Feedback that propels learning
Willy Renandya & George Jacobs, 26 Nov 2022
Feedback serves a crucially important purpose in education. It provides teachers with the opportunities to re-teach parts of the lesson that students have not fully learned. The re-teaching can be directed at improving students’ understandings of the concepts covered in the previous lesson and/or increasing their ability to apply these concepts in new situations.
In other words, feedback can fill the gap between current and expected understandings and/or applications and also deepen and extend their learning.
That feedback plays a crucial role in teaching and learning is easy to understand. In a typical lesson, it is rare for students learn everything at one go.
They may miss important points during a lesson due to various factors e.g., the complexity of the concepts discussed in the lesson, poor explanation by the teacher, insufficient practice opportunities, students’ lack of interest in the topic and off-task behaviours during the lesson. The list is long.
Research tells us that feedback is “one of the most powerful influences on learning and achievement …” (Hattie & Timperley, 2007, p. 81). They go on to say that the impact of feedback is not always positive. Its impact can be negative as well, that is, instead of propelling learning, it may in fact slow down or even thwart learning. Thus feedback is a double-edged sword that can move learning forward or backward.
What does research tell us about teachers’ feedback practices? Do they provide effective feedback that supports students learning?
Research evidence seems to suggest that while teachers are generally aware of the importance of feedback and regularly provide constructive feedback on students’ performance, their feedback practices need be fine-tuned so that their comments, corrections and assessments of students’ work can have more positive impact.
What types of feedback are commonly observed in the classroom? According to Hattie & Timperley (2007), there are four types of feedback as outlined below:
- Task-level feedback, i.e., feedback that focuses on whether or not the task has been successfully completed (e.g., your first paragraph is unclear; your answer is incorrect).
- Self-(or student) level feedback, i.e., feedback that focuses on the students themselves (e.g., good job, you are a bright student).
- Process-level feedback, i.e., feedback that focuses on the cognitive and behavioural processes needed to understand or complete the task (e.g., if you add another example from your personal experience, the text will be more interesting).
- Self-regulation level feedback, i.e., feedback that enables students to assess their own learning and take ownership of it, resulting in their being able to subsequently engage in self-directed and self-regulated learning (e.g., use the writing rubric to figure out where you are and what you still need to do in order to get to the next higher writing band).
As you can already guess correctly, the first two occur more frequently than the other two. This is not surprising, given teachers’ heavy teaching and marking duties. Task and self-level feedback is fairly easy to give and does not take too much of teachers’ time. Plus students seem to be happy receiving this type of feedback. However, its impact on student learning is quite limited, or in some cases, can be detrimental.
The other two levels of feedback, research suggests, are more effective in propelling student learning. There is more than a fair chance that students who receive these types of feedback become more invested in putting in more efforts to strengthen their current understandings and deepen their learning.
Given the powerful influence of feedback on learning, it would be remiss of us not to leverage on the power of process and self-regulation level feedback to drive student learning.
Hattie, J., & Timperley, H. (2007). The Power of Feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. doi:10.3102/003465430298487
Further readings on feedback