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Trigger a smile

Giving feedback is subordinate to the value it has for learners report Richard Cooper

education Updated: Nov 03, 2010 09:19 IST
Richard Cooper
Richard Cooper
Hindustan Times

Imagine three faces: one smiley, one blank and one pained. Each has the same speech bubble: Thanks a lot. The faces reflect feelings evoked by getting feedback: appreciative, indifferent or disturbed. The words may remain the same but they are coloured by emotion. Constructive feedback is not necessarily positive but it implies learners can do something with it. More than likely, value for learners will trigger a receptive smiley face. A corollary to Caleb Gattegno’s famous observation that teaching is subordinate to learning could be that giving feedback is subordinate to the value it has for learners.

Good feedback also facilitates awareness. It is arguable that only awareness is educable in human beings. Good teaching seeks to raise several awarenesses in learning. The first is the awareness that there is something to be learned. Awareness is also triggered by experiencing what is being taught. Through experimentation and useful feedback, learners create the learning within themselves. Discovery creates real learning. Rote learning only creates reflexes, skills that fade when no longer required.

A failure to create discovery can also encourage a delinquency in motivation. How can learning take place without motivation? Unmotivated learners pay less attention, hence are less likely to experience the awarenesses of discovery associated with learning, and they can venture into misbehaviour. So what can teachers do to create more motivation in the classroom? It begins by being motivated yourself.

Simple exercises for teacher motivation: vary whatever you’re doing. Instead of you writing on the board, have a learner do it. Instead of you always handing out papers, have learners do it. Instead of you always standing in the front, stand to one side, stand in the back, move around. Instead of speaking loudly, speak softly, vary your tone. Instead of you reading a dictation, have a learner read it. Study your routines. Try to shake them up. Raise your awareness of yourself in a classroom.

When I coach corporate speakers in giving presentations, I urge them to look at their audiences when they speak and avoid the allure of PowerPoint software or their scribbled papers. Why? We want to connect with audiences because they are why we’re there, because as they listen they reveal their feedback.

Teachers need to connect with their “audiences” too.

Mumbai-based Richard Cooper has trained or coached for organisations including Barclays Bank, the Coca Cola Company, and the UNDP in Nigeria and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Write to him at

First Published: Nov 02, 2010 12:25 IST