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The impact of effective feedback on student outcomes has been established through a number of studies (for example, Hattie, 1999, and Crooks, 1988). Hattie, on the basis of extensive research, describes feedback as the most powerful single factor that enhances achievement. Like modelling, feedback pervades the school day: most interactions between teachers and students involve some element of feedback.
The purposes of feedback are:
Like all the teaching strategies, feedback is most effective when it relates to specific learning goals that students recognise and understand and to the ultimate aim of enabling students to monitor and regulate their own learning. Feedback should always be honest and specific so that students know how they are doing and what they have achieved.
Effective feedback motivates students to learn. The way that students feel about and perceive themselves affects their expectations and consequently their performance. A simple comment can have a major impact – positive or negative – on a student’s motivation and confidence. It is important to consider cultural and social appropriateness when giving feedback (as when using any teaching strategy). Students approaching adolescence often respond more positively when feedback is given privately rather than in public.
Feedback may be thought of as either descriptive or evaluative. Descriptive feedback means describing or explaining what has or has not been achieved and why. It also involves giving information on how to learn further or what to do in order to succeed. Evaluative feedback involves making a judgment about what the learner is doing or has done and carries the idea of approval or disapproval.
Interactions involving feedback can yield valuable knowledge of learners as well as enabling them to move forward.
These are examples of feedback. There are many examples of this and other deliberate acts of teaching in the vignettes throughout this book.
“You went back and cross-checked with what you’d read earlier to clarify your understanding. Making connections with other parts of the text is what expert readers do.”
“I notice you’ve checked the punctuation of your piece. But there is something else you need to attend to. Remember that one of your personal writing goals is to check your use of spelling conventions for the plural words in your writing.”
“That’s an interesting opinion – but remember our discussion in guided reading this morning about finding evidence in the text. What evidence can you give to justify your opinion that the wolf was afraid?”
“I like your choice of language in the second paragraph. I get a clear mental image of what it was like for Josh when he first stepped inside the space station. There’s one part, just here, that I don’t understand – I think it needs elaboration. You may need to go back to the website you’ve been using to get more information to ensure it’s clear to the reader.”
The primary use of feedback is not to indicate whether learners are right or wrong but to enable them to reflect on their use of strategies and on their learning. Feedback involves giving learners information about when to use what they know and what they can do. Feedback can provide a model of what proficient readers and writers do and how they think. An important message for teachers to convey, in their feedback to students, is that using effective strategies in their reading and writing is what causes their success; this is crucial to building students’ metacognition. It’s especially useful to encourage students themselves to suggest what they could do to solve the problems they identify. This is a great way to build their awareness of how they can increase their control of their own learning.
Feedback may be verbal or non-verbal, spoken or written. The quality of the teacher’s written feedback on a student’s writing is especially important, both for providing further guidance and for the student’s confidence. Students in years 5 to 8 will benefit from receiving regular written feedback about their writing that gives details of what they have achieved and have yet to achieve and indicates their next learning steps.
The teacher should not allow their feedback to take over the ownership of the learning task. For example, a teacher may be tempted to “improve” a student’s piece of writing, with the result that the student’s voice or sense of ownership may be lost (even though the teacher may feel that the work is better crafted).
Criteria developed from shared learning goals give valuable focus to teachers’ conversations with students and to the feedback that they provide. It is essential to ensure that the students understand the information conveyed through feedback and to provide time and opportunity for them to act on it.
The teacher and year 7 students had been working on personal experience writing. The shared goal was “to recount a personal experience in a way that has impact on the reader”. The task was “to share a significant moment in time with a reader”. The teacher and students had jointly developed the following criteria:
This is Jessica’s published text. (Her draft version is on page 56.)
A Journey Through the Morning
Brrr! I couldn’t move, I couldn’t talk, my nose was red and my lips were blue. Who would have thought that an innocent, harmless winters walk to school could suddenly turn into a blistering snowstorm!
My fingers were numb as I shivered my way into school and up the stairs. The pins and needles in my left foot felt like a thousand darts jabbing at me.
My friends bounded over from the computer to say “hi” to me but I wasn’t listening. All I could think about was getting to the heater.
I slowly approached the heater and finally collapsed. I felt the warmth drain back into my veins like water draining through a sieve.
I look over to the whiteboard and remember the horrors of the school day. the dreaded climb up the mountain of math’s, the horrifying swim through the waves of writing and finally to conquer the rocks of reading.
I slumped down off the heater and groaned as I sat on the ground. I knew then that it was goingto be a long day.
The teacher gave Jessica the following written feedback on her published text.
This writing has impact, Jessica – I can feel the coldness of this horrible school morning very clearly. You’ve achieved this by:
You have also begun to experiment with paragraphing clearly.
Your goal: To make your tenses consistent in your writing. Avoid moving between the present and past tense (unless there is a reason for doing so).
The teacher gave Jessica feedback that primarily related to the writing rather than the writer. It specified what she had achieved in the writing, it linked specifically to the agreed goal and criteria, and it suggested the next steps in Jessica’s learning. The teacher discussed the feedback with Jessica, and together they decided how Jessica’s goal could be met. This written feedback was supplemented by oral feedback during the writing process.