The Power of Feedback
Feedback is an action taken by an external agent to provide information regarding some aspect of one's task performance (including attitude or behaviour where they impinge on performance) (Dinham, 2008, p.21) with the goal of helping the recipient to improve their performance. In the best-case scenario, specific improvement goals may be discussed and actionable steps for reaching the goals jointly agreed on. To be effective, feedback needs to be frequent, constructive and instructive, it needs to be focused and practical, and based on what the recipient can do and is capable of achieving. The criteria used needs to be clear and understood by the recipient, and used to frame the feedback (Dinham, 2008).
Feedback is common in the arts, especially theatre, and in sports where performance is regularly closely evaluated and modified as a result. In schools, however, while we know that feedback is at or near the top of those treatments which have the greatest effect on student learning (Dinham, 2008, p.20), and by inference teacher improvement in a mentoring relationship, it is often poorly done and poorly received by students and staff alike. Dinham says that feedback is an essential part of the learning process (Dinham, 2008, p.21), however feedback that is not acted on is a waste of time (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, p.107). A lack of responsiveness to feedback may not be an indication of truculence on the part of the recipient but rather an indication of a poor understanding of the goals of feedback, the processes involved or the relationship between the parties, by either or both the giver and the recipient of the feedback.
The ultimate goal of all feedback is to build people with critical and reflective thinking, self-direction, creativity, autonomy and praxis (Galbraith, 2003, p.9 in Hudson, p. 3) or as Heritage states to build learning dispositions, habits, attitudes and identities that enable [teachers and] students to become life-long learners, which is a pre-requisite for success in an ever-changing world (Heritage & Popham, 2013, p.6). This involves the development of self-efficacy which is about engagement with challenge and building a confidence in one’s ability to reach a goal rather than striving to improve self-esteem (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, pp.113–114, in Hudson, p. 3) and involves a view of intelligence as inherently malleable and able to be increased by engaging in challenging work (Dweck in Wiliam & Siobhan, 2015, pp.111–112).
Effective feedback provides the learner with two categories of information: verification and elaboration. Verification gives a judgement about the correctness of the practice or answer and elaboration provides information that guides the learner towards a better or correct response (Heritage & Popham, 2013, p.85). Avraham Kluger and Angelo De Nisi showed that feedback that focuses on giving information about how a task is performed, and gives suggestions that can be taken up to improve its execution, is much more effective than evaluative feedback that only gives information about how well someone is doing (Heritage & Popham, 2013, p. 85). That is to say the nature of the feedback is also significant as not all feedback is effective. Feedback may be too long or too complex to be effective or may have the wrong focus. Dweck and her colleagues (2006) found that praising a student's intelligence harms both their motivation and their performance (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, p.115) while DWiliam claims that ego-involving feedback is worse than no feedback (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, p.113).
Feedback in the form of praise, has no simple relationship with student achievement as very subtle differences in the way children are praised can have serious long term effects. However, when effort rather than performance is praised children are more likely to have an incremental view of intelligence and believe they can improve (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, p.113). The most effective teacher’s praise is specific to a task that the student has recently completed, is seen as sincere and genuine by the student, and is related to something that is within the student's control.
Some have suggested that effort rather than product or task should be praised but Wiliam (2015) flags caution as there are hidden problems with this approach: only the student knows how hard they have tried and it is possible to try but not improve. He also noted that effort marks tend to correlate highly with achievement scores so he suggests that it is better to use academic personal bests which could be indicated by a comment and a +, = or – sign (Wiliam & Leahy, 2015, p.117).
Dinham, S. (2008). 'Feedback on Feedback'. Teacher, (191), 20–23.
Heritage, M. & Popham, W. J. (2013). Formative Assessment in Practice: A process of inquiry and action. Assessment, accountability & achievement series. Cambridge MA: Harvard Education Press.
Wiliam, D. & Leahy, S. (2015). Embedding Formative Assessment: Practical Techniques for F-12 Classrooms. Australia: Hawker Brownlow.
Online Professional Learning Courses
This article provides an insight into some of the content of EdComm's online Professional Learning course: Mentoring (for the Mentee and Mentor).
This Mentoring course is a thirty-hour, blended companion course – one course for mentors and a companion course for mentees. It is designed to run for one year and is accredited by NESA at both the Proficient and Lead levels for thirty hours each. (Note: A mentor and mentee from the same school is required.)
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