The Importance of Good Feedback

Thanks to a workshop I attended, I’ve recently discovered an amazing book called Visible Learning by John Hattie.
As its subtitle indicates, this book synthesizes over 800 meta-analyses relating to student achievement.  The NY Times Educational Supplement says Visible Learning “reveals teaching’s Holy Grail,” and rightfully so.  Hattie culled data from the best of recent educational research in order to try to discover what things research says have real and significant impact on student achievement.
Hattie says that the topic of today’s tip, feedback, ranks “among the most powerful influences on achievement.”
One interesting tidbit: while Hattie acknowledges the importance (and absence, in many classrooms) of good teacher-to-student feedback, his work has shown him that student-to-teacher feedback is also important, sometimes even more so.  This would include the teacher taking time to learn “what students know, what they understand, where they make errors, when they have misconceptions, when they are not engaged;”  teacher knowledge of these things makes teaching and learning more “synchronized and powerful.”
Important things Hattie wants teachers to know about feedback:
  • feedback is information provided by an “agent” about aspects of performance or understanding (this can mean corrections by a parent, peers offering each other helpful strategies, checking in a book to clarify your ideas, providing encouragement, or a learner researching the answer to a question).  Feedback is a “consequence” of performance.
  • feedback needs to provide information related to a task that fills a gap between what is understood and what needs to be understood
  • feedback needs to be clear, purposeful, meaningful, compatible with students’ prior knowledge, and provide logical connections
  • feedback needs to prompt active information processing on the part of the learner, havelow task complexity, relate to specific and clear goals, and provide little threat to the person at the self level (“How could you have gotten that question wrong?” would be self-oriented feedback)
  • some kinds of feedback are MUCH more effective than others – according to Hattie’s research, the most effective kinds of feedback:
    • provide cues or reinforcement to the learner
    • relate feedback to learning goals
    • are in the form of audio-, video- or computer-assisted instructional feedback
  • the least effective kinds of feedback, according to Hattie, were:
    • programmed instruction (students self-pacing through a controlled sequence of steps, with self-administered comprehension questions – think, SRA kits)
    • praise (“Well done!”  “You’re a great student!”)
    • punishment
    • extrinsic rewards  (in fact, Hattie disputes that rewards are feedback at all, because they contain little task improvement information, and because tangible rewards have often been found to undermine intrinsic motivation)
  • teachers/parents/peers must be sure that their learners receive, interpret and act upontheir feedback
  • feedback can also be more effective when:
    • it provides information on correct rather than incorrect responses
    • it builds on changes from previous trials
    • goals are specific and challenging, but their complexity is low
  • Hattie has created a graphic of a “model of feedback,” which is linked, below, and it identifies, at the bottom, four kinds of feedback:
    • Task/Product Level: “You need to include more information in your final report about…”
    • Process Level: “You need to revise this piece of writing, attending to the details you’ve included…”
    • Self-Regulation Level: “You already have the list of features we created about how to create a good introduction to your essay.  Check to see if you have incorporated them.”
    • Self Level: personal evaluations/praise, which is rarely effective as feedback (thus the dotted lines)
  • feedback is only one of many powerful factors in teaching and learning, but it must besecondary to good instruction – and is only appropriate for students working with relative proficiency – inefficient learners, or those at an acquisition phase, will need more direct instruction
I hope that these interesting facts will help you look at the literacy-related (and other) feedback you give in a new light.  It had that effect on me!
All information was taken from Visible Learning: A Synthesis of Over 800 Meta-Analyses Relating to Achievement by John Hattie, Routledge, 2009, pages 173-178.
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