Blog 1: Reading project

"Imagine a training" is the titel of the first blog from Kentalis project manager Emmie Wienhoven, who highlights the prerequisites and supporting strategies within the Reading project that are pivotal to it’s success.
Reading Coaches not only know the theory and methods for teaching reading to Deaf learners, they are also equipped with the skills to train and coach teachers. Teachers need to be confident in applying the skills they have learned, they are the pioneers for this method in their country.

In this first post about the Reading project we look at the importance of positive feedback and how without it a successful training can collapse, but with feedback skills for learning you can empower colleagues and learners. 

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Imagine a training, a great training, all is going well, and as a trainer you look forward to the final presentations. You are training teachers of the Deaf, and you aim to send them home with new knowledge and skills, and the confidence to apply them in your classroom. 

However, as teachers and head teachers offer feedback on the presentations (that you think went great, by the way), they don’t lift each other up and strengthen confidence. Instead, they find faults and tear each other down.
The training that you wanted to end on a high note, with presentations, compliments, and praise, and with confident teachers returning to their classrooms inspired, ends in a dud. Why? When asked to provide feedback, teachers only start looking for errors and points of disapproval. 

This asks for a radical adjustment of training goals; a focus on positive feedback for learning. Looking at strengths, analyzing situations to see what learners need, and supporting teachers and children to meet learning goals are crucial skills for teachers and coaches. Therefore, our second training combined positive feedback for learning for teachers and reading coaches. Moving a group of 24 teachers, 4 head teachers, a hands-on curriculum developer, and 4 reading coaches from fault finding to empowering each other. 

Our teacher-training has a new aim: “Make sure that teachers are able to give their pupils appropriate feedback to increase learning outcomes.” 
We hang up a laundry line, together we fold colored baskets, and fasten the handle over the laundry line. Everyone has their own basket, with their name on it, and our training room is decorated by 34 colorful baskets, swinging on a laundry line. And give a clear instruction: everyone writes 8 compliments a day, and you cannot give feedback to the same person twice.  Every day, we explained one of the four types of feedback: task-feedback, process-feedback, feedback on self-regulation, and feedback on the person.

On day one, all types of feedback are aloud: 
·    “Your hair is cute” 
·    “Thank you for the book and for looking smart”
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During the week, we practiced the other types of feedback. By the end of the week, we started seeing a platitude of different  types of feedback:
Feedback on the task:
·    “The visualizations you made were great in relation to the story you developed” 
·    “Lesson learnt: as a teacher I should help the learners to control his/her emotions to make a change in a learning situation”

Feedback on the process:
·    “I loved the way you used one story of the teachers to teach the steps to write a good story. You also emphasized that it was not for praise but for learning purpose. It was very good clarity for teachers”.
·    “I like when you inquire about how something should be done even when you know how it should be done! Really makes me feel part of the game”. 

Feedback on self-regulation:
·    “I could see you found that exercise very difficult, but you kept trying to succeed” 
·    “Your enthusiasm showed in your presentation, it was a lot of fun to watch” 

Feedback on the person
Teachers began to understand that praise such as “Well done!” and “Clever student” on its ons does not give information on what the learner did right. Thus the learner does not know what (s)he should repeat next time. Although it can be a nice compliment, it is not effective for learning.
Collecting feedback-mail at the beginning of the day was a daily highlight, and the atmosphere in the group completely changed. Teachers clearly saw the applicability for their classroom: “I used to just say ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ at the end of a task. Now I will give feedback during the task, it can help them learn”. 
As head teachers came in for final presentations, they found a letter at their seat: “We worked on positive feedback this week. When giving feedback only point out positive aspects, and use the following sentence-starters to give task/process/self-regulation feedback”, followed by example sentence starters designed to guide head teachers in giving feedback for learning. Head  teachers’ attention was shifted to the strength of their teachers and their feedback became supportive. This strengthened teacher’s confidence and empowered them to apply their learned skills in their classrooms, knowing that they are seen and appreciated by their head teachers.  
The training ended meeting our feedback goals, and with confident teachers. 

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Within our Reading Project we have the pleasure of working with over 50 teachers, from 8 different schools, in 2 countries. Furthermore we work with tutors and lecturers who participate in our training to become Reading Coaches. 

Blog 1 Butterfly