Promoting Open Communication Using the Ladder of Feedback

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binus-jan-9aOne model that can be used for giving constructive comments to students and colleagues is the “Ladder of Feedback” advocated by Harvard Graduate School of Education.

The “Ladder of Feedback” consists of four sequential steps and can be used when providing comments about a lesson, behavior, school program or an event. The first step is to clarify with questions. The second stage is to value the positive features. The third phase is to express concerns and the fourth stage is to suggest next steps.

In doing the first step of clarifying, it is encouraged to ask specific questions and shun queries that are thinly disguised criticisms. Sentence starters such as “I wasn’t sure about …”; “What did … mean?”; and “Why was … there?” can be used.

For the second step of valuing positive features, we have to make sure that we are being honest and fair. It is not enough to say “I like your lesson” or “This project is cool”. There is a need to explain why we like the lesson, behavior, school program or event.

The third stage involves expressing concerns and avoiding attacking personal character or ability. We have to pay attention to the ideas, products or specific aspects, and can make use of qualified terms such as “I wonder if …”; “What do you think if …”; and “It seems to me …”

The last step encourages us to offer suggestions for improvement. Often, this step is combined with the third stage when stating concerns.

At BINUS SCHOOL Simprug, we applied the “Ladder of Feedback” when there was a proposal to conduct the “Battle of the Brains”, a competition involving elementary students. In the “Battle of the Brains”, the students were grouped into four teams and each team had five representatives from grades 1 to 5. The team representatives had to answer questions related to the grade level units of inquiry and different subjects, including music, visual art, physical education, and additional language.


Here’s the list of comments given by teachers about the “Battle of the Brains” using the “Ladder of Feedback”.

Step 4: Suggest

  • Involve specialist teachers and have more judges to invigilate
  • Conduct an awareness round to engage the audience and encourage students to participate
  • Prepare a variety of questions that suit the students’ learning abilities
  • Include general knowledge questions, not necessarily based on curriculum
  • Give enough time for students to answer each question
Step 3: Concern

  • I wonder if the competition can create a supportive and healthy atmosphere
  • Most probably, the same students from the previous year will join again the “Battle of the Brains” so it hinders other students to participate this year.
  • Sitting arrangement per group is too close with each other and answers by students can be overheard by another group
  • Kids might be booed if their team loses.
  • I wonder if 10 seconds is long enough for grades 1 and 2 to read the questions.
Step 2: Value

  • The event involves all students in elementary and get to learn from each other.
  • “Battle of the Brains” encourages the students to think critically and have the spirit to win the competition.
  • “Battle of the Brains” offers and challenges the students to be more cooperative and knowledgeable of the lessons that have been discussed.
  • The event promotes teamwork.
  • This seems like a fun annual event which will be enjoyed by everyone.
Step 1: Clarify

  • How can the audience participate in the “Battle of the Brains”?
  • What is the level of difficulty of each question?
  • How can we involve early years students in the event?
  • How can we avoid bad sportsmanship?
  • How can we include students with different abilities?

With the comments given by our teachers using the “Ladder of Feedback”, we were able to make improvements before the D-Day of the “Battle of the Brains”.

The “Ladder of Feedback” is one useful tool for meeting Standard A, Practice 6, which states that “the school promotes open communication based on understanding and respect”. Implementing it creates a culture of trust and prevents unhealthy corridor talk.

By: Richel Langit-Dursin

PYP coordinator