On a summer camping trip at a national park, “Please Don’t Feed the Bears" signs were everywhere. When my nephew inquired about this, the park ranger explained that feeding them would encourage the animals to return for more. Suddenly it hit me: while it’s not desirable in the forest, isn’t that exactly what we want to encourage in our classrooms? We want children to return for more, to persist with learning experiences, to engage with us in sustained discussions about their work.

Have you ever observed a classroom where the interactions are lacking, perhaps failing to adequately nurture children’s cognitive growth? Maybe you have worked in a classroom where the discussions and experiences were only on the surface, barely impacting the foundational skills needed to strengthen children’s metacognition. How can we provide the kinds of experiences that really fuel their passions, help them engage at a deeper level, encourage them to be persistent when challenged, and keep coming back for more?

According to the Pre-K CLASS™ Manual, Quality of Feedback assesses the degree to which the teacher provides feedback that expands learning and understanding and encourages continued participation. Feedback that “fuels” children’s cognition can be demonstrated in various ways during classroom interactions.

Commonly, we observe feedback when a teacher responds back to a child. For example, a child at the art easel shouts, “Look!” excitedly when the color on his paper changes from yellow to green after he strokes the blue paint brush. His teacher comments, “Wow! Look at that! When you ran your brush with the blue paint across the yellow paint, it turned green!” The feedback, or information, that is provided to the child enhances his understanding of the art experience.

At times, the teacher might initiate a discussion by asking an open-ended question to create the opportunity to provide feedback, such as a teacher who shows a group of children the cover of a book and asks, “What do you think this story might be about?” Then, the teacher intentionally builds upon a children’s responses and provides feedback by asking them to explain their thinking, asking follow-up questions to dig a little deeper, and providing information throughout their back-and-forth exchange.

Teachers provide “fuel” in the form of feedback by:

  • Responding to children to give assistance
  • Prompting children to think about their actions or statements they have made, engaging in sustained back-and-forth exchanges to deepen their understanding
  • Giving specific encouragement to the children they are nurturing

To quote one CLASS trainer, “When it comes to feedback, you can’t give 'back’ if you are not ‘feeding’ the children. So, on your next camping trip, don’t feed the bears. But in your daily interactions with children, consider how you can create and capitalize on opportunities to provide meaningful feedback that will fuel their cognition.