Reflections on China and Bill Gates’ Call for Teacher Feedback Systems

Bill Gates: Teachers Need Real Feedback

In his TED talk that aired on PBS for TED talks Education, Bill Gates argues that countries that score highest in reading proficiency correlate with those that have teacher feedback systems in place.

He points at Shanghai as the top in these scores. When I was doing my short practicum in Xi’an, China (and also observing teaching in Beijing and Shanghai) I was able to sit in and take part in this feedback and observation rotation system. I am not convinced it’s doing the job Gates believes its doing there in China, but I do agree teacher’s need constructive and thoughtful feedback.

In China, teachers would video tape their lessons to be sent in to their governing education board. But, the lesson that is being sent is one that the teachers have done multiple times with the exact same students that has been viewed & critiqued by multiple teachers and crafted into a lesson that has nearly all students showing success before they even reach the camera stage outside of their classroom. This did not happen in the first lesson they tried out though. Yes there are positives to redo a lesson over and over again, but does that make best practice? I love how teachers are supporting one another and trying to find ways to make the lesson successful, but their ways of encouraging that success are troublesome to my education philosophy.

The teaching methods in China are highly dependant upon external rewards. Most of my notes and my writing while observing these lessons were criticizing and wondering about the function of external rewards in learning. Teachers carry tins of stickers around to be awarded to students with correct answers, each group is given stars or hearts on the chalk board when they’re quiet or if they participate. So much so that every lesson I observed, especially the ones in front of the camera, felt like a game show with the students trying to win the grand prize of the most stars and stickers. I guess you could call this engagement, since most of the students want to win the prizes but I wouldn’t call this a ‘full education’ in the poetic sense that I like to believe education can be about.But it sure does give high scores on exams.

Maybe Gates is too much about the numbers?

Sure, Shanghai has impressive scores. So does Korea, but in third place amongst those numbers is Finland, who doesn’t have a Teacher Feedback system in place. I find myself looking at Finland from time to time in awe of how their education system works; the amount of support and funding received from government and the community. So maybe achieving those high scores it’s not just about the feedback system but also the cultural forces surrounding the success of these students.

I find the issue in our North American classrooms is less about numbers and more about learning and engaging learners. The numbers will come later. Our culture is vastly different than Asian cultures that usually rely upon drill, stratification, standardization, and high work ethics. This doesn’t seem to exist in full swing here in Western culture (or wouldn’t work as fluidly). The task we have is to engage our learners and inspire them to put forth an effort that isn’t rewarded immediately with a sticker.

Regardless of what numbers Gates uses and his reasonings for it, I have to agree with him.

    Teacher feedback is very important and crucial.

I know as a student teacher I had consistent feedback, video taped myself and had peers observe me teach as well – this was integral to my growth and development. I don’t think I’ll ever be at a stage where I’m not calling myself a learning teacher – because I really hope I don’t stop learning and improving upon my skills. So as much as I had an overwhelming amount of learning at the very early stages of my development, this doesn’t mean that the learning is done – especially  when you’re a teacher.

Taking the time to have yourself video taped to be viewed by other teachers with constructive criticism is helpful in professional development. No, it does not require a specific Microsoft camera geared for this purpose only – most of our mobile devices and the technology supplied in the classroom are equipped with video recording capabilities. Problem solved. (I should note he did not specifically propose a Microsoft camera as the solution (since I could not tell the brand of the camera he showed), but I’m wondering about the cost of 5 billion dollars for the US to have these feedback systems)

But again, if we are to have these sessions be video taped and observed by our colleagues schools need to be given more funding to have collaboration time for teachers. So instead of spending this money on cameras to do the observing, the funds can be diverted to teacher time to go through the recordings and make thoughtful observations and well put together suggestions.

As a a TOC, I get to see all the wonderful things that happen in various classrooms of all grade levels. I find things that excite me, that I’d love to try out in my own classrooms, and things that I see wouldn’t gel with my teaching philosophy. I also see how great something can work in one classroom, but not in another. To be a full time teacher and have my own classroom would be a dream. But I would hope that I am not limited to the walls of my room and would still find opportunity to be inspired by others and to have others help me be the best I can be for my students.

Professional development starts with self and if I’m never observed as myself teaching, how can I know what to do better. This is something that can tell me more than the calculated average of my classroom.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s