Friday, July 29, 2011

The "double-barreled" effect of formative feedback

This holiday we have been given a book to read about feedback on students' work and this morning I read through the first chapter.  As an information and communication teacher, I've found the best way of improving the IT skills of our teachers is to give "just in time" support.  It's no surprise, therefore, that the most effective feedback that can be given to students is also "just in time" formative feedback that addresses:

  • What knowledge and skills need to be developed
  • How close the student is to this goal
  • What the student needs to do next to achieve the goal
Essential giving good feedback will enable the students to come up with their own learning goals and plans of how they will achieve them.

The title of this post refers to two effects of good formative feedback: on the performance and the motivation of the students.  Students need to know where they are in their learning and also feel they have control in how they move forward - only when they have this control will they be motivated.

The first chapter deals with constructive criticism - students need to feel that this is a good thing and that they will only learn by practice.  They won't get everything "right" first time, so feedback need to come at a time when they the opportunity to use it - not at the end of the assignment or as part of the final evaluation.

Clearly not all feedback is effective.  Teacher feedback needs to combine with the student's own self evaluation to help students to decide how close they are to meeting their learning goals and what they need to do to move forward:
  • Feedback about the task or the process:  this is the most helpful form of feedback
  • Feedback about the student's ability as a learner:  can be effective and lead to greater attention or effort
  • Feedback about the student as a person (for example "good girl"): is not effective as it does not draw attention to the learning.
Over the past year of so I've read many blog posts about grades -v- comments - all have suggested that comments are more effective for learning than simply giving grades but one of the sections I read today discusses the fact that comments are not always effective.  Some comments are evaluative or judgmental and so are not as helpful in terms of feedback as descriptive comments.  Students who receive descriptive comments tend to go on to perform better and be more motivated than those who receive grades.  Descriptive comments therefore have been called "double-barrel" feedback as they influence both performance and motivation and this is especially true if the descriptive comment is not accompanied by a grade.  In the case of both a grade and a comment, students tend to pay more attention to the grade and ignore the comment.  So if teachers want students to read and pay attention to the comments, it's better if they are the only form of feedback.

Photo Credit:  Panel feedback:  pie chart by Brandon Schauer  AttributionShare Alike 

1 comment:

  1. Dear Maggie,

    I pounced upon this article with delight... until I read further. Although what you say is perfectly correct (and I've been in a variety of posts including senior management for 45 years) your two aspects of formative feedback, 'performance and motivation' are only half the story. So perhaps the ‘other barrel’ should be turned around and pointed at the teacher? Or will the gun backfire?

    The other aspect of feedback is what the teacher gets back from the class. Questions that teachers always ask in their evaluation of each lesson not only relate to "Did the class perform as well as expected? Was the pace right? Did I allow no-one to fall behind? etc." But somewhat more introspectively, "Did the class believe that I was convinced of the importance of the lesson? Did I supply/give direction to the right resources? Was there adequate differentiation?" - and, most importantly, "How should I present the next lesson?"

    Kind Regards,

    Ray Tolley
    Associate of the eLearning Alliance, MCIEA
    ICT Education Consultant
    Maximise ICT Ltd
    Winner of the IMS 'Leadership Regional Award 2009'