Importance of student feedback

A couple weeks ago I had a post on how to influence students (click here to see it again).  This weekend I was reading a post by A.J. Juliani on his blog titled “The Future of Learning” and I saw an article that related to my previous post, but he looked at things from a slightly different perspective.

What are the best ways to give feedback to our students?
What are the best ways to give feedback to our students?

Through reading Juliani’s blog, I ended up reading a research paper written by a team of psychologists from Stanford, Yale, Columbia, and several other well known schools to look at the type of feedback that is given to students.  In this study the authors were testing to see if the type of feedback given on an essay written by 7th graders could result in greater effort (as measured by an increased number of revisions), and improved quality of final drafts.

While there have been many studies on how to provide praise to our students, there has been limited research in how to provide meaningful criticism that will result in improvements for students.  Many of us place our criticism in the format of 3 stars and a wish (or something of this nature) to boost self-esteem before delivering the criticism.

The reality is, self-esteem is not the key to being able to hear criticism, but rather trust is the key.  Boosting self-esteem will not always boost trust.  When trust exists, we are able to see criticism as information to help us improve.

In the experiment, some students received “wise feedback” while other students received “neutral feedback” on their papers.  Simply through the type of feedback that was given to a student, there was a marked improvement in students choosing to revise their paper (a 40% increase in student effort) and improvement in overall performance on the final paper (you can see the study here).

So, what was the magical feedback that led to such extreme improvements?  What note was written on the top of each paper with similar feedback below?  The experimental phrase was:

“I’m giving you these comments because I have very high expectations and I know that you can reach them.”

That’s right – 19 words written on the top of the paper.  In other aspects of the study, these words helped develop greater trust between the student and the teacher, which in turn provided students with a sense of belonging and connection.

For the students who were in the control group, the note at the top of the page looked very different.  It simply said “I’m giving you these comments so that you’ll have feedback on your paper.”

Remember that feedback tells us about the relationship that we hold together.  Feedback like what you see in bold above gives the students some clear messages: you’re part of this group; we have high standards; and I believe you can reach those standards.  So what lessons can we as teachers take away from this?  In the post from Juliani that led me to this research study, he referenced an article by Daniel Coyle, the author of The Talent Code.  His lessons from this study are as follows:

  1. Connect: As John Wooden said, they can’t care how much you know until they know how much you care.
  2. Highlight the group: Seek ways (traditions, mantras, fun little rituals) to show what it meas to belong in your crew.
  3. Don’t soft-pedal high standards: Don’t pretend that it’s easy – do the opposite.  Emphasize the toughness of the task, and your belief that they have what it takes!

Have you found success in sharing feedback in this manner?  If so, share with us how you let students know that they are part of the group, the group has high standards, and your belief that the students can reach those standards.

Sometimes our feedback can be a little misguided...
Sometimes our feedback can be a little misguided…
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