and Leah Kirkman, and featuring some of the most

influential voices in education.