Feedback for Effective Thinking

So I’m currently riding back to Shanghai on a fast train from Nanjing and I’m feeling energized and inspired. I spent the weekend at the Feedback for Effective Thinking conference hosted by Nanjing International School, and I have to say that it was very, very good. There is so much on my mind right now that I don’t quite know where to begin, so I guess I’ll just give a quick synopsis of some of the powerful ideas that were shared by the three headlining presenters. Rest assured that I’ll dig much deeper into these ideas in my upcoming posts but for now I just need to get some of this down to help clarify and unpack some of my own learning. My head is so full of exciting and innovative ideas that it feels like it’s going to pop off of my shoulders….and it’s a great feeling! After listening to these wonderfully inspiring and current educational thinkers over the past two days, I feel as good as I’ve ever felt about the future of education, and where we are headed with our students. Here’s a quick recap of the fantastic weekend that I honestly feel privileged to have been a part of…….

Dylan Wiliam – He talked at length about Feedback as part of a system (a student and teacher loop ALWAYS focused on improvement). Feedback can be too immediate sometimes, as it can take away their chance to think…..teachers need to continually give students a nudge, and scaffold their feedback so that kids have a chance to correct. Teachers need to make sure to actively involve all kids in the feedback loop.  “Smart is not something you are, Smart is something you get!”…..Measure progress, like the PE model where kids are looking to improve upon their personal best. “The good teacher knows their student”…..Know how each kid is going to react to different forms of feedback…..let them know that it’s down to them as learners and that they can do something about it, and that nothing is fixed with regards to mindset! Students often feel like they’re limited by their perceived “potential”. Practice, and practice, and practice… for the triple jump is the same as training for math but kids often don’t see it that way. Teachers need to find that match between challenge and capability…’s imperative to help students to stay on the growth pathway, and this is the teachers main responsibility…..teachers should work hard to frame their lessons so that they are interesting to kids…..through effective and actionable feedback, tell students what they need to do to get better, and give them opportunities to find small successes along the way.

Judy Willis – She gave wonderful insight into how the brain learns, and discussed the 6 stresses for kids that shut down their brain and prohibit learning…..peer relationships, test taking anxiety or oral presentations, no personal relevance, boredom, frustration with previous failure, and language differences …..these cause kids to zone out, shut down and act out…..stop giving directive lectures! There’s a vicious cycle of students thinking that they won’t do well so they don’t….. “the brain stops expending effort when there is a low expectation of success”…..fixed mindsets are common but changeable! (many kids think that they cannot do it, and that they’re not smart enough)…..brain breaks need to happen every 10-30 minutes so teachers need to pay attention to this……She talked about the importance of mindfulness in schools and classrooms (emotional self awareness with a focus on sensory information), and the research behind the effectiveness of being mindful of yourself, your thinking, and your learning…..She stressed that the video game model works, which is made up of a “buy-in” to a goal, an 80% failure rate, the opportunity to persevere with the challenge, and the use of constant and continuous feedback so you can improve…..students have to get to a place where they WANT to learn what they NEED to learn…….small success releases dopamine in the brain so regularly set those opportunities up for your kids…….engage them with photos of themselves and their classmates, relevant videos, create lessons that have personalization for relevance, and give them interactive opportunities to share information.

Ron Ritchhart – He inspired me with his message about “Cultures of Thinking”…..He says that curriculum isn’t delivered it’s enacted, and we enact it with our students through our school and classroom culture. He spoke about the residuals of education, or the “what’s left after the student has been out of your classroom for a year, or two, or five”? He stressed the importance of not testing too quickly…..teachers must teach with the idea of what would happen if I tested my kids on their learning a year later? Children grow into the intellectual life around them!…..He discussed the notion of work, not learning, in schools (school work, homework, group work) and how this word is so ingrained (give “home-learning” instead of homework). He said that students need “work” that has a clear purpose, and that they have to “work” for a purpose, and it’s in the purpose that you’ll find true learning……a lot of kids think being smart is being fast with the answer and we have to change this misconception. He left us with some great quotes which are still rolling around and marinating in my mind…..


  • Learning is a consequence of thinking
  • Learning isn’t a competitive process
  • Learning and thinking are not individual endeavors
  • Learning is provisional and frequently changes with time
  • Listen to a student’s questions because these will reveal where they are with their learning

Finally, he spoke passionately about the 8 cultural forces that impact learning…..


  1. Routines and structures
  2. Time- how do we allocate time and what do we value
  3. Opportunities – to think, to wrestle with the ideas, to confront and push back
  4. Modeling – who adults are as thinkers and learners
  5. Interactions and relationships
  6. Physical environment – peek into classrooms to get a sense of the leaning environment
  7. Language – we, us, and our as opposed to me, I, and my
  8. Expectations – what do you expect with regards to purposeful work and a growth mindset?

Wow, I could go on and on about these three inspiring presenters but I guess I’ll save it for another day. I’ll leave you however with my strong urging to go through the links below and become acquainted (if you’re not already) with the ideas, the messages, and the projects that they’re so deeply engaged in…’ll be inspired! Have a wonderful week everyone, and remember to give effective feedback to our students and to be good to each other. One more week until our October holiday…..make it a great one for our kids!

Quote of the Week………
Curriculum isn’t delivered but enacted…We enact it with our students through our culture! – Ron Ritchhart

Ron Ritchhart Website
Cultures of Thinking Resources
Project Zero Website – The Harvard Graduate School of Education
Dylan Wiliam Website
The Six Secrets of a Happy Classroom – The Independent
Judy Willis Website
Judy Willis on the Science of Learning Video – Edutopia