Authentic Feedback Changes Everything – a guest article from Laurel Springs School


How do children learn? A central part of the learning process is feedback. Children need feedback to affirm their areas of strength, and help them address their areas of challenge. But there are different kinds of feedback. Consider a typical classroom environment, where a teacher puts a letter grade at the top of a worksheet, and perhaps writes “good effort!” This type of feedback is incomplete, and misses many opportunities to guide children toward mastery of the material. However, authentic feedback provides a comprehensive approach to helping children learn.

Authentic feedback consists of certain key elements. It must reference a learning goal, and identify tangible aspects of that objective. It should be actionable; in other words, it should be feedback that prompts a child to do something specific in order to improve their understanding of the topic. Authentic feedback is personalized and user-friendly. Finally, authentic feedback is not effective if it is random; children benefit when it is timely, ongoing, and consistent. Authentic feedback can be given in a variety of ways: via written notes, phone or video conversations, or in a face-to-face discussion.

Laurel Springs School, an accredited online school that is popular with many homeschoolers, emphasizes authentic feedback. Laurel Springs teachers have made it their mission to deliberately change how teaching and learning work through the use of authentic feedback. Unlike traditional schools that are not designed to recognize the unique learning style of each child, Laurel Springs provides personalized, collaborative, and interactive instruction. Their teachers work with academic department chairs to continually improve their approach to feedback with regular coaching meetings. Teachers challenge each other to look deeper into the feedback they provide children to see if it is truly meeting each child’s needs. This system, which is part of the Laurel Springs teacher culture, ultimately benefits each child, who receives meaningful responses to academic work that can be used as a basis for understanding and improvement.

How does Laurel Springs succeed at providing children with authentic feedback? First, their personalized learning environment allows parents, children, and teachers to share how feedback works best for them on an individual level, which enables teachers to modify their approach for each student. Next, teachers understand that children want to be acknowledged. Children put time and energy into their work, so it is extremely important for teachers to recognize and affirm that. When teachers find something personal to connect with in a child’s assignment, it shows the child that the teacher took the time to focus on that specific work in order to provide guidance that is unique to that child. In addition, children receive feedback that is timely and motivating, which enables them to apply advice to future work, or to ask teachers additional questions if needed.

It can be difficult to provide feedback for children who excel academically, because sometimes there are no major areas of challenge in a given assignment. However, authentic feedback prompts even gifted students to stretch their abilities. Consider one of the best practices used at Laurel Springs School, the “feedback sandwich.”

  1. Start with something positive.
  2. Focus on the product, not the child, but personalize the comments.
  3. Provide specific examples for change.
  4. Encourage improvement or offer a challenge.

The “feedback sandwich” approach is useful with all children, but is especially helpful when adapted for high-achieving children. These children will enjoy figuring out how they would re-frame the current assignment from a different perspective, or brainstorm ways to take a deeper dive into the topic by thinking differently about it.

Authentic feedback has a core question that can be used as a litmus test: is this feedback providing a meaningful learning opportunity for the child? Authentic feedback focuses on the connection between the teacher and child that honors the child’s academic journey. Laurel Springs teachers believe in the power of authentic feedback, which is central to providing personalized learning for each child.

To learn more about how Laurel Springs’ teachers help their students succeed with authentic feedback, contact our admissions office 800-377-5890.




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