How to Avoid Flaws in Teacher FeedbackBy Jeny Rapheal
[The author is a secondary school teacher in Kerala, India.]
Feedbacks are unstandardised tools. It seems anybody can give feedback on anything they are interested in. The person at the receiving end of a feedback steps into the shoes of the provider of feedback (at least for a moment) and judges one’s own performance (stance) often from a different angle. Albeit each has the liberty to decide whether one should feed on a particular feedback.
Yet, nobody can turn their back to feedbacks. We always spare an ear for feedbacks and in many situations we force the audience to articulate their feedbacks. We juggle with feedbacks in order to render ourselves more acceptable, to elevate our performance to the expectations of others. We need recognition.
We rarely receive those most coveted feedbacks which perfectly agree with our convictions about our own performance. In that sense, feedbacks are effective proddings for exploring and expanding one’s level of growth or development in his or her niche.
Feedback from close relationships– parents, friends or siblings–hit right at our emotional brain. Most often we take them to heart as we do not doubt the intention behind them. Even when their feedbacks are bitter and difficult to consume, we feel obligated to conform. When unable to rise up to their expectations, we feel guilty.
The role of teacher feedback in learning
Wrapped in a more formal tone, feedback from a teacher often comes with a force of its own, powerful enough to kick the student off his comfort zone. When it is served as spiced up suggestions for improvement in a formal tone, the ingredients of feedback have much to push the student a bit more and stretch his muscles further.
For the same reason feedback from a teacher has the potential to chart out the learning curve of a student. Feedback is a magic wand with which teacher can regulate the learning curve of students. In the same way false feedbacks unleash a series of detrimental ripples and scotch the motivation of student and his progress thereof.
Faulty, feedback can assume any one of the following shapes.. ..
- Emotionally charged feedback (feedback used as a means for emotional outpouring)
- Incomplete feedback (feedback which overlooks details of performance)
- Desultory feedback (feedback given just for the sake of giving)
- Egoistic feedback (intended to hurt the performer and belittle the performance..)
- Blind feedback (given without any forethought about the capacity/readiness of the individual to receive feedback)
How do feedbacks determine the course of learning curve?
Learning is a result oriented activity. When a student fails to reproduce the learned matter, the educator concludes that the learning has not taken place.
Feedback that accompanies a trial performance actually functions as a mediator operating between trial and final performances. The very core of individual’s “self” spreading around his self efficacy, self concept, self esteem etc which regulate and influence learning process is directly hit by feedbacks provided in the context of learning. Until student’s feelers mature enough to weed out inappropriate messages from a host of feedbacks hurled upon him from caretakers (or teachers), feedbacks exercise an ineluctable regulatory power in the decision making process of the student.
A feedback that does not realistically address the quality and level of performance hacks the sense of competence of the learner. An authentic feedback in addition to strengthening the self-competence upgrades learner’s self-awareness all the while inviting him to have a glance at possibilities for improvement. A person who is at the receiving end of a particular feedback crafted carefully with ‘adequate material for motivation’ gets enough nutrients to face further challenges in learning with much equanimity. He will be in a better position to develop qualities like perseverance, resilience etc. In gist, feedbacks given in a particular learning context is crucial in steering the very course of learning.
Feedback as a booster of metacognition
It is difficult to define a perfect feedback strategy. Simply put, the ultimate aim of any feedback is to shake the cognitions of the learner from its usual rut. A good feedback exhorts the learner to look inward and weigh his trial performance against the goals set for learning. If a particular feedback given during trial performance can lead the learner to a metacognitive frame of mind we can say it is an optimal feedback.
Metacognition refers to higher-order thinking that enables understanding, analysis, and control of one’s cognitive processes, especially when engaged in learning.
According to Hacker (2009) metacognition allows people to take charge of their learning. In her article Connie Malamed acknowledges that “metacognition involves awareness of how students learn, an evaluation of their learning needs, generating strategies to meet these needs and then implementing the strategies”.
According to Bransford, Brown & Cocking, (2000) and Brown (1987) metacognition supports student learning through
(i) the ability to monitor one’s cognitive activities.
(ii) the ability to take appropriate regulatory steps when a problem has been detected. (as cited in J. Tan, G. Biswas, & D. Schwartz, 2006)
For Boreham (1987) metacognition is “reflection on experience”.
Things to be remembered while crafting feedback
A good feedback is something that can be justified by the fundamental principles of effective learning and teaching. Put in other way feedbacks should aim at ensuring enough space for the smooth operation of those principles between the teacher and student. Some of the characteristics associated with the principles of effective teaching and learning are listed below. They will be helpful in eliminating feedback loopholes…
1) Encourage contact between students and faculty
2) Develop reciprocity and co-operation among students
3) Encourage active learning
4) Give prompt feedback
5) Emphasize time on task
6) Communicate high expectations
7) Respect diverse talents and ways of learning (Arthur W. Chickering and Zelda F. Gamson, 1987)
For a feedback to spark the metacognitive impulses in the learner the provider of the feedback must be alert to the following aspects of learning context and the learner.
- Learner’s cognitive disposition
- Contextual factors which influence learning (eg. home environment)
- Learner’s motivation to learn
- Personal resources of the learner (previous knowledge, intellectual capacity and proximal zone of development etc)
Teacher’s span of awareness must attend to these elements and she must hold them alive in her working memory while framing feedbacks to student performance.
Prejudices poison teacher feedback
Mind laden with prejudices constraints the possibility for generating constructive feedbacks. Because prejudices give little incentive for the perceiver to search for the real cause of flaws in the performance. Objectivity in perception is a gift given to those who are ready to shed their prejudices and search for better perspectives and newer angles to assess situations.
A teacher who concludes that it is the lack of seriousness or laziness which results in low performance crafts his/her feedback with reprehensive remarks. But the same teacher, if she delves into the deep seated causes of laziness and lack of co-operation from the student will pack her feedback with suggestions to ward off laxity and ways to remain motivated throughout the learning process. Such feedbacks will mobilize metacognitive muscles of student-mind. This is especially so when student-teacher emotional rapport synchronize with student’s intellectual receptivity for feedback. Subsequent trial performances will never be a repetition of the previous ones and will definitely boost the morale of learning.
Thus searching for the cause of perceived inadequacy in the student performance helps the teacher to frame constructive feedbacks. But, in order to turn herself into an active search mode before planning the feedback, a teacher must shed all prejudices regarding student outcomes and maintain objectivity at any cost.
A constructive feedback do justice to both the inadequacies and adequacies noticed in performance and is conveyed to the performer in logical cause-effect sequences—expounding on what led to such and such things.
At the same time, constructive feedback is not something devoid of emotional content. It is the intention behind the feedback which determines the emotional stance of the provider of feedback. Meanwhile, it is the provider’s conclusion about the causes of an imperfect (perfect too) performance which direct and mobilize his intentions. The emotional stance of the provider of the feedback has huge role in determining acceptability of a feedback.
The art of formulating flawless feedbacks can be mastered by committing oneself to holistic ways of assessing the performance of students. Feedbacks given to the performance outcomes must address the root causes leading to the respective outcomes. And these causes are not exclusively individualistic they are contextual too.
Hacker, Douglas J., John Dunlosky & Arthur C. Graesser (2009). Handbook of Metacognition in Education.
- Tan, G. Biswas, & D. Schwartz, “Feedback for Metacognitive Support in Learning by Teaching Environments”, The twenty-eighth Annual Meeting of the Cognitive Science Society, Vancouver, Canada, (pp. 828-833), 2006.
Boreham, N.C. (1987) Learning from experience in diagnostic problem solving.
In: Student learning: research in education and cognitive psychology (eds J.T.E Richardson, M.W. Eysenck and D. Warren Piper) Buckingham; Society for Research into Higher Education and Open University Press.
Arthur W. Chickering & Zelda F. Gamson, (1987). Seven Principles For Good Practice in Undergraduate Education http://www.lonestar.edu/multimedia/sevenprinciples.pdf
About the author
Jeny Rapheal is a higher secondary school teacher working in Kerala, India. She has 16 years experience in teaching and has published 15 research papers in various national, international journals. At present she is doing research in adolescent psychology in Bharathiar University Coimbatore.