Characteristics of Effective Feedback

Monday, 7. April 2014

Some define feedback as information provided by an agent, such as teacher, peer, book, parent, or even self which is used to close the gap between current and desired performance. While feedback may be given by an external agent, it may also be intentionally sought or experienced incidentally by the learner.

After receiving feedback, learners may close performance gaps by increasing their effort, motivation, or engagement. Students are more likely to take steps to close the performance gap when the intended goal is clear, when the teacher and students are committed to achieving the goal, and when students believe the goal is achievable.

Feedback given does not guarantee it will be received. Students may accept feedback, modify it, or reject it. For example, students may ignore feedback and abandon the associated goal. Alternatively, students may accept feedback but confuse the goal it is associated with. In the same way, a student may receive feedback but lower the goal it goes with. Abandoning, blurring, or lowering the goal eliminates the performance gap, but without increasing achievement.

According to Hattie and Timperley (2007), effective feedback must answer three major questions for a teacher and students.

What is the goal?Feedback
What progress is being made toward the goal? and
What learning activities are needed to make more progress?

The question of, what is the goal, infers that there is a clearly articulated objective, or target. The goal tells what type of performance is desired and it directs feedback and remediation efforts. Although including a goal for each lesson is necessary, having one does not ensure achievement. For example, not all learning experiences begin with a goal, since discovery, exploration, or creation may be major elements. Alternatively, the lesson may have many goals, or sometimes the goal changes depending on available resources. Applying a solution may inspire new goals or evaluation of the process, specifically, advantages or disadvantages of one method over another. In summary, goals may be renegotiated across learning events, but feedback for closing an achievement gap begins with an understanding of desired performance.

The question, what progress is being made toward the goal, tells the teacher and students about current progress, or how they should proceed. Content for what progress is being made is relative to the goal, prior performance, or previous success or failure.

Answering the question, what learning activities are needed to make more progress, should include enhanced challenges, or building self-regulation skills, or increased fluency, or greater automaticity, or investigation of information that is not clearly understood.

Hattie and Timperley (2007) also suggest levels of feedback, including task, process, self-regulation, and character.

Task feedback tells whether work is correct or incorrect, sufficient or deficient. It focuses the knowledge and skills associated with a task, and on remediating errors. For example, task feedback tells the learner to write more information for a report or to recalculate a math problem for accuracy. The criterion for task feedback focuses on the task, and how close the performance comes to description of desired task performance. Task feedback is more effective when students have misunderstandings or faulty interpretations, not major gaps in knowledge or skill.

Process feedback focuses on helping students develop or apply strategies for completing or fixing a performance. For example, a teacher says “please edit this section of your paper by elaborating on each of the descriptors listed in class.” Process feedback infers that the task is deficient in some way, while the content tells the student about what to do next.

Self-regulation feedback focuses on increasing students’ commitment to the task, self-direction, sense of control, and confidence. It aims to improve skill in conducting self-evaluations or increasing self-efficacy. A written comment for developing self-regulation is, “your paper shows you know the three key features of supporting a claim, now reread this section of your paper to see whether you have incorporated these features.”

Character feedback is directed to personal characteristics unrelated to the performance of the task. For example, saying “that’s an intelligent response, well done.” Character feedback may be positive or negative, but it is usually recognized by its omission of information which the learner can use for completing or fixing a task. Feedback about character is less effective in comparison to other types since it influences self-concept which may not translate to learning gains.

More feedback does not translate to more effect, since the impact of feedback depends on several factors, such as complexity of task, the level of feedback, and student receptivity. In fact, students who display significant errors or misunderstandings may be better served with more instruction and practice, rather than comprehensive feedback.

Many students view generation of feedback as the responsibility of the teacher or someone else. However, enduring achievement results when students adopt internal feedback systems that actuate self-monitoring strategies.

Finally, students must be committed to the learning goal in order to receive and respond to feedback. Commitment to the learning goal may be secured by elevating its importance from authority figures, such as teachers or parents.

Reference: Hattie, J. & Timperley, N. (2007). The power of feedback. Review of Educational Research, 77(1), 81-112. doi: 10.3102/003465430298487

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