What Makes Feedback Helpful
A part of the experiment was to ensure that the direct instruction worked:
Knowledge check. To ensure the knowledge manipulation worked, all children then solved a math equivalence problem on their own (i.e., 7 + 6 + 2 = 7 + __ ) and reported how they solved the problem... ...In the strategy-knowledge condition, children were told whether or not they solved the problem correctly. If they used an incorrect strategy, instruction on the equalize strategy was repeated and they were asked to solve another problem until they solved one using a correct strategy and received feedback that it was correct. This procedure ensured that children in the strategy-knowledge condition had knowledge of a correct strategy and were aware that they used it correctly. We set the protocol such that after five failed attempts the experiment was discontinued and children received more remedial tutoring.Feedback is actually used here to inform the teacher. The information is used to guide what needs to be done. Goals are stated clearly. Depending on the feedback (whether a child solves the problem correctly or incorrectly) a specific action is taken. This is how a feedback mechanism in an efficient system works. The above actually illustrates some of the elements that Grant Wiggins regards as Feedback Essentials:
Feedback EssentialsWiggins also makes it clear that "the term feedback is often used to describe all kinds of comments made after the fact, including advice, praise, and evaluation. But none of these are feedback, strictly speaking."
Whether feedback is just there to be grasped or is provided by another person, helpful feedback is goal-referenced; tangible and transparent; actionable; user-friendly (specific and personalized); timely; ongoing; and consistent.
Feedback, first and foremost, must be informative. "Good job" or "You got that right" carries unique information only if a learner is completely a novice. Otherwise, these remarks are really redundant. For these reasons, praises, judgments, evaluations or grades are not feedback.
As Wiggins noted, one can learn what good feedback entails from video games. My son, for instance, likes to play the game Injustice: Gods Among Us.
|Above copied from Injustice: Gods Among Us Mobile Facebook page|
There was no instruction manual and my son simply learned how to play the game while actually playing. Outcomes of battles and moves seen from opponents offered tangible and transparent feedback. There was no advice, no praise, no judgment, just information on how one might have lost or won a battle. My son even reviewed the characters to learn their abilities, strengths and weaknesses. Losing a battle allowed him to reexamine his team and make adjustments. Feedback was actionable and therefore useful.
Feedback occupies space in one's working memory. If feedback is neither informative nor actionable, then it is a waste of precious cognitive space. The following was recently displayed on Edutopia's facebook page:
What the post above fails to convey is that true feedback is really teaching.