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“What Did You Have for Breakfast?” How a Simple Question Can Help Clarify Feedback Loops

12 Apr 2016 by Sarah Hadden

I recently completed a Train-The-Trainer program with an enthusiastic and well-prepared group of CLASS observers. Yet, despite their status as certified CLASS observers, several of them were identifying basic conversational exchanges as feedback loops. 

As I worked with them to explain the difference, one participant looked up and said, “There are back-and-forth exchanges in both Quality of Feedback and Language Modeling; How do you distinguish between them?”

“Great question!” I said as I turned to the group and asked who was up for a role-play. Fortunately, someone was game. Here is what I did to illustrate the difference:

Me: “What did you have for breakfast this morning?”
Participant: “Oh. I had a very good breakfast. I had bacon and eggs, toast and fruit.”
Me: “Wow! That sounds like a great breakfast.”
Participant: “It was. It was a very good breakfast.”
Me: “Is that what you normally eat for breakfast?”
Participant: “Well, I do like to have bacon and eggs when I can.”
Me: “Geez. I usually just eat oatmeal & have a glass of juice for breakfast. “
Participant: “Not me. I like to start my day with a big breakfast.”
Me: “That sounds delicious. I might have to join you for breakfast tomorrow.”
Participant: “Feel free to join me.”

I turned to the group and asked if we had just engaged in a back-and-forth exchange. They all nodded their heads yes. I then asked if it was a feedback loop or a general conversation. When the group could not reach consensus, I had them turn to the face page for Quality of Feedback to read the definition (pg. 69). I then said, “Yes, there was a back-and-forth exchange, but did it meet the intent of Quality of Feedback? Did it increase the participant’s learning or understanding?” I could see the light bulbs starting to go off.

This brief role-play effectively illustrated the difference between conversational back-and-forth exchanges and those that occur during feedback loops. Remember, feedback loops serve to expand learning. I was the only person who learned something in that exchange. I learned that I really should have eaten breakfast with that participant!

How do you help your participants understand feedback loops? 

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