Feedback, described by some as a “double-edged sword” due to its ability to either help or hinder students’ progress, is a fundamental part of a student’s learning journey. With so much time spent doing it, it is an area that must be constantly monitored for effectiveness.
But what does good feedback look like? And what are students’ perceptions of it?
One researcher who has spent years and years examining this is Professor John Hattie, best known for his large-scale data analysis (he does meta-analysis on meta-analysis). This blog provides a brief overview of his feedback model, and takes a look at his latest study, which focuses on how students interpret the feedback their teacher gives them…
What is Hattie’s feedback model?
- Self: This includes non-specific comments directed at the learner, and not the task.
- Task: This includes comments regarding how well the learner is accomplishing or performing the task.
- Process: This includes comments specific to the processes underlying the task.
- Self-regulation: This type of feedback supports students in monitoring and regulating their actions for a task.
It is generally not the case that one type of feedback is necessarily better or worse than another (though self level feedback, i.e., “you are so smart”, has been associated with a range of negative consequences). It is more about considering what each type of feedback offers. For example, feedback about the task is beneficial if students had misinterpreted the original instructions, whereas feedback about self-regulation may be more beneficial for novice learners.
Feedback about the process has been associated with a range of positive outcomes, with it being linked to deeper learning. This is because providing specific information on how to improve can prompt students to evaluate and tweak their approach to work.
Hattie’s feedback model also includes three fundamental questions integral to effective feedback. These are simple to understand and easy to action, and thus provides a nice framework for feedback. To see what these three questions are, just read our blog on the subject here.
So, what does Hattie’s latest research say?
In Hattie’s latest study, students were given feedback samples aligned with each of the feedback levels (self, task, process, and self-regulation). They were then asked to share their thoughts on each of the samples. Results found that:
- Students overwhelmingly identified self level feedback as least useful. This is likely because this type of feedback is directed towards the character of a student rather than their performance on the task, meaning that they are not provided with information on what and how they need to improve their work.
- All other forms of feedback were considered useful at varying levels:
- The majority of students (59%) identified task level feedback as effective
- Almost half of the students (48%) identified process level feedback as helpful
- 45% of students identified self-regulation feedback as useful
These findings suggest that students seem to accurately perceive which type of feedback is most helpful for their learning. It is interesting to note that this is in stark contrast to other learning areas, where students seem not very accurate at predicting what will help their learning, and the consistent belief that students are unaware of what is best for their learning.
However, despite the positive perception of self-regulation and process level feedback, students recognised these as most likely to “stimulate negative emotions”. Teachers therefore may want to carefully consider how they deliver this type of feedback message.
How to actually give effective feedback
Feedback that isn’t actioned is obviously limited in its impact. This means that the responsibility doesn’t lie exclusively on the teacher who delivers feedback, but also on the student who receives it. Being aware of students’ perception of feedback could act as a potential bridge to ensure our high-quality feedback doesn’t go ignored (or even worse, hinder learning).
Essential to this is explaining what feedback is and isn’t.
It isn’t praise – if students falsely equate feedback with praise, then when it isn’t as gushing as they would like, they may interpret it as criticism. Thish can lead to them getting defensive and rejecting the feedback.
Likewise, it isn’t a judgement on their personality or future ability. It is simply advice that may bring them closer to their learning goals. Knowing this can help ensure that they don’t become too demotivated upon hearing critical feedback.
Giving effective feedback to students isn’t easy. If done right, however, it has the ability to transform students’ learning and performance.
It is therefore important to consider students’ perspectives if applying Hattie’s feedback model in the classroom. Their perception may not be reality, but it can certainly have real-world consequences. It is therefore just too important to ignore.