Readying Arkansas for a lifetime of literacy

Giving feedback to students is a natural part of teaching. It is a powerful tool, and just like all tools, it can be used to build and to destroy. With that in mind, this blog post sets out to help tutors of adults learn more about the power of feedback. If you would like to learn the specific elements of good feedback and examples of that type of feedback, watch the video post titled Better Feedback

John Hattie conducted a major meta analysis of educational research, published in a book called Visible Learning. In that research, feedback ranked in the top 10 most powerful ways to impact student learning. 

A key take away from Hattie’s research is that the most powerful feedback is that given by the student to the teacher. This means students evaluating their own work and sharing it with a trusted teacher who can help them apply that and improve. This takes support and instruction on evaluating one’s own work and communicating about individual growth. 

That is not to say that tutor feedback is not valuable. However, the value of teacher feedback varies wildly based on the content and delivery of that feedback. Hattie’s research revealed that classroom teachers overestimate the amount of feedback they give and the detail. While this research is not a perfect indicator of what happens in tutoring sessions, it should give us pause to consider our practice with our students and improve our feedback.

Powerful feedback relates the work and improvements to specific learning goals. Using pre designed feedback programs, such as sticker charts or reward systems have almost no real effect on students in K012 programs, and most assuredly do not work for adults. In fact, despite popular practices, extrinsic motivation efforts have been shown to actually do harm to motivation and student learning. The purpose of feedback is to give information not rewards. 

Feedback has a much larger impact when it focuses on correct answers or work rather than incorrect. Simply praising a task as complete is ineffective. 

It is important to build trust and confidence in your student before considering feedback. For a student to focus on the feedback and the learning, there has to be no perceived threat to their self esteem. This is a tricky process. You may not be able to offer a lot of feedback, even constructive and positive feedback, until the student starts to gain some confidence.

Feedback is a balancing act. It is important to focus feedback on the goals, task, or process. Also, if the student doesn’t have basic concepts or learning strategies, feedback is not appropriate. Rather, the tutor must focus on thorough instruction. 

The below chart can help a teacher work through the process of feedback. To learn more about the research on feedback check out The Power Of Feedback by John Hattie and Helen Timbersley. The chart below is from Visible Learning by John Hattie.