Home Good Teaching Ensuring that Feedback Is Meaningful: Part 1

Ensuring that Feedback Is Meaningful: Part 1

by Lori Gracey

As educators, we all know the value of feedback, whether it’s for students or our own personal growth. John Hattie’s analysis of feedback found that it has a 0.70 effect size, which means it has almost twice the growth potential of a regular year of learning for a student. But all of that research assumes that we are doing feedback correctly. As Hattie says, “Feedback is one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement – if you get it right.”

This four-part blog series will closely examine what research says are the best practices in providing feedback to accelerate learning. We’ll look at what feedback is (and what it isn’t), when it should happen and when it shouldn’t, what must be included to make it relevant and of value, and then provide both tech and non-tech ways to provide it.

What Feedback Is

The purpose of feedback is to help the learner get from where he is currently to where he needs to be. Based on his research, Hattie defines feedback as “information provided by an agent (a teacher, a peer, a book, etc.) about aspects of a student’s (or teacher’s) performance or understanding.” Once the learner receives that feedback, he then has two options: work harder/change something so that he can reach the goal or lower the expectations about the goal. This is one reason why setting realistic goals in the first place is so important.

To begin to provide meaningful, constructive, actionable feedback, the learner must be able to answer these three questions:

  • Where am I going? (This describes what the student wants to accomplish.)
  • How am I going? (This describes what the student is currently doing.)
  • Where to next? (This guides the student to the next step in meeting his goal.)

Four Levels of Feedback

Hattie defines four different levels of feedback that can be effective in different situations: task, process, self regulation, and self. Each of these levels can be effective at certain learning moments, but also detrimental at the wrong time. The four levels are not hierarchical.

Task Level

The task level is the most common type of feedback given. It tells how well the learner has performed a specific task, such as finding the main idea of a paragraph or story. Hattie found that 90% of questions posed by teachers are at this level.

Task feedback can be effective when distinguishing correct from incorrect answers; acquiring more or different information; building more surface knowledge; and addressing interpretations, such as what must be corrected for a specific project. But because it doesn’t generalize what the student must do in order to improve across the board, it is not effective over time. Incidentally, task level feedback is often mixed with self feedback. Too much feedback at this level ensures that students focus on the goal rather than the processes.

Prompts that can help students at the task level include:

  • Is my answer correct/incorrect?
  • How can I elaborate on the answer?
  • What did I do well?
  • Where did I go wrong?
  • What other information is needed to meet the standards?

Process Level

Process level feedback is specific to the processes used for tasks, such as how information is obtained and how the task is connected to relating tasks. It challenges the student to form a deeper understanding of the learning and encourages him to construct meaning on his own. It provides information about connections between ideas, strategies for identifying errors, and cues about how to “fix up” strategies. The power of feedback at this level is that it promotes error detection, which is when a student reflects on his own work. Some delay in providing this type of feedback is useful.

Prompts to use here include:

  • What is wrong and why?
  • What strategies did I use?
  • What is the explanation for the correct answer?
  • What other questions can I ask myself about the task?
  • What are the relationships with other parts of the task?
  • What other information is provided?

Self-Regulation Level

This level addresses the way that the learner examines and adjusts his actions toward his learning goal. Much like the process level, it encourages the learner to self asses, but to a more critical degree. It also prompts him to engage with the feedback, requiring commitment, control, and confidence. A learner that is not confident in his own abilities or is not as effective a learner (not willing to invest the time or effort seeking feedback, not willing to seek further information or help, not being able to review work) will not benefit from this type of feedback.

Prompts for the self-regulation level include:

  • How can I monitor my own work?
  • What happened when I …?
  • What further doubts do I have about the task?
  • How does this compare with …?
  • What does all this information have in common?
  • What learning goals have I achieved?
  • How have my ideas changed?
  • Can I now teach another student to …?

Self Level

Used too often in the classroom, this level of feedback focuses more on the person than on the work and is the least effective. It typically builds a student up, but gives them little information for improvement. Comments from the teacher such as “great work,” “nice job,” and “Sally is a good student” may actually be counterproductive and interfere with the student’s ability to self assess. Refrain from using this level of feedback unless it is linked to effort, self regulation, or engagement or to comfort and support a struggling student.

When to Use Each Level

Each student responds differently to different levels of feedback. So there is not one form that should always be used. Instead, the teacher must know each student individually well enough to determine what enables each student to grow. To determine what level of feedback is most appropriate for a given situation, the teacher must think about the student’s acquisition of new knowledge/skills. The type of feedback to provide is guided by the level of instruction and learning.

  • Task: Use task level for new material.
  • Process: Use process level when student has some degree of proficiency. It is most useful at the formative, rather than the summative, stage.
  • Self-Regulation: Use self-regulation level when student has high degree of proficiency.

In part 2 of this series, we’ll take a look at some specific examples of effective and ineffective feedback.

If you would like your staff to receive training on effective feedback, as well as research-proven strategies to accelerate learning, please feel free to contact me.

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