Students want to improve. They want to learn better, faster, and retain knowledge longer. Our job is to provide them the specific help that they need.
That’s where feedback comes in. In this graph from John Hattie’s Visible Learning, you can see that students recognize the value of specific feedback strategies in learning something new, in this case, to draw:
In the last blog, we looked at Hattie’s definition of feedback and its importance in accelerating student learning. We also examined the four types of feedback, and which ones are best used when.
Now we’ll attempt to put those into practice, and look at some examples of powerful feedback and when it should be given.
Things That Must Be in Place First
Before a student can learn from feedback, there are several things that the teacher must put into place. The very first thing is that the student must fully trust the teacher. This requires that they have a positive relationship which has been developed over time. Secondly, students are more likely to pay attention to feedback and take steps to close the performance gap when the intended goal is clear.
This means that the teacher has shared the goal and its importance in a way that the student can fully understand. Then, both the teacher and the learner must be committed to achieving the goal. Finally, the student must believe that the goal is actually achievable. If all of these pieces are not in place, then feedback becomes meaningless.
Providing Good Feedback
Once a trust and clarity are established, students can begin benefitting from meaningful feedback.
Feedback that allows a student to grow and improve their learning focuses on three concepts:
- Where am I going? — focusing on the learning intentions, goals, or targets
- How am I going? — focusing on the progress toward the goal and how to proceed relative to a personal best or curriculum progression
- Where to next? — focusing on the learning activities needed to make more progress such as enhanced challenges, greater fluency, different strategies and processes to work on the tasks, and deeper understanding
When to Provide Feedback
Obviously, if a student is doing a task incorrectly, then the feedback about that should happen before they continue it any further. But at other times and for the other types of feedback, it may be better to wait a little bit before providing a response.
Hattie says, “Yes, there can be many instances when delayed feedback is more powerful than immediate. Sometimes in the hustle and bustle of the moment we do not ‘hear’ feedback or focus on the wrong part of the feedback information, so delay can sort some of this out.”
So, for example, the teacher may find it helpful to record video or audio feedback at the end of the day for the student to listen to the next day.
Knowing when to provide feedback helps us understand how to better deliver it, but teachers must also account for different types of feedback, and the strengths and challenges of each.
Making Different Types of Feedback Meaningful
As we learned last time, task-level feedback is the least effective, as it focuses on the task (answering the question correctly, finding the main idea, even behaving in a certain manner), and does not help the learner to improve the process of learning. However, there are times when it is beneficial to provide feedback about how the student is doing the task itself, especially when new material is being learned. It might sound like:
- “Your learning goal was to structure your writing in a way that the first thing you write is the first thing you did. Then you write about the other things you did in the same order that they happened. You have written the first thing first, but after that it becomes muddled. You need to go through what you have written and number the order in which things happened and re-write them in that order.”
- “I think that the answer you have found in this problem may not be correct. Perhaps you should recalculate it, checking for accuracy.”
- “Your report may not provide all of the information that a reader might want. What additional information could you add to make sure you answer all of the possible questions?”
Process-level feedback is about the procedure the student is using to learn. It may help them develop or apply strategies for completing or fixing a performance. It sounds like:
- “You are stuck on this word and you have looked at me instead of trying to work it out. Can you work out why you may have got it wrong, and then you try a different strategy?”
- “Please edit this section of your paper by elaborating on each of the descriptors listed in class.”
Feedback at the self-regulation level focuses on how the student monitors, directs, and regulates actions toward the learning goal. It might sound like:
- “Your paper shows you know the three key features of supporting a claim; now reread this section of your paper to see whether you have incorporated these features.”
- “You checked your answer with the resource book [self-help] and found you got it wrong. Any ideas of why you got it wrong [error detection]. What strategy did you use? Can you think of another strategy to try and how else could you work out if you are correct?”
At the end of the day, it is the teacher’s job to provide information about what a student does and does not understand and what direction the student must take to improve. A powerful way to implement this is to simply ask a student to tell you what they think you are trying to say to them. Creating a mutual understanding is a catalyst for learning, and using feedback wisely is how teachers and students can gain such an understanding.
Part 3 of this series will dive deeper into feedback and its use in the classroom.