Visual Communication Victoria

Sharing Ideas & thoughts

By Jessica Flamank & Lillian Leptos


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I provide written feedback to each on my Year 12 Visual Communication students about once a month. It is in the form of a checklist which states the “success criteria” or components required in the folio, along with space for comments. The wording on the checklist reflects the “very high” category in the VCAA assessment criteria (2009). This familiarises the students with the wording and expectations of VCAA. I simply tick off what has been completed, and underline or asterisk areas which need completion. For those areas that require further attention, suggestions are made. This area is focusing mainly on providing feedback on the task itself; identifying errors or misconceptions, providing information on the quality and depth of response so far. A general comment area also allows for comments about the processing of the task, feedback about self regulation and self as person. (Hattie and Temperley 2004). The aim is to focus on the descriptive rather than the evaluative.

Using the same checklist each time allowed me to see if they had followed up on the suggestions made last time and gauge how much progress was made each month. Each time, I photocopied the checklist so that I maintained a record. Some students carefully placed the sheet in a pocket at the start of the folio, others lost it between checkups. Still, it was available for them to reflect on should they choose to. It provided useful feedback on their process as well as their progress. I was able to acknowledge the areas that they had improved from the last check or ask why it hadn’t been done.

It also provided a useful record for parent-teacher conferences and a means of tracking the progress for each individual. It broke the design process into manageable chunks for students: at this folio check you should have completed these particular areas.

When writing my comments, I aimed for the points raised by Brookhart (2008): focus, clarity, specificity, tone and word choice. Keeping a balance between being prescriptive and allowing the student to think, reflect is important. By phrasing the feedback as questions, it can be more empowering. For example:

“Great range of innovative packaging examples collected. What do you think the net might need to look like for those structures? How do they open and close? How would the product inside the package be held in place? How could you adapt or modify this package to suit your need? This could be explained with drawings or annotations”.

Sometimes it can be difficult to know what to write for students who have done very little.  “Your brief is clear and concise, covering all areas thoroughly. You have collected some interesting research examples and clearly thought about how you want to present your folio. There are still a number of areas that require further work. Can we meet at lunchtime tomorrow so you talk about your ideas?”

This gives the student an acknowledgement of what she has achieved. It is descriptive rather than evaluative or judgemental and far more neutral in tone. It provides an opportunity for her to explain the circumstances as to why she is behind, away from other students and we can then decide how best to move forward. Having an interactive feedback session at this point would establish an effective means of communication and the opportunity for ongoing dialogue and support. Not only is feedback about reporting on what has (or hasn’t) been done to date, it needs to serve as a motivational tool for students. It needs to empower them and provide a guide for their future directions.

Inspired by Taylor and tertiary design critique sessions, I set aside a lesson (70 minutes) for each student to present their mock up (trial version of final presentation) to the class. There is always much concern and nervousness about what to say. I talk about the fact that at interviews for tertiary art and design courses in November they would need to be able to articulate their ideas and present their work.  A number appreciate the opportunity to practice. We also talk about what sort of feedback they would find useful and the importance of providing feedback in a respectful manner.

Luckily, interest in seeing what other students are doing overcomes nerves.  I have found that after the first student presents, there is a more relaxed feel. I have provided more than enough feedback on other occasions and just sit back and listen. In the past I have been most impressed with the level of respect they show to one another’s work. Whilst their vocabulary is a bit limited (“that’s so cool” and “oh wow”), they are able to articulate what they think works well, ask questions about why a particular decision has been made and offer some very valuable suggestions and advice. Not all students made comments and when presenting it was important to allow time for them to form what they wanted to say. Some used their development work as a prompt to explain their ideas and rationale. The suggestions students made about each other’s work were particularly valuable. They discussed the work in terms of the target audience, purpose of the work and its context.

By far the most important thing to come out of these sessions for me was the opportunity for two very shy and retiring students to talk about their work. Both have very little to do with the rest of the class. One had produced a fantastic design for a space ship (yes, she is a bit of a computer, fantasy nerd) and relished the opportunity to talk about her work. It was more than I had heard her say in class all year. The other student had done very little work and was way behind the other students. I was interested to hear her present what she had achieved and to see the other students’ reactions. They asked the same questions that were forming in my head. Perhaps this would be a motivating factor where all else had failed to date!

Chris Lloyd MLC

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