From The Brilliant Report: How To Give Good Feedback
Monday, March 18, 2013
When effectively administered, feedback is a powerful way to build knowledge and skills, increase motivation, and develop reflective habits of mind in students and employees. Too often, however, the feedback we give (and get) is ineffectual or even counterproductive. Here, four ways to offer feedback that really makes a difference, drawn from research in psychology and cognitive science:
1. Supply information about what the learner is doing, rather than simply praise or criticism.
In “The Power of Feedback,” an article published in the Review of Educational Research in 2007, authors John Hattie and Helen Timperley point out that specific information about how the learner is performing a task is much more helpful than mere praise or, especially, criticism. In particular, research by Hattie, Timperley, and others has found that feedback is most effective when it provides information on what exactly the learner is doing right, and on what he or she is doing differently (and more successfully) than in previous attempts.
2. Take care in how you present feedback.
The eminent psychologist Edward Deci has identified several conditions under which feedback may actually reduce learners’ motivation. When learners sense that their performance is being too closely monitored, for example, they may disengage from learning out of feelings of nervousness or self-consciousness. To counter this impression, the purpose of observing or supervising should be fully explained and learners’ consent obtained. Better yet, learners should be involved in collecting and analyzing data on their own performance, reducing the need for oversight by others. (And as the popularity of the “Quantified Self” movement has demonstrated, many people seem to enjoy keeping even minute records of their own behavior.)
A second risk identified by Deci is that learners will interpret feedback as an attempt to control them—for example, when feedback is phrased as, “This is how you should do it.” Empower learners rather than controlling them by giving them access to information about their own performance and teaching them how to use it.
According to Deci, a third feedback condition that can reduce learners’ engagement is an uncomfortable sense of competition. To avoid this, emphasize that you are sharing feedback with students or workers not to pit them against each other, but rather to allow them to compete against their own personal bests.