If feedback is one of the most effective routes to academic achievement then why do so many teachers do it so badly?
I’ve been teaching 6th Form students for a decade now and I’ve tried many different methods of written feedback. Early in my career I quickly realised two things:
- Most students don’t read feedback
- All students read the grade they have been awarded for the task
This in itself is an interesting observation seeing as research (Harks, Rakoczy, Hattie, Besser, & Klieme, 2014) has discovered that so-called ‘grade orientated feedback’ is far less effective than ‘process orientated feedback’ (the latter emphasising the type of feedback that aims to improve outcomes by giving specific targeted and goal-orientated advice). Furthermore, process orientated feedback not only has a positive effect on achievement, it also positively impacts on emotionally–based processes such as interest.
In an attempt to curb this I have, over the years, omitted the grade and given process-orientated feedback only, but because students often appear to be more concerned with how well they have done rather than how they can improve this tended to lead to criticism from students, parents and (on one occasion some years ago) school management. More recently I instructed students that they could have their grade only if they came to me to discuss the feedback – needless to say, few were motivated enough to follow up on this. I’m assuming that the unwillingness to discuss the feedback was as much to do with a fear of failure (they actually didn’t want to know the grade) so that their actions constituted a method of self-handicapping rather than genuine laziness.
The purpose of process-orientated feedback.
Feedback should be elaborated sufficiently to help the learner change erroneous knowledge components and, thus, improve achievement (Harks et al., 2014)
Feedback should offer information that contributes to the satisfaction of the student’s basic need to feel competent (Ryan & Deci, 2000)
Feedback, therefore, has both meta-cognitive and motivational components so content should reflect both of these. Hattie has suggested that process orientated feedback should ask the following questions:
Where am I going (learning intentions/goals/success criteria)?
How am I going (self-assessment/self-evaluation)?
Where next (progression/new goals)?
These questions then feed into the other growth components I have discussed previously:
Growth Goals (Personal Bests)
Implicit Theories of Intelligence (Mindset)
Academic Buoyancy (day-to-day resilience)
Feedback needs to be ‘active’.
Effective marking and detailed feedback can be time-consuming, especially with A-level students who are often required to produce extended pieces of writing. I encourage my students to word-process essays so that I can add comments in the margin as well as general comments/targets at the end (and a grade when appropriate). This can sometimes mean that each essay can take up to 30-45 minutes to mark, comment on, set targets and grade and with class numbers ranging from 20 to 25 students… well you can do the maths. All this, of course, with the probability that most students won’t read any of the comments.
Making feedback ‘active’ can both reduce the time taken to mark each piece of work and ensure that (most) students read the feedback. I recently came across this wonderful resource on Tom Sherrington’s blog (@headguruteacher) – I’m especially interested in test-driving the first suggestion.
When feedback is executed effectively it can have a major impact on achievement. The EEF Toolkit suggests an increase of around 8 months but offers the following considerations.
Bringing it all together.
For me, feedback is one of suite of tools that combine to produce increases in achievement, motivation and study skills. No strategy exists in isolation and feedback is only one component of a larger whole. Effective feedback encourages a growth mindset by being explicit about ways to improve while those students who adopt a fixed mindset appear to be less responsive to feedback (especially when it calls into question their ability) and less resilience (buoyant). Meta-cognitive strategies aid active feedback while the explicit use of growth goals motivate the learner to exceed their personal best by acting on the feedback.
Harks, B., Rakoczy, K., Hattie, J., Besser, M., & Klieme, E. (2014). The effects of feedback on achievement, interest and self-evaluation: the role of feedback’s perceived usefulness. Educational Psychology, 34(3), 269–290. doi:10.1080/01443410.2013.785384
Hattie, J. (2009). Visible Learning. Routledge.
Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2000). Self-determination theory and the facilitation of intrinsic motivation, social development, and well-being. The American Psychologist, 55(1), 68–78. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11392867