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The Immediacy of Immediate Feedback

The school year is well underway, and I’m back for another round of pedagogical essays. I hope your summer proved to be a time for rest, recouping, and relaxation. Mine allowed time to reflect on my previous three years in the classroom as I gear up to say bye to my first generation of students who were Freshmen my first year. I’m not ready. But that said, one thing I’ve noticed has been a pedagogical tactic I’ve used since pre-teaching gave me inspiration for this school year’s first essay, so here we go, colleagues!

The value of immediate feedback can’t be stressed enough. I’d give you links to research on the benefits of this, but you can literally Google the term and pick-and-choose your own pedagogical data adventure. I’d much prefer diving into the first time I experienced the downfall of not receiving feedback immediately and, rather, wasn’t told until about six months after the fact what my efforts meant. It’s been this incident which has informed my determination to give immediate feedback, whether it be positive, constructive, or for-improvement.

It’s my Senior year of high school, third year on the wrestling team, and second year as team captain. This is a role I cherish because while I was an average wrestler—seriously, my meet record was 3-3 all three years and I won as many matches as I lost in tournament competition—I was a coach-like leader at heart. I valued being a go-to athlete my coach could depend on to see things she wouldn’t—yes my coach was female, and in the hall-of-fame, mind you—and I hungered to analyze other wrestlers’s strengths and weaknesses to help my teammates perform at their peak in addition to my own improvement.

The first tournament of that senior year and I am “in charge” of the boys’ hotel room, as the tournament was an hour out-of-town. We decided it would be funny to “trash” our room so it looked trashed when really it was all carefully-placed-mess; nothing was actually broken or ruined. Except, and yes we should’ve known better, for the ceiling. Our dinner was pizza and we thought throwing hot slices of cheese pizza on the ceiling would only result in cheese being stuck but easy to remove. However, the next morning when coach woke us, we quickly realized that to rub off melted cheese--which has been stuck to the ceiling all night--means also rubbing off the paint, leaving several paint-less spots in the room. Needless to say, we were immediately reprimanded—the only immediate feedback received in this anecdote—and all sent home. Half of our men’s varsity lineup ended up in a van, driven by our assistant coach, back home. My mom was surprised when her only child, the team captain, lumped in at 10am on a Saturday when he was supposed to be an hour away about to wrestle. I explained the situation, she said that was a dumb thing to do but she didn’t punish me. She made sure I called coach and said if there were any damages that we’d chip in to cover it. The hotel didn’t charge us, they simply chalked it up to dumb high school boys being dumb high school boys. The thing was, I wasn’t one of the boys who threw the pizza. But, I did allow it to happen under my watch, my leadership, so I was told I was just as guilty as those who did throw the pizza. The remaining wrestlers at the tournament did not bring home a win for our school.

The next week goes by, and we begin winter practices. Our coach informs us that there is a vacancy for the team captain position. This was said publicly, without any private, previous talk with me first. I was upset, sad, but took the punishment. My teammates came to my aid, explaining to coach that it really wasn’t my fault, that even if I said no they would’ve done it anyway when I went to sleep, that I was a great captain and shouldn’t be punished like them, and that they would even take a harsher punishment to cover mine. Coach didn’t budge. The duration of the season was humiliating. She had me sit out of the varsity line-up with no previous announcement and wrestle on the junior varsity, or sit me out completely. She insisted I sing the national anthem at every home meet, even with a cracking voice and about 60% accuracy of hitting pitch (I was already involved in musicals so that’s why she thought it would “be a good idea”). And every time we went out for stretches and warm-ups it would be a different “acting captain” leading the team since I hadn’t proven myself yet. All season she did this.

My season ended; I was ready for it to be over and move on to my best sport, swimming. At the Winter Sports awards ceremony—which I couldn’t attend because I had rehearsal for my first non-high school role—my coach awarded me the Most Inspirational Award and a Team Captain patch for my letterman’s jacket. She delivered a speech dedicated to praising my hard work in overcoming not being captain, how much tenacity and leadership I showed as a captain even without the title, and how much I deserved every accolade and word of praise. And I wasn’t even there to hear it. Nor did it matter.

The next day, my teammates told me about the award, the speech, and I was even more disappointed than before. It’s like a relationship where the ex just won’t let you move on. It didn’t matter what award I received because my senior wrestling season had been wrecked. I didn’t enjoy wrestling for the first time and as the season wore on I felt trapped. Had I been told about my improvement and work ethic a few weeks into the season, even if that didn’t result in my re-instatement as captain, it would’ve improved my attitude ten-fold!

Ever since that day, I have been a camp counselor, a supervisor, and now a classroom teacher: I give immediate feedback, in written and/or verbal form, as often as allowed, which is after any graded assignment is submitted, rehearsal is conducted, or assessment finished. It’s invaluable. I build it into my lesson planning. I grade right away and usually spend the next class period going over it with students privately. After rehearsal, we have our notes session and we work out what needs to be worked on before the next rehearsal. If the student isn’t made aware, in a timely manner, about what they specifically did well, or need to improve, then what’s the point? That student may go through a whole school year not writing academic-level essays, or thinking their pushup form is accurate when really it’s hurting them in the long run. A student may find that they are, in fact, smart enough for their math exam because their teacher not only gave them the passing grade but the feedback to motivate them to continue studying and succeeding in the subject. How many students have we given delayed, if any, feedback to, only be met with a shrug and a, “I don’t even remember that assignment”?

Immediate feedback is always going to be the right choice. Trust me. I wish Senior year-Marc knew that he was doing a good job while it still mattered. I wish coach knew that she didn’t have to play the long game to get her point across. My season of wrestling will always serve as a reminder that immediate feedback is worthwhile, necessary, and a foundation for student improvement, confidence, and encouragement.

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