In This Together

Helping your daughter make the most of feedback
This week, the Secondary School is filled with the distinctive sounds of the Semester 2 exam week for Year 7-10 and Year 12 sitting more HSC exams. While this is an important week in the school calendar, in some ways the week after this is an even more important one for our girls in Year 7-10. Why you might ask? Next week is when they will start to get their exams back – and with that process comes a whole range of comments, activities and discussions which are all designed to help the girls identify those areas that have gone well and those that they haven’t quite mastered yet. This feedback step is a pivotal part in all learning – the step that can make all the difference in the future - but making the most of feedback isn’t always easy! So how can parents help?

What does good feedback look like?
Imagine the Tennis coach who says: “You won 12 of the 18 games today”. This sort of comment doesn’t do anything to help a young tennis player grow and learn. Similarly, if you only ask your daughter about a mark or grade, then you miss the opportunity for a much more helpful conversation at home.

What might a more helpful coach say? “Your first serves were spot on today – accurate and powerful. I think it’s your backhand shots that seemed to let you down – only half of them landed in. What might we do about it at practice next week?” I think this is a great example of useful feedback. Why? It identifies strengths, it highlights one area to work on (not listing every mistake), it is timely and it offers the opportunity for the learner to think about how to improve. As our girls mature as learners, we want every student to be able to look at an assessment and the feedback they have been given to be able to articulate similar insights about their academic work.

How can parents help their daughters make the most of feedback?

1. Help her notice what she might need to work on
Don’t just ask her about a mark or an average, but help her to observe and take notice of other important information too. For example, you might consider:
  • Asking her what has gone well. Ask your daughter what are the parts of the exam that she has done best in or is most proud of, perhaps in a particular section or a specific topic.
  • Reading through the teacher’s comments together. Your teacher writes here that you have done really well in the statistics questions, but also writes that some of those algebraic equations didn’t go as well.
  • Making an observation about one thing you have noticed. I notice that you have really excelled in the multiple choice questions, but it looks like you weren’t so sure about all of the terminology in the short answer section. Or just looking at your writing in this extended response, I wonder if you might have been rushing a little more towards the end?
2. Help her think about how she might improve in the future
There are lots of possible cunning plans your daughter can devise here! Sometimes she might need to do more practice; other times, she might need to practise under different circumstances (eg start a little earlier, or work more quickly, or organise things in a different way); sometimes she might just need to keep going the way she is and let increased experience work its magic. Sometimes your daughter might need some help to think through these options.

Naturally, there will also be times when it isn’t clear to your daughter what the best strategy might be – in which case your advice to her is always “why don’t you ask your teacher about how you might be able to work on that for next time?”

3. Help her be realistic about effort
"I put in sooo much effort this time and I still didn't do as well as I wanted!" We have all heard statements like this reflecting the disappointment that comes from trying, perhaps really hard, but still not achieving what we hoped for. For some children, the claim of putting in "so much effort" sometimes means "so much more than I did before", with an implied hopefulness that this new burst of energy will achieve remarkable and instantaneous results. As our kids grow up, it is important to help them learn that some things take time. None of us learned to walk overnight; it took time and perseverance and yes, a few bruises along the way. Similarly, the effects of increased effort happen over time, not overnight!

Equally important is the idea that effort is only powerful and effective when it is focused and targeted on the right things. A student who is practising the piano for five hours a week, but only playing the parts they can already play is not going to improve those tough four bars at the end! Sometimes parents can help by sitting quietly with their children to help them see that it might take a few more attempts with different amounts of effort focused on the right things before a goal is achieved.

4. Keep your results in perspective (& keep extrapolation and dramatisation to a minimum)
A mark or grade on any assessment may say something about your learning in that one specific subject ... but it tells us very little about the individual who achieved that grade! It does NOT measure the character, wit, ideas, passions, intelligence, sense of justice or compassion and everything else that makes each of us the unique individual we are. We all have a role in not over-extrapolating and not giving assessment results any broader meaning than what they actually have. Getting 40% in a History test just means you haven’t quite mastered that part of History ... yet!

Equally, a disappointing result in an English exam does not mean an individual is worthless or destined for disasters of epic proportions in the future. So parents, please help your daughter not to overdramatise. History is filled with examples of people who didn’t get things quite right the first time, but with perseverance and determination, these same individuals went on to achieve many great things. Learning to manage your own emotional response is a really important life skill for us all ... and let’s face it: getting 70% when you were really, really hoping for 80% is not the end of human civilisation as we know it!

So as your daughter talks to you next week about how her exams have gone, take the opportunity to dig a little deeper than just asking about a mark or a grade. Help her to identify her strengths in each subjects and a specific area to work on, help her think about how to improve – and help her keep it all in perspective too!

Holly Gyton
Deputy Head