Hattie et al. have written extensively about the power of feedback. In a recent article, Hattie has gone on to try to specify what kinds of feedback work best. The conclusions are as follows.
The content of Feedback: How, not only what
“Students highly benefit from feedback when it helps them not only to understand what mistakes they made, but also why they made these mistakes and what they can do to avoid them the next time.” So, feedback needs to give information about:
- The task
- The process
According to Hattie, we should “assist students in rejecting erroneous hypotheses and provide direction for searching and strategizing.” We should be helping students to answer questions such as: what’s the best way to prepare for this section? how should I approach this new task? how can I learn from the mistakes I made? Take a long-term view: in 20 years' time, what will our students still need to know from what they learned at school?
Feedback, Motivation & Positive Framing
It is tempting to say (in a comment): “She should work harder” or “This is a disappointing/ acceptable/ satisfactory result” or to tell a student, “I can see that you did not prepare well for the exam”. But what are we actually saying? Hattie says: “Feedback can have negative effects on motivation by reducing the experience of autonomy and self-efficacy when it is controlling, negative and uninformative”. Let’s decode some of those stock comments:
- “should work harder” and “did not prepare well”: OK, maybe, but HOW? what to focus on? what strategies to try next time?
- “disappointing”: although this is judgmental, at least it points to an expectation of better results; but it needs to be paired with high-information feedback for it to be positive. So something like: “This is disappointing because she has handed in excellent work all through the term. She needs to examine the way she prepares for exams when there is a larger body of work to master.” Without the additional information, she might begin to feel that SHE herself is disappointing.
- “satisfactory/acceptable”: Really? So what we are saying is that this mark of 48 is fine, you are not capable of better, so get used to it.
We are under so much pressure to complete a syllabus, get the required tasks done, etc that we do not spend time doing things that are truly educational. It is surely better to invest the time giving high-information, effective feedback on a task before moving on to the next if you do not want to be facing the same unsatisfactory “satisfactory” work again and again.
Wisniewski, B., Zierer, K., & Hattie, J. (2020). The Power of Feedback Revisited: A Meta-Analysis of Educational Feedback Research. Retrieved from https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2019.03087/full